February 21, 2017

Tattoo Health Risks: How to Get Inked Safely

While tattoos have become more acceptable in western culture in the last century, the custom itself is nothing new.  Tattoos have been practiced across many cultures for thousands of years.  Furthermore, the tattoo was not always a strictly cosmetic procedure.  Throughout the centuries and around the world, tattoos have been used as religious and spiritual symbols, talismans, rites of passage, decorations for valor, marks of status, and protection.  Sadly, they’ve also been used for the identification of outcasts, prisoners and slaves.

Tattoo Gun & Angel

Getting a tattoo is an exciting process.  However, there are risks that should be considered before making the final decision to get inked.

1.      Skin Infections

Since the needle in a tattoo gun breaks the skin, it opens up the risk of infection.  Most infections result in redness, swelling, pain and drainage and can be managed by antibiotics.

2.      Allergic Reactions

Tattoo dyes can sometimes cause allergic reactions.  The main culprit is red ink, although any color can cause a reaction.  Allergies can present as inflammation, photosensitivity, granulomas or dermatitis.  Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Rash or bumps
  • Flaking

If you have an allergic reaction to a tattoo, it’s best to see a doctor or dermatologist immediately.  It should be noted that skin infections and allergic reactions can cause your tattoo to become discolored or distorted.

3.      Keloids

Keloids are scars that protrude above the surface of the skin and are capable of growing in size over time.  They can be sensitive, itchy or painful, although the amount of sensation differs from person to person.  The best treatment for keloids is superficial radiotherapy, a procedure in which a small amount of radiation is beamed into the top layer of the skin.

4.      Blood Borne Diseases

This is where things get really scary.  Where there are tattoos, there is blood, and where there is blood, there is a risk of disease.  There are some serious infections that can be transmitted by the use of unsterilized tattoo equipment or contaminated ink.   Tetanus, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and HIV are just a few.

What You Need to Know

If you’re planning on getting a tattoo, your number one concern should be the cleanliness of the both the tattoo parlor and the artist.  Sterile techniques should be in place at all stages of the process.  Here are things you should look for in a safe establishment:

  • The studio should be very clean, with separate areas for piercing and tattoos.
  • There should be an autoclave to sterilize instruments.
  • All needles should be single use only.  They should be opened from an individual package in front of you before the procedure.
  • Staff should wash hands and put on new gloves before each procedure.
  • All inks should be placed in a single use cup and not reused.
  • Staff should be knowledgeable and open to questions.

Although I’ve listed some rather serious health hazards associated with tattoos, they are rare.  The most prominent and universal risk of tattoos is regret.  Take your time and think it through.   Remember, tastes change over time. While you may find meaning in a design now, you may not be so fond of it 30 years down the road.

Gloria Mayer has three tattoos, two of which are in need of some serious re-coloring.  As a freelance writer for Drug News, she enjoys spreading the word on tattoo safety



  1. When I got my tattoo in Thailand, I really insisted on keeping all the safety measures, because after all, it’s appropriate to have a stylish and sexy tattoo, but it isn’t to be sick from it.

  2. Gloria Mayer says:

    Tiffany, you’re absolutely correct! If your tattoo becomes infected due to the negligence of a tattoo parlor, then they should be held accountable.

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