Tattoo Concerns Clarified

Ask An Expert

By ASCP Staff

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, February/March 2007.

Q: I had a client ask me whether tattoos and permanent cosmetics can interfere with MRIs. What’s the story?

A: This is definitely a topic that needs some hard facts. Kathleen Ciampi, CEO and executive director of The Society for Permanent Cosmetic Professionals (SPCP), gets regular reports of clients being alarmed by nonsense warnings that their “eyelids will explode” under an MRI. That’s just plain wrong.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there have been a few cases of inks containing metal fibers causing mild swelling or burning at the site of a tattoo or permanent makeup during an MRI. They point out there has been no lasting damage from these experiences. The SPCP notes there are fewer than ten people among millions who’ve had MRIs who experienced these effects. If they do happen, the mild inflammatory reaction can be controlled by a topical steroid cream or Benadryl, according to the American Academy of Micropigmentation.

The American Academy of Dermatology says tattoos with metallic ink could compromise the legibility of an MRI. But Robert Tyrell, MD, of the MRI Consortium in Dayton, Ohio, says low concentrations of iron oxide on small surface areas make diagnostic problems unlikely. Tyrell and others say technicians can work around any issues with recent advances in technology.

What everyone agrees on is that the medical risk a consumer assumes by skipping their MRI greatly outweighs any risk of minor, temporary inflammation.

As always, consumers are urged to become fully informed before undertaking cosmetic makeup or tattoos, and to inform their medical professionals of work they’ve had done before undergoing an MRI.