Tattoos and MRI Scans: Is it safe?

MRI scanning machine

An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a medical imaging technique that is used to create pictures of the inside of the body. This type of medical scan is common and is used to help diagnose or monitor treatment for a variety of conditions. The MRI scanner itself is a large machine that uses a powerful magnetic field, radio waves, and a computer to generate the images, which are then reviewed by radiologists. By referencing the patient’s medical background and what is shown on the MRI scan, the radiologist then forms a diagnosis and/or treatment for the patient.

Though generally regarded as safe, there are some contraindications that prevent or withhold certain patients from receiving an MRI scan. Because the machine is essentially a humongous magnet, it can cause some medical devices to malfunction. In addition, patients should not wear any jewelry in the machine. 

At this point, you may be wondering what an MRI scan has to do with tattoos. The simple answer is that most tattoo inks contain a variety of metals, including titanium dioxide, lead, chromium, nickel, iron oxides, as well as non-metallic ingredients such as ash and carbon black. This has raised some concern for those who are placing tattooed body parts into MRI machines since, in theory, the machine’s magnetic force could “pull” the metals out of the tattoo ink. But is that truly possible and should you be concerned?

There is no definitive answer available yet, however it is probably safe to get an MRI scan according to European researchers:

“While millions of people with tattoos have MRIs every year without side effects, some adverse reactions have been reported. Researchers said there had been no systematic studies of how safe it is for people with tattoos to have an MRI.

Reported side effects include a pulling sensation on tattooed skin because tattoo ink can contain pigments that are magnetic and interact with the MRI’s strong magnetic fields. Tattoos may also absorb energy that would ordinarily be spread out, increasing burn risk, according to study researcher Nikolaus Weiskopf. He’s director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.” (Source: HealthDay via WebMD

Weiskopf’s study examined 330 volunteers before and after an MRI scan, testing 932 total tattoos. Some controls were set in place for the study: a single tattoo could not be larger than 8 inches in size, no more than 5% of a volunteer’s body could be tattooed, and most of the tattoos were black in ink color, though some included colored ink. The results were positive, as most participants noticed no side effects. One participant experienced a tingling sensation on the skin which was attributed to scanning and disappeared within 24 hours. 

This study is a helpful start to outlining the effects of MRI scans on tattooed individuals, but further research needs to be completed to create a full scope of understanding. For example, the study’s participants aren’t a perfect representation of those with tattoos since many people have more than 5% of their body covered with tattoos or have tattoos larger than 8 inches. 

Always let your doctor or radiology technician know if you have any concerns or worries. If you do experience adverse effects of the MRI on your tattoos – and if an MRI scan is the only option for your diagnostic needs – tattoo removal is an option. Laser tattoo removal would start breaking down the tattoo ink and your body would flush out the ink particles, which includes metallic ink ingredients if those are present. By consulting with your physician and radiology technician, you can see if laser tattoo removal is a worthwhile option for relieving any discomfort caused by the MRI’s magnetic pull. 

At Eraser Clinic we are the tattoo removal experts. We offer free consultations and will happily answer any questions you may have about laser tattoo removal. Book your Free Consultation today

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