Getting Inked?

You may want to first consider these safety precautions.

Tattoos are no longer confined to marines and bikers. It’s estimated that nearly one out of every three American adults now has a tattoo. Whether it’s an arrow, a rose, or a skull, tattoos are done by inserting permanent ink into the skin through needle pricks.

With their increased popularity, concerns over the safety of tattoos have increased as well. Anyone seeking to get a tattoo should know what’s involved and take the necessary safety precautions to reduce possible risks.

Anyone who’s had a tattoo knows once you get your first one, as you’re walking out the door, you’re planning the next. – Chris Evans

Risk 1: Infections

Anytime there are needles, skin, and blood involved, there’s risk of infection. Unsterilized needles or tattoo machines or contaminated ink can cause blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis, tetanus, or staph. Skin infections or warts are also possible.

Risk 2: Allergic Reaction

Who knows how your body will respond to dyes being injected into your skin? Allergic reactions to tattoo dyes (especially colors like blue, yellow, red, and green) or dye ingredients such as nickel or mercury can occur immediately or even years down the road. Most of the time, the reaction causes swelling or an itchy rash.

Risk 3: Skin Bumps

Some people’s bodies are hypersensitive to ink pigments. Months or years after a tattoo, granulomas (bumps or knots) may appear at the site as the body tries to expel what it recognizes as a foreign substance. Keloids are another possible over-response of the body when too much scar tissue forms in an effort to heal the tattoo site.

Risk 4: Ink Safety

The risk of infection has been known for years, but the safety of the actual ink has yet to be confirmed. The pigments used in tattoos have not been approved by the FDA. The majority of the ink remains at the tattoo site, but not all of it. Pigments are known to travel to the lymph nodes, part of the body’s lymphatic system responsible for filtering harmful substances. Research is ongoing to discover how the ink metabolizes in the body, its safety, and how sunlight interacts with the ink.

Risk 5: Problems with MRI

It may not be an issue today, but down the road if you ever need an MRI, there’s a chance your tattoo may interfere with the clarity of the image it provides. Some people also experience temporary burning or swelling at the site of their tattoos while undergoing an MRI. A tattoo should never keep you from having the test done, however. You’ll just need to tell the radiologist before your scan if you have a tattoo.

Reducing the Risks

While there are some risks you have no control over, you can help prevent infection by carefully choosing your tattoo artist. Never get a tattoo in someone’s kitchen or basement. Instead, find a reputable studio that follows health department regulations. You’ll want your tattoo artist to wear gloves and use brand new needles, trays, pigments, and sterilized equipment. The tattoo parlor should feel as clean and sterile as a doctor or dentist office.

Part of preventing infection involves proper care of your tattoo once you leave the tattoo parlor. In most cases the tattoo will be covered with a bandage for 24 hours. When removed, apply antibiotic ointment to the skin, keep the area clean, avoid direct sunlight for several weeks, don’t go swimming while it’s healing, and use a gentle moisturizer. If you suspect the skin is infected, see your doctor.

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