40 people across the United States who recently attempted to get terrible tattoos ended up with tattoos much more terrible than the ones they thought they were getting, when their ink shaded in with red, bubbly skin rashes.
The problem wasn't that these people had shared needles or visited unhygienic tattoo parlors or even that they were the kind of dirty gutterbutts who just develop rashes for no discernable reason. The problem was water.
Can you believe it? And all this time we thought water was a friend.
Turns out, water is not so friendly when you mix it with tattoo ink, as some ink suppliers did. Their logic was that when you mix tattoo ink with water, you magically create more (lighter colored) ink for free. This same trick can be used to turn beer into less flavorful beer or water into even more water.
The problem, NBC News explains, is that by introducing distilled water into the tattoo ink, the manufacturers also introduced a distant relative of the tuberculosis bug that lives in soil and water.
Some of the manufacturers pretreated their water with alcohol or witch hazel before mixing it with the ink, to kill off any bugs. The problem is that Mycobacterium chelonae cannot be killed off with alcohol or witch hazel (or pretty much any other disinfectant), otherwise that plan surely would have worked.
The victims all developed their rashes after requesting a gray wash tattoo treatment that makes the tattoos resemble photographs of terrible tattoos. The ink has since been recalled.
So what we're left with now are some cautious tattoo artists who look (unfairly) like unhygienic amateurs and forty tattooed Americans who, for all intents and purposes, are Nicole Kidman's character in Moulin Rouge.
According to public health officials, the rare bug is not deadly, but can take four months (or longer) of antibiotic treatment to eradicate; even then, some patients may have to have the entire skin area surgically removed, leaving behind "an ugly scar."
Probably not at bad as the tattoo they were hoping for in the first place. But still pretty bad.
[NBC News // Images via University of Washington and Monroe County, NY Public Health Department]