Risks involved with getting tattoos

October 5, 2015

Today it seems like every other person you meet has a little (or big) design somewhere on his or her body. Tattoos are more popular than ever, but they're not without risks.

Risks involved with getting tattoos

Can I catch a disease from getting a tattoo?

Yes. It's possible, but not likely, especially if you choose a reputable tattoo parlour.

  • If we can trust the statistics, getting a tattoo from a legitimate artist in a clean parlour is fairly safe.
  • In a study of 500 random tattoo wearers (ages 18 to 50) few reported any serious or long-term medical problems stemming from their tattoos.
  • There's not enough research to indicate a link between tattoos and blood-borne diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. That said, many doctors and health organizations believe that tattoos present a risk for transmitting blood-borne diseases, and they suggest erring on the side of caution.
  • A 20-year study shows less than one percent of people newly diagnosed with hepatitis C had ever been tattooed. On the flip side, however, one study found that people who received tattoos in a commercial tattoo parlour were nine times more likely to have hepatitis C than those without tattoos.

Are there other potential dangers?

Though unlikely, other risks range from infection to scarring.

  • Choose a licensed tattoo artist who uses sterile tools lowers the risks of infection and scarring.
  • While serious diseases and allergic reactions are statistical long shots with tattoos, less serious complications are likelier.
  • A recent study of 824 subjects reported that almost a third of tattoo wearers complained of bleeding or itching as the tattoos healed.
  • Other risks include scarring and bacterial infections (there have even been some cases of antibiotic-resistant infections traced to tattoos).
  • These happen infrequently, but dealing with unlicensed or unclean tattoo artists can increase the odds.
  • Tattoos have also been known to spread warts, says dermatologist Carolyn Jacob, MD.
  • If the tattoo artist drags a needle through a small wart on the tattoo site, it can spread the human papilloma virus that causes warts to other skin areas.
  • Old tattoos can cause problems with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) tests due to the magnetic properties of some inks used decades ago.

Is it easy to get a tattoo removed?

No. It may take several painful, costly sessions to remove even a small tattoo, and you could still be left with scarring.

  • Laser treatments can destroy tattoo pigments and erase tattoos, but they often leave at least some scarring, and certain ink colours are notoriously difficult to remove.
  • Black and dark blue are easy to remove with lasers, while reds, yellows and greens are more stubborn.
  • "Fluorescent colours, including teal and yellow, are very difficult, if not impossible, to remove," says Dr. Jacob.
  • In selecting a doctor to remove a tattoo, insist on a dermatologist who has vast experience in laser tattoo removal, advises Bruce Katz, MD.
  • Hint:  pick a specialist who owns (not rents) several of the costly lasers used to disintegrate inks.
  • Don't be surprised if that cute $250 tattoo you got in college takes five sessions and $2,500 to erase.

With all that being said, everyone has the right to express themselves with body art. If you want to get a tattoo, stick with a highly reputable artist. Choose a licensed tattooist who uses disposable needles and clearly shows how the equipment is sterilized. To avoid complications later (if you ever want the tattoo removed), get a small, dark blue or black tattoo.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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