MRI safety when one has a tattoo or permanent makeup procedure has been a question since the infamous “Dear Abby” letter back in the 1980’s. A patient with permanent eyeliner had an MRI and felt a “heating up” or burning sensation during the MRI procedure. Is this cause for alarm, or a reason to NOT have an MRI if you have tattoos?
Magnetic Resonance Imaging was first discovered by Felix Block and Edward Purcell in 1946, and both were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1952. In the late 70’s, the technique began evolving into the technology that we use for diagnosing illnesses in medicine today.
Men and women have decorated themselves for thousands of years by means of makeup, jewelry, clothing, and traditional and cosmetic tattooing. Procedures such as eyeliner, eyebrows, lips, eye shadow, and cheek blush are commonly done in the U.S. and around the world. Other procedures referred to as “para-medical tattooing” are done on scars (camouflage) and breast cancer survivors who have had reconstructive surgery with a nipple “graft” that is lacking in color. In this type of paramedical work, the grafted nipple created by the surgeon is tattooed a natural color to match the healthy breast.
Magnetic resonance imaging is routinely performed, particularly for diagnosing head, neck and brain regions where permanent cosmetics such as eyeliner are commonly applied. Because of a few reports of burning sensations in the tattooed area during an MRI, some medical technicians have questioned whether they should perform MRI procedures on patients with permanent cosmetics.
Dr. Frank G. Shellock has conducted laboratory and clinical investigations in the field of magnetic resonance imaging safety for over 20 years, and has addressed the concerns noted above. A study was conducted of 135 subjects who underwent MR imaging after having permanent cosmetics applied. Of these, only two individuals (1.5%) experienced problems associated with MR imaging. One subject reported a sensation of ‘slight tingling’ and the other subject reported a sensation of ‘burning’, both transient in nature. Based on Dr. Shellock’s research, traditional tattoos caused more problems with burning sensations in the area of the tattoo.
It is interesting to note that most allergic reactions to traditional tattoos begin to occur when a person is exposed to heat, such as exposure to the sun, or time spent in a hot steam room, or jacuzzi tub. Specific ingredients in the tattoo pigments such as cadmium yellow tend to cause irritation in some individuals. The result is swelling and itching in some areas of the tattoo. This usually subsides when exposure to the heat source ends. If the swelling continues, then a topical cream can be obtained from a physician (usually cortizone cream) to help relieve the irritation.
Dr. Shellock recommends that those who have permanent makeup procedures should advise their MRI technician. Because “artifacts” can show up on the results, it is important for the medical professional to be aware of what is causing the artifacts. These artifacts are predominantly associated with the presence of pigments that use iron oxide or other type of metal and occur in the immediate area of the tattoo or permanent makeup. Additionally, the technician can give the patient a cold compress (a wet wash cloth) to use during the MRI procedure in the rare case of a burning sensation in the tattooed area.
In conclusion, it is clear to see that the benefits of having an MRI outweigh the slight chance of a reaction from permanent makeup or traditional tattooing during the MRI.
For additional information on MRI safety, visit Dr. Shellock’s website at http://www.mrisafety.com.
In 2003, the Nobel Prize was won by Paul C. Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield for their discoveries of using MRIs as a diagnostic tool.