Tattoo art has been around for centuries and is seen as a sign of beauty in many cultures. But in the United States, tattoos once identified their owners as perhaps a bit unsavory. But today tattoos have become a part of mainstream American culture, with parents and teens sometimes going together to the tattoo parlor.
Despite its popularity, risks remain for those choosing to tattoo their skin:
Dirty needles can pass infections, such as HIV and hepatitis C, from one person to another. A reputable tattoo artist will always use “single-use” needles.
Contaminated Tattoo Ink
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) cautions consumers that the ink used by some tattoo artists may be made from substances that were never intended to be injected into the skin, such as printer ink, drawing ink or calligraphy ink. Additionally, consumers must be aware that if unsterile water is used to dilute the ink or to create different shades of ink, the tattoo artist may be injecting contaminants directly into the skin, leading to infections of all sorts. To reduce the risk of infection, the CDC recommends the following:
- Use tattoo parlors approved/registered by their local jurisdictions.
- Request inks that are manufactured specifically for tattoos.
- Ensure that tattoo artists follow appropriate hygienic practices, such as only using sterile water to dilute ink and to rinse equipment. They should also have scrupulously clean hands and use clean disposable gloves.
- Be aware of the potential for infection after tattooing, and promptly seek medical care if skin problems occur.
Scarring, Granulomas, and Allergies
According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), scarring can occur around the tattooed area and sometimes granulomas can form. Granulomas are unsightly knots or bumps that form around material the body perceives to be foreign—such as tattoo ink. Additionally, allergies to ink pigments can cause long-term problems with itching and irritation.
One of the biggest risks for teens (or adults!) is that of choosing a tattoo whose meaning loses its shine as the individual matures. Whether it’s Tweety Bird on ankle or a girlfriend’s name on a bicep, it’s difficult to determine when you are 18 what will have meaning when you are 30, 40 or older.
According to the FDA, tattoos must be considered permanent. “Removal is time-consuming, costly and doesn’t always work,” warns a post on the FDA Consumer Health Information website. Efforts at removal can leave raised scars, “ghost tattoos” that never completely fade, darkening of the skin, and burns to the skin.
If you are considering tattoo removal, the FDA recommends the following:
- Do not buy online DIY tattoo removal products. They are acid-based, not FDA-approved, and can cause serious skin reactions.
- Consult your health care provider, not a tattoo parlor, if you want a tattoo removed. They recommend the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery for help in finding a doctor experienced in tattoo removal.
Just Say No
My recommendation is: don’t tattoo! Why risk the health problems for something you may later regret anyway?