The Health Risks of Tattoos

Tattooed doctor showing anatomy chart

Unfortunately, health risks of tattoos do exist. After all, the process of tattooing entails intentionally inflicting wounds with multiple thousands of punctures in order to deliver a foreign substance (ink) into the second layer of a person's skin (aka the dermis). As described further in the tattoo pain section, it is not a pleasant experience...well, for most of us anyway. 

Once the ink has been delivered in to the dermis, the body takes over. Since the ink molecules are too large for the body to clean out and discharge through the bloodstream, physiological damage control kicks into action and - after determining that the ink poses no threat to the body - the immune system gets busy healing the damage. This effectively seals the ink safely in place, leaving slight scarring that is largely obscured by the ink itself.

The Dirtiest Word in Tattooing

The process described above is how it SHOULD work, but as discussed in the tattoo procedure section, that depends on several factors:

  • The recipient of the tattoo is in good health and has a healthy immune system that does its job;
  • The skin intended for the ink is clean, dry and in good condition;
  • The tattoo facility and its environment are sufficiently clean;
  • The tattoo guns, needles and attachments are all adequately sterilized;
  • The tattoo artist follows safe and sterile practices - before, during and directly after the procedure; and
  • Sufficient aftercare instructions, materials and ointment are all provided.
Microscopic image of virus in the bloodstream

The reason all of these points are so important is that chief among the biggest health risks of tattoos is that dirty word. That's right...INFECTION.

Studies have suggested an increase in the potential for infections for those getting tattoos -- Hepatitis C in particular. Even in patients who claimed to have used reputable and "commercially approved" tattoo shops, the studies showed a higher risk of getting Hepatitis C than from sexual promiscuity, blood transfusions, and IV drug usage.

Check out this article: Hepatitis C Linked to Tattoo Ink

Obviously, the potential for contracting Hep C or any other infection increases drastically with "back alley" tattoo parlors and amateurish "tattoo parties." Seriously, don't even consider either of those options!

As for the potential for infection following your tattoo procedure, clearly the onus is on YOU to follow all aftercare instructions to the letter. 

Speaking of YOUR responsibility in all of this, it is very important that you do your due diligence in researching and choosing a capable, responsible and qualified tattoo artist. 

Unfortunately, tattoo licensing and professional training are not mandated federally in the U.S. and likewise in most other it is very easy and fairly inexpensive for anyone to buy a tattoo gun, ink and accessories (which can still be found for less than 1,000 U.S. dollars). 

Other Health Risks of Tattoos

Other health risks of tattoos include:

  • Excess bleeding (especially for those on blood thinners, recent consumption of alcohol, or sufferers of hemophilia or other blood conditions);
  • Heart attack / angina (mostly the elderly or those with an existing heart condition);
  • Anxiety / panic attacks (brought on by unaccustomed pain, nervousness, fear of the sight of blood and unfamiliar surroundings);
  • Light-headed / fainting spells (especially those with a low tolerance for pain); and
  • Allergic reaction (extremely rare from "industry-approved" tattoo inks).

Most Importantly...

If you have any of the medical conditions mentioned, or suffer from any immunodeficiency (including HIV/AIDS), epilepsy, diabetes or other malady worth mentioning, you should consult your doctor before you even think about getting a tattoo.

In addition, should you then decide to pursue the ink and you've got the green light from Doc, make sure that you fully inform your tattoo artist UP FRONT about any of these issues before you sign the dotted line or pay any fees.

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