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What We Know About Tattoo Reactions Only Goes Skin-Deep

For about as long as there have been humans, it seems there have been tattoos.

Ötzi the Iceman, the 5,000-year-old mummy discovered in the Alps in 1991, had 61 tattoos covering his body. And a quick look around the local coffee shop reveals they’re just about as popular today. By one estimate, about a quarter of U.S. adults have at least one tattoo.

Yet doctors say we still don’t understand the full extent of the skin’s reaction to tattoos. There are lots of individual reports of bad reactions to tattoos, some short-lived and others chronic, in the medical literature. And a few European studies lately have tried to put firmer numbers on the extent of those reactions.