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What are the health risks to getting a tattoo?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Tattooing is associated with a number of health risks. It can cause people to develop granulomas, or raised bumps around the tattooed area. Bumps of scar tissue that form on or near the tattoo are called keloids. Some people have allergic reactions to tattoo ink, and others get bacterial infections. If instruments are not properly sanitized in between uses, tattooing can also cause transmission of blood-borne diseases like tetanus, hepatitis, and HIV.

Tattoos involve needles and blood, so they carry several risks including the transmission of diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis and maybe HIV. When tattoo artists follow the correct sterilization and sanitation procedures, risks are lowered. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has not been a documented case of someone contracting HIV from a tattoo. Doctors still warn that non-sterile tattooing can lead to the transmission of diseases including syphilis and hepatitis B.

Infections can occur in new tattoos and some people can experience allergic reactions to tattoo inks. Even though the pigments used might have U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for other purposes, the FDA doesn't regulate tattoo inks. Finally, some people can experience pain or burning during MRI exams because of metallic pigments. Doctors have also reported interference and distorted MRIs from permanent makeup pigments.

Most states place restrictions on whether people with tattoos can donate blood. This is because of the danger of hepatitis. The American Red Cross will not accept blood from anyone who has gotten a tattoo in the past year unless the tattoo parlor was state-regulated. Still, most states do not regulate tattoo parlors.

Tattoo artists use rules known as universal precautions to help prevent the spread of disease during tattooing. These precautions are issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and also apply to hospitals.

  • Check gloves for pinhole tears during tattooing
  • Pour ink in advance and use clean tissue to open ink bottles
  • Pat tubes dry after rinsing during color changes
  • Spraying liquid soap into a tissue, not directly onto a bleeding area
  • When pens are used for drawing on the skin, give them to the client afterward

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.