Almost 50 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 35 have at least one tattoo. They are a growing trend in today’s world, particularly among young adults. While it is amazing to see society heading in a direction of such acceptance, the extreme popularity does bring up some health concerns. With so many people getting tattoos at such a rapid rate, many wonder if there are risks or dangers that we should be concerned about.
Can tattoos affect your health? Absolutely. Getting a tattoo creates an open wound, and puts ink directly into your skin. This comes with several risks, many of which are much more severe if the tattoo is neglected after application.
Tattoos not only pose risks to your skin itself, but they can create other problems for you – both immediately and down the road. Of course, it is important to follow your artist’s aftercare instructions very carefully and continue caring for the tattoo until it is healed. Even a perfectly cared for tattoo that heals without issues still comes with risks. It is important to be aware of these risks before going ahead and getting a tattoo.
Neglected Tattoos Have a High Risk of Infection
One of the most common and perhaps most dangerous risks with getting a tattoo is the possibility of infection. It is important to understand that all tattoos are at risk of infection, the same way that any cut or other wounds would be.
You can greatly minimize the risk of infection by doing two things:
- Find a clean and professional tattoo shop that follows all health and safety procedures.
- Take proper care of the tattoo for the entire duration of the healing process.
Tattoos will require regular cleaning and monitoring until they are healed. Always follow your artist’s instructions closely in regards to the frequency of cleaning and materials to use. It is also good to pay attention to what comes in contact with the tattoo. Clean, loose clothing and clean sheets are highly recommended.
Even if your tattoo itself never gets infected, simply having it may increase your risk of contracting a bacterial infection. While the tattoo is healing, your skin is still open and therefore more vulnerable to bacteria that may be around you. The risk is a fairly low one, but it is still something that is important to be aware of as you allow your tattoo to fully heal.
What to Avoid
In addition to cleaning and caring for your tattoo properly, there are some things you should avoid during the healing process that will help you avoid infection and further irritation:
- Sun exposure
- Soaking in a bath
- Tight clothing
- Picking/peeling the scabs
Staying away from these things with a fresh tattoo will also help it heal nicely in terms of appearance. Too much irritation or exposure to the wrong things may not always cause infection, but it could mess with the tattoo aesthetically. Forced peeling or picking of the scabs, for example, can ruin the tattoo and require a great deal of touching up later on.
While tattooing, in general, is heading in a good direction in the way of safe inks, there are still a lot of toxic inks out there that you want to avoid. Despite the health risks, some shops will still use these inks so it is important to do your research and ask questions about the quality of ink being used.
Many inks have been found to contain carcinogenic ingredients – particularly black inks, which is the most popular color for tattoos. Other inks have been found to contain additional harmful compounds such as copper, mercury, and barium. The FDA has become more involved in the regulation of ink in recent years, and there are many inks out there that are much safer. It is simply something to be aware of and make sure you ask questions before allowing the ink to be put on your body.
Bloodborne diseases are a very serious risk when it comes to tattoos, but they are easily avoided. Any respectable and professional shop will only ever tattoo you with sterile, single-use needles. This is why it is so important to visit and research a shop before getting your tattoo. Getting tattooed with contaminated needles can cause some very serious bloodborne diseases. Thankfully, you won’t have to worry about this if the tattoo is done with the right equipment!
Scar Tissue May Develop
The development of scar tissue is another fairly common risk when getting a tattoo. In theory, a perfectly applied tattoo shouldn’t cause any scarring, but not every tattoo is perfect. Even the best tattoo artists will sometimes make mistakes, and may overwork certain parts of the skin, or simply have moments of poor technique. Mistakes like these may result in some scar tissue developing. Tattoo artists are not robots and this will always be a risk. The risk will be more minimal the more experience an artist has, however. Newer artists with less experience may be more prone to mistakes.
You are at the highest risk of developing scar tissue if you ever choose to get a tattoo done by an amateur. It is never a good idea to get a tattoo anywhere other than a professional shop, from a well trained, professional artist. Just because someone has a tattoo machine doesn’t mean they know how to use it. Someone with no training will quite likely leave behind damaged skin and many scars.
Different colors of ink have different chemical compositions, and there is always a risk that you may be allergic to one or more of these ingredients and not even know it. Many people have experienced allergic reactions after getting tattoos, some shortly after, and some years later.
It is quite likely that you don’t know about these allergies f you have them. It is possible to have a patch test done before getting a tattoo, but they are not always reliable. If you have an existing allergy, the patch test can tell you. However, some allergies can develop after the ink has already been applied to the body. In this case, a patch test won’t help you as you aren’t even allergic to the ink yet.
More Sensitive to Sun Exposure
While it is important to avoid exposing a fresh tattoo to the sun, it may be a precaution you have to take long term. Depending on your skin type and its sensitivity, the tattooed skin may always be more sensitive to the sun. Too much sun exposure may cause a tattoo to raise, itch, or become irritated even after it has completely healed.
This doesn’t necessarily pose a huge risk to your health, but it is a possibility to be aware of before getting tattooed as it can be an inconvenience.
An MRI is probably one of the last things on your mind when you’re considering a tattoo, but there are risks here as well! It is definitely less common, but there have been reports of people experiencing a burning sensation on their tattoos both during and after receiving an MRI. The burning was brought on by an electromagnetic reaction caused by the metallic compounds found in tattoo pigments.
Some swelling and raising of the tattooed skin has also been experienced. This type of reaction is rare, but it is still something to consider. Avoiding iron-based inks will reduce these risks. It is also recommended that you alert your doctor of your tattoos before having any procedures done.
Normal Side Effects
While tattoos come with some considerable risks, there are also a number of reactions and side effects that are totally normal. If you are unsure, it never hurts to contact your tattoo artist and/or shop and they will be glad to help you.
In the first few days after getting your tattoo, there are some things you can expect that are not a cause for concern:
- Mild redness
- Mild swelling
If redness, soreness, or swelling are extreme and/or continue to be a problem, get in contact with either your artist or doctor for further treatment and instruction.
In addition to prolonged and severe redness/soreness/swelling, there are several other signs that can indicate your tattoo may be infected. Some will be obvious, but others may be more subtle. Especially for those who are new to being tattooed, it is important to be aware of the signs of infection:
- Sores on the tattooed skin
- Muscle aches
- Extreme thirst
- Hard, raised bumps
Depending on the severity of the infection, different treatments will be recommended. For mild infections, antibiotic creams or pills will be prescribed. For more serious conditions, a skin sample may need to be taken and tested to determine the best treatment.
Tattoos are awesome – there is no denying it! Many people get large volumes of tattoos without ever having a single major problem – but there are risks and potential health complications. It is important to go into your tattoo fully informed. It is also important to be prepared and knowledgeable should you experience any issues.