When most people think of the perils associated with getting a tattoo, they tend to think in terms of contracting Hepatitis or HIV/AIDs (not to mention blood poisoning) from shared or non-sterile needles. What they may not realize is that permanent ink can permanently inhibit the ability of sweat glands to function properly, potentially leading to serious heat stroke and other health-related issues.
According to researchers at Alma College in Alma, MI, this is not only a serious problem for people living in extremely hot climates, but for major athletes ranging from marathon runners to wrestlers, boxers, baseball players and those both on the gridiron, who find that they are not able to sweat to the maximum required to keep their body temperatures down.
In fact, the most serious impact of the new findings may actually be for members of the NBA, who, reportedly, sport more body art than the general population in the US (50% vs. 30%). Still, anyone who ends up losing the ability to sweat through inked areas of skin may find their performance levels and stamina is severely diminished as a result of being unable to “cool down” naturally.
The project, led by Maurie Luetkemeier, a professor of integrative physiology and health science the school, examined data involving 10 healthy young male volunteers with tattoos on one side of the upper bodies” matched with an equal amount of un-tattooed skin on the opposite side. In other words,” he explained, “ a tattoo on your right bicep would be balanced by no tattoo on the same side on the left bicep.”
Each participant was first required to wear a chemical patch containing pilocarpine nitrate to induce sweat on both their bare and decorated skin. These were then swapped out with small spiral-shaped discs made to absorb all the perspiration over a period of 20 minutes or so.
Results published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed that sweat collected from the tattooed skin contained “ nearly 50% as much sodium as sweat from the bare skin,” leading to the conclusion that the tattooing process could (possibly) interfere with sweat functions since the needle enters the dermis, where most sweat glands are found.”
However, they did caution that since their study only involved sweat that had been chemically induced more research would be required to conclusively determine whether the same effect would occur when individuals (including women and elderly people) exercised under more normal situations. They also stressed that the age of the body art itself had no bearing on the impact of their study and that once applied the damage was permanent.
In the meantime, Dr. Ollie Jay, a professor of thermoregulatory physiology at the University of Sydney, told Healthline that his own (separate) studies had yet to determine whether or not the body was able to compensate for the lack of sweating in tattooed areas by an increase of perspiration in un-inked areas of the body.
Note: Professionally applied tattoos are created by puncturing the upper layer of the skin (epidermis) with dye-filled needles at a rate of 50-3,000 times per minute. The ink is then drawn down by capillaries into the underlying layer (dermis) where the majority of sweat glands are. It is then that the immune system kicks in to “protect” the body from what it deems are abnormal wounds from the needles.