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Are Tattoos Unhealthy? Learn the Health Risks of Tattoos

Often viewed as a reflection of someone’s personality or state of mind, tattoos are justifiably popular today. However, they are also associated with several health risks, including tattoo infection, an allergic reaction to tattoo ink, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) complications, and more. Read on to know more about the health risks of tattoos.

A tattoo is a type of permanent body art created by puncturing the skin using a needle and then injecting ink into the deeper skin layers.

Historically, tattoos were done manually — a tattoo artist would use a handheld needle to puncture the skin and inject tattoo ink. Though the manual process of tattooing is still in use in some areas of the world, most professional artists use machines to make tattoos. A tattoo machine powers the needle’s movement while the ink is deposited in the skin.

A tattoo artist makes a tattoo without using any type of anesthetic, so the process may cause slight pain and bleeding.

Tattoos rupture the skin; therefore, they may cause a wide variety of complications such as skin infections, tattoo ink allergies, and more. These are some of the possible risks:

The process of tattooing injures your skin and involves both the epidermis (upper layer) and the dermis (middle layer) of the skin. Because the skin’s surface is not sterile, up to 5 percent of tattoos lead to bacterial tattoo infection, including potentially severe (though rare) systemic infections. Bacterial contamination of ink and mixing tattoo ink with non-sterile water before injecting can also play a role. 

As tattoos rupture the skin, they may cause a wide variety of complications such as skin infections, tattoo ink allergies, and more.

You are more prone to get infected tattoos during the first two weeks after getting a tattoo. The symptoms of an infection are redness and itchiness. The area of the tattoo may also become swollen. If the infection from the tattoo spreads, you may develop other symptoms including fever.

Tattoo dyes — particularly red, blue, yellow, and green — may cause an allergic skin reaction, which may manifest as a rash, redness, itchiness, hives, and swelling at the site of the tattoo. A tattoo allergic reaction is caused by tattoo ink and not by tattoo needles. The allergic reaction may occur several years after getting the tattoo.

Tattoo dyes may cause an allergic skin reaction, which may manifest as a rash, redness, itchiness, hives, and swelling.

In rare cases, permanent makeup or tattoos may cause a sensation of burning or swelling during an MRI. The risk of having this reaction is increased if low-quality dyes were used or if your tattoo is very old. In some people, tattoo pigments may interfere with MRI image quality.

Apart from tattoo infection, an allergic reaction to tattoo ink, and MRI complications, there are other risks of getting a tattoo including:

Blood-borne diseases: If a tattoo artist uses a needle contaminated with blood from another person, you may be exposed to blood-borne infections such as hepatitis B, C, and HIV. 

You may need medicine or other types of treatment if you develop a tattoo ink allergy, an infection or any other kind of skin problem around the tattoo.

Other problems related to the skin: Sometimes a granuloma (mass of inflamed tissue) forms around the tattoo ink. Getting a tattoo may also result in the formation of keloids — raised bumps that occur due to an overgrowth or hypertrophy of scar tissue.

You may need medicine or other types of treatment if you develop a tattoo ink allergy, an infection or any other kind of skin problem around the tattoo.

Consider the following points to ensure that you get a safe tattoo:

  • Enquire about the person who makes the tattoo: Always go to a well-reputed tattooing studio with licensed employees. Remember that licensing standards and regulatory requirements vary in different states. Check with the health department of your state, county, or city to get proper information for your area.
  • Make sure that the artist wears gloves: It is important to make sure that the artist washes their hands and wears protective gloves (a fresh pair) for every procedure.
  • Make sure that the artist uses proper equipment: The artist must use tubes and needles from sealed packets. Furthermore, any containers, trays or pigments should also be unused.
  • Make sure that the artist sterilizes non-disposable equipment: The artist must use an autoclave (heat sterilization machine) for sterilization of all non-disposable equipment between customers. They should use a bleach solution or commercial disinfectant to disinfect any supplies and instruments that they can’t sterilize using an autoclave, such as sinks, tables, and drawer handles after every use.

You should take care of your tattoo to prevent a tattoo infection or other types of side effects. The following are tips for taking care of a new tattoo:

  • Keep the area clean: Using water and plain soap, clean the tattooed area gently. While showering, don’t let the stream of water make direct contact with the tattoo until it’s healed. Instead of rubbing, pat gently to dry the area.
  • Use a moisturizer: Apply a gentle and mild moisturizer to your new tattoo a few times every day. Your tattoo artist can recommend a specific product.
  • Avoid exposure to the sun: Take care to keep the newly tattooed area away from direct sunlight for several weeks.
  • Avoid swimming: During the time your tattoo is new and healing, stay away from pools, rivers, lakes, hot tubs, and other bodies of water.
  • Allow at least two weeks for the tattoo to heal: Proper healing may take at least two weeks. Don’t pick at the tattoo, as that may increase your risk of tattoo infection and damage the tattoo design. It may also cause scarring.

If you think you may have a tattoo infection or you have a concern about how it’s healing, visit your doctor. If your tattoo didn’t turn out the way you’d hoped and you want to have it removed, consult a dermatologist about removal.

Are tattoos bad for you? Though the safety of getting a tattoo has improved considerably, it’s still important to go to an experienced, trained, and licensed artist to decrease your risk of adverse effects. Moreover, it is important to take good care of a tattoo to reduce the occurrence of complications such as tattoo infection and scarring.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/tattoos-and-piercings/art-20045067

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3519250/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5400116/

https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/think-you-ink-are-tattoos-safe

https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/safe-tattooing.html

https://www.aad.org/skin-care-basics/tattoo-skin-reactions

https://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2012/08/the-hidden-dangers-of-getting-inked/

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