Hoaxes & Rumors

Fake Warning: Fetal Ink Syndrome

Fake Warning: Fetal Ink Syndrome
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A warning on social media claims that mothers who get tattoos have increased birth defects due to “fetal ink syndrome.”

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It’s not true.

Let’s first take a look at what is being circulated.

Several memes in circulation claim there are dangers of receiving tattoos while pregnant. One claims that “82% of Tattoo Moms who get ‘inked’ in the 3rd trimester have babies with BIRTH DEFECTS.”

Many of the memes were generated by the Facebook page “Tattoos Make You A Horrible Mother” which is apparently where the term “Fetal Ink Syndrome” originated, along with a badly-Photoshopped graphic from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) as “proof.” That page has been removed as of March 30, 2015.

fetal ink syndrome

The text in the graphic above, however, could not be found in JAMA from 2007, or any other year. Further, there is no basis for the “82%” statistic cited by some memes.

Tattoos and Pregnancy

The American Pregnancy Association addresses the topic of getting tattoos while pregnant. It provides a set of guidelines to consider, and in regards to ink states to be sure “The dyes or ink used for the tattoo are also sterile packed and unopened.”

In addition, the article address ink dyes and other concerns of tattooing while pregnant:

The main concern with getting a tattoo during pregnancy is the risk of contracting an infection, such as Hepatitis B and HIV. Although the risk is small, it is recommended that you wait to get a tattoo until after your baby is born.

You will be very interested to know that little information is available about the safety of skin dyes used for tattooing during pregnancy. It is possible that the chemicals in the dye may affect the development of the baby during the first 12 weeks, but the risks are unknown, as are any effects on the baby during the remainder of the pregnancy.

Tattoo Ink and Birth Defects

The FDA has not historically regulated tattoo inks and coloring, and discusses tattoo safety on a consumer update page. It mentions risks such as infection, allergies, and scarring – but does not mention birth defects as a major concern. It also does not issue warnings for pregnant women seeking tattoos.

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There are, however, some concerns regarding the composition of some inks. In 2005, a California judge ruled that tattoo inks must carry warnings in accordance with Proposition 65, which requires disclosure if customers are to be exposed to materials which have been “scientifically determined by the State of California to cause cancer or birth defects and other reproductive harm.” The warning also advises pregnant women to consult with a doctor before getting a tattoo.

2007 lawsuit by the American Environmental Safety Institute resulted in two leading tattoo ink manufacturers having to place warning labels explaining that, “inks contain many heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and others” and that the ingredients in these inks have been linked to birth defects and cancer.

It has been suggested that those concerned about long-term risks of tattoo ink should avoid colors (particularly red) derived from heavy metals. There are also non-metallic organic pigments available, but not all parlors carry them.

In reference to the meme mentioned above, we should point out that none of the research or lawsuits cited above mentioned “Fetal Ink Syndrome.”

Google Trends

If “Fetal Ink Syndrome” were real, one would expect a Google Trends search to reveal search interest on the topic. Alas, the term has received such little interest that it does not even register on Google Trends.

Bottom Line

“Fetal Ink Syndrome” is not real. It is a term coined by a Facebook page in recent weeks. There have been some concerns about heavy metals found in some tattoo inks, but little research exists on the risk of tattoos during pregnancy.

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