29 June 2002

Is Tatooing Safe?

Équipe -Pose ta question!-

So you’re thinking about getting a tattoo. Well, before you make up your mind, remember that tattoos are painful to get, can be extremely expensive to remove, and there are health risks involved. Whether getting one is safe depends on two things – you and the tattoo studio.

If you’re seriously thinking about getting a tattoo, you should make sure that you find a tattoo studio that is clean, safe, and professional. You can call your local health department to ask for recommendations and check for any complaints about a particular studio. Keep in mind the following essential questions. Professional studios usually take pride in their cleanliness and won’t mind if you ask:

  • Is there an autoclave? This is a device that uses steam, pressure, and heat for sterilization. You should be allowed to watch as needles and any other equipment is sterilized in the autoclave.
  • Is the person a licensed practitioner? If so, the tattoo artist should be able to provide you with references.
  • Are “Universal Precautions” followed? These are precautions listed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that outline a certain procedure to be followed when dealing with bodily fluids (in this case, blood). If they answer “yes” to this question, it should mean that guidelines for preventing infections are always followed.

Most of all, though, use your instincts. If the studio looks unclean or anything looks out of the ordinary, you should trust your instincts and find a better studio.

If you decide to get a tattoo at a place that doesn’t adhere to these regulations, you’re putting yourself at risk for getting serious infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. In fact, because of the risk of these infections, the American Association of Blood Banks won’t accept blood donations until 1 year after a person has gotten a tattoo.

You’re also at risk of developing skin infections such as impetigo and other complications such as dermatitis (severe skin irritation). If you already have a skin condition such as eczema, you may have flare-ups as a result of the tattoo. Some people have allergic reactions to the tattoo pigments. Others develop thick scars called keloids. And believe it or not, the most common problem that occurs because of tattoos is regret! Many people find that they later wish they hadn’t gotten a tattoo.

If you get a tattoo, you have to take care of it until it fully heals. A tattoo is like an open wound, so you have to dress it and protect it by applying an antibiotic cream (such as Neosporin) and wearing sunscreen or covering it with a patch if you’ll be in the sun. It’s recommended that you wear a sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 on the tattoo for the rest of your life because the area will always be more susceptible to the harmful rays of the sun. Follow all the instructions for caring for your tattoo to make sure that it heals properly. If you suspect that you have an infection, call your doctor right away.

So when you get your tattoo – if you decide that you still want one – make sure you know what you’re doing. If you find a professional, clean tattoo studio or shop, the risk of contracting a disease is low. However, after you get your tattoo, it’s up to you to make sure you protect and treat it to prevent infections and other complications. And remember, just like with most things in life, you can’t be 100% sure that you won’t encounter any of these problems. Just make sure it’s worth it to you!

Note: All information on TeensHealth is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.