Tattoo Health Risks: Precautions For Getting Inked

By:    Published: August 26, 2011

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Getting a tattoo may seem like a simple, though somewhat painful, process that many people consider having done on their bodies. While the social stigma associated with tattoos have been slightly alleviated, and the rise of body ink appearing on all types of individuals from varying backgrounds and walks of life may encourage you to permanently alter to your body, there are certain precautions and health risks to consider. Read through this guide to get a better idea of what you are getting into when tattooing your body, and what you need to watch out for to avoid any complications.

How Tattoos Work

Whether it is being done with a handheld machine known as a tattoo gun or machine, or with sharpened needles and colored inks, tattoos are permanent pieces of body art that are infused into a layer of the skin. In a typical, modern tattoo shop, a tattoo artist uses a tattoo gun to puncture the skin at an incredibly rapid pace to inject ink into the skin. The common process for getting a tattoo is as follows:

  • Setting an appointment to discuss the tattoo design with the artist.
  • Coming in to have the stencil and initial outlining done.
  • Another visit for coloring.
  • A final visit for shading and clean-up.

Depending on the size of the tattoo, the entire process can take anywhere between a one-time visit with an hour long session, to multiple visits that can require as much as 8-to-10 hours of needle work per session.

How Painful is the Process?

Many have compared the tattoo process with being cut by a dull blade, or butter knife. However, the threshold for pain varies from person to person, and the severity of pain from getting tattooed depends on the tattoos location. Those getting tattooed on or around a bone, like a tattoo on the rib cage, can expect a more painful experience than getting tattooed on the arm or another location where the tattoo needle isn't anywhere near a protruding bone.

Tattoo Health Risks: Before You Get Inked

There are many health risks people need to consider before having a tattoo done on their body:

  • Keloids: Before you decide on getting a tattoo, inspect your body for keloids. Keloids are permanent scars that are rubbery, may slightly protrude and are discolored (typically purple or red). Keloids can form anywhere on the body and can occur from any forms of skin trauma ranging from acne to a severe cut. If you have a keloid on your body, be aware that your tattoo can cause a keloid to form.
  • Allergies: Those with sensitive skin can suffer an allergic reaction caused by the skin dyes used in the tattoo process. This can lead to an itchy rash that can even appear many years after getting the tattoo.
  • Acne: Getting a tattoo over an area affected by acne can lean to irritation and permanent tattoo scarring (keloid).

Health Risks While Getting a Tattoo Done

Here is a list of possible health risks while sitting in the tattoo parlor and having your ink done:

  • Blood diseases: If the tattoo needle being used in the tattoo gun is not sterile, there is the possibility you may be infected by diseases such as: HIV or Aids, tuberculosis, hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • Infections: Getting tattooed in a dirty facility where needles and other tattooing equipment are not clean and sterile can lead to staph infections and other skin problems and infectious diseases. A common cause for such health risks would be a tattoo artist who uses the same needle and ink on multiple customers.

Health Risks After Getting the Tattoo

  • Infections: It is still possible to get some form of infection if you do not properly care for and maintain your tattoo. A tattoo should be treated as a wound and cared for with the same precautions.
  • Scarring: Depending on the tattoo artist's experience, and how well you care for your tattoo, your ink work can lead to possible scarring that would make the tattoo look slightly elevated or puffed. It might also look almost scab-like in appearance.
  • Dissatisfaction: Though this isn't necessarily a health risk, there is the possibility that you might not like the final result of your permanent tattoo. The worst case scenario would be an error on the tattoo artist's part, like a crooked line or misspelling.

Bottom Line

Though tattooing has existed in many different cultures for centuries, its acceptance in mainstream society has influenced more and more people to go under the needle to get inked. However, it is still not accepted amongst certain circles and settings, and may have detrimental effects on your employment and social status. The location of your tattoo is also something to consider. A tattoo on the hands or neck still carries a heavy social stigma as opposed to a tattoo on the upper arm, which is almost always covered. Before you decide on getting your ink done on your body, think hard about the decision you are about to make. Also make sure you inspect the tattoo facilities you are using to ensure they are using sterile equipment and following proper hygienic practices and care.

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