Thinking About Getting a Tattoo? Make Sure You First Know the Risks

Millions of Americans get inked without any problems, but tattoos aren't a risk-free art form

Thinking About Getting a Tattoo? Make Sure You First Know the Risks
Image: Pexels
May 3, 2017

Thinking about getting a tattoo? It's estimated that one in five Americans have at least one, so you're in good company!

Whether you're getting your first or your tenth, tattoos aren't risk-free. That being said, it's important to be aware of any potential health consequences before you make the decision to get inked. If you later regret that tribal band on your arm complete with your current significant other's name—well—that's on you.

Risk of Infection

Most of the time when people talk about tattoos and infections, it's paired with a warning about unhygienic practices and using equipment that isn't sterile. Good tattoo artists will make certain they are keeping themselves and their clients safe by keeping a clean workstation, using rubber gloves, using new needles, and properly sterilizing reusable equipment.

What can be out of the artist's control, however, is the quality of the tattoo ink itself. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), during the last several years there have been cases in which people got infections because the tattoo ink itself was contaminated. The FDA says that this can happen at any point during the production process, making a sealed and supposedly sterile product unsafe. Unfortunately, without lab testing, there is no way to tell if the ink has been contaminated.

Skin Reactions

While It's normal for a tattoo to be a little itchy for a couple of days after it's done, you should contact a doctor if you notice a rash or bumps or if you develop a fever, as these could be signs of a potentially serious infection.

You may also have an allergic reaction, but the exact cause may be hard to pinpoint. It could be anything from the pigment to the diluent, or even something that contaminated the ink during manufacturing.

If you do have an allergic reaction or get an infection, contact the tattoo studio or the artist so he or she can identify the ink that was used and avoid using it again. The artist will also be able to give you more detailed information about the ink that could be used to figure out the source of the problem and how to treat it.

Long Term Problems

Aside from regretting or hating your new body art, there isn't a lot of information about the long-term effects of tattoo ink or its ingredients on the body. Similarly, should you want to remove said regrettable tattoo, there is little information about the short and long-term consequences of how the pigments break down after laser treatments.

The FDA's Role

Since state, county ,and local health departments are in charge of overseeing the operation of tattoo parlors, the FDA has little to do with what happens behind closed doors. If a tattoo ink has been recalled for a safety reason, however, the agency will work to notify studios, artists, and the public of the risks.

The FDA has very little information about tattoo inks, but it is analyzing inks and pigments for contaminants, heavy metals, degradants, and potentially toxic chemicals. The FDA says that published studies have found everything from pigments used in printer toner to pigments used in car paint within tattoo ink.

The FDA does collect data on adverse reactions related to tattoos—so doctors, patients, and tattoo artists are encouraged to report any problems using the Medwatch reporting system. This can help FDA officials identify any trends or ongoing problems.