By Jenny Cook
But it it cause for concern?
No matter what size, shape or colour, tattoos – although permanent – are, generally speaking, purely aesthetic. Or are they?
A new study from the US actually shows that tattoos could have a long-term effect on the way our bodies work by changing the way we sweat – especially during intense exercise.
How it works
When someone gets ‘inked’, the artist repetitively punctures the outer layer of their skin (known as the epidermis) with dye filled needles, which then enter the second layer (the dermis) where most sweat glands are located.
To see how the process might affect the way people sweat, researchers at Alma college in Michigan recruited a small sample of 10 healthy young men – all of whom had a tattoo on one side of their upper bodies which was matched by an equal amount of un-tattooed skin on the opposite side. They were then provided with patches that contained chemicals that induce sweating, wearing them for 20 minutes at a time.
It was found that sweat production is roughly halved in tattooed skin compared to clear skin, but that the former produced perspiration that contained almost twice as much sodium as the latter. Speaking to Healthline, lead author Maurie Luetkemeier – a professor of integrative physiology and health science – said:
“This study is the first study of its kind to look at tattoos and sweating function. As such, we need to be cautious with interpretations, but we demonstrated that sweat production was about half in tattooed skin compared to non-tattooed skin. That may be very significant.”
“I realised that the sweat glands were at the same approximate depth as the deposition of ink for a tattoo. It got me wondering if the tattooing process interfered with sweat function.”
However, it is clear that further study is needed to determine the potential ramifications of the findings, and to see if the same results would occur after exercise. Acknowledging this, Luetkemeier said:
“In our study we used a chemical stimulant to stimulate the sweat glands. We did not heat anybody up nor did we have the subject perform any physical activity. Future studies need to be conducted to look at the risk of overheating when individuals are actually getting hot due to high environmental temperatures or heavy physical exercise.”
Interestingly, the age of the tattoos did not seem to have an effect.
While this could have potential implications for heavily tattooed high-level athletes, there isn’t really any cause for concern over this discovery – but it is worth further research!
The study was published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.