Have a tattoo? About 21 percent of Americans do. But despite how common tattoos have become and the fact that tattoo ink is injected between skin layers, the FDA treats tattoo ink like a cosmetic. The agency doesn’t even require the ink to be sterile.

That might change soon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are calling for more stringent regulation of tattoo ink, after studies published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and the New England Journal of Medicine found the ink can cause a serious, sometimes drug resistant, skin infection by a bug known as M. chelonae. Public health officials are still determining the scope of this issue, but a 2010 test of 58 bottles of tattoo ink showed 10 percent were contaminated with some organism.

“Even if a person receives a tattoo at a tattoo parlor that maintains the highest standards of hygienic practice, there remains a risk of infection from the use of contaminated ink,” wrote physicians and public health experts with the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in an essay accompanying the New England Journal of Medicine study. “People who get tattoos must be made aware of this risk.”

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