Important Things to Know About Before Getting a Tattoo


Tattoos are a wonderful way of expressing ones individuality, but people need to think about all the ramifications of getting a tattoo before they get it. “Tattoos are fast becoming a mark of the 21st century, with one quarter of those under the age of 30 adorning their skin with at least one.” (Healy, 2008, p.1)

The American Academy of Dermatology reports that 89% of men and 48% of women who wear tattoos have conspicuous designs on their hands, necks, arms, legs, toes, and feet (Sayre, C. [2007]. Tattoo bans. Time Magazine. November 5, p. 56).

Tattoos consist of a permanent design that is drawn on to the top of the skin, then pigments are inserted under the skin by way of a tattoo gun. A tattoo gun works almost like a sewing machine. Every time the needle hits the skin, it deposits tiny droplets of ink deep under the epidermis. Tattoo ink is classified as a cosmetic and, they are not “regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” (Healy, 2008, p.1)

There are specific medical risks that people need to be aware of before they get a tattoo. These risks can include:
1. Blood-borne diseases: Tetanus, “Hepatitis B and C, Tuberculosis, and HIV- the virus that causes AIDS.” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008, p.1) These can all be transferred by equipment that has been contaminated with the blood of someone who is infected. Because of these risks, the American Red Cross has stated that no person shall be able to donate blood within 12 months of being tattooed.

2. Skin-disorders- “Tattooing can also cause areas of raised, excessive scarring (keloids). For those people that do keloid, tattooing is not recommended as these may be hard to remove. “May form bumps called granulomas around the tattoo ink.” (Forsyth County Department of Health, 2005, p.1) Sarcoidal granulomas are firm balls of reactive tissue underneath the surface of the skin.”

3. Skin infections- “Local bacterial infections. Symptoms can include redness, swelling, warmth at the infected site, and pus-like drainage.” Some of these infections are resistant to antibiotics and “can lead to pneumonia, blood infections and the flesh-destroying condition known as necrotizing fasiitis.” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008, p.1) Between 2004 and 2005, a sepcific type of Staph infection known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA were seen in three different states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified 34 people with MRSA who received their tattoos from 13 unlicensed tattooists in three different states. (Montgomery, 2007, para.9)

4. Allergic reactions-Dyes used in the tattoo ink, “especially red dye, can cause allergic skin reactions, causing an itchy rash at the tattoo site.” This can even “occur years after one gets the tattoo.” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008, p.1) “This is because the vast majority of tattoo pigments are derived from metal, which makes them a potential source for developing a skin reaction. Some pigments do have non-metallic options for those who have concerns or a past history of allergic reactions to these compounds.”

Problems can also arise from the removal of a tattoo. Laser removal can be a painstaking process, and usually involves 2-3 visits and is expensive. “Treatment with the laser varies from patient to patient depending on the age, size, and type of tattoo (amateur or professional). The color of the patient's skin, as well as the depth to which the tattoo pigment extends, will also affect the removal technique.” Dermabraison is also an option. “This is where the tattoo is sanded down to deep levels and generally does not hurt, but can leave a scar.” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008, p.1) Now there is also the option of having a doctor surgically remove the tattoo by cutting it out and stitching the edges back together. I believe that complete removal without any type of scarring may be impossible.

It is also very important to make sure that the establishment one is thinking of getting his, her tattoo at follows strict health and safety guidelines. One wants to make sure that he, or she has either a state or local license. Look around the shop. Is it clean? Do the employees sterilize their equipment after each client? Do they wash their hands and put on a new pair of gloves after each client? Do they open a fresh pack of needles after each client? These are all very important things to pay attention to before one makes his, or her final decision.

Never get a tattoo while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This is because drugs and alcohol can lead to poor judgment. One wants to make sure that he, or she has a clear head when he, or she decides exactly what type of tattoo he, or she want and where they are going to get it. One also has to sign a contract or release form. If they do this while under the influence, it makes the contract null and void. Both aspirin and alcohol thin the blood and will promote excessive bleeding. Aspirin, ibuprofen or any other NSAIDS also tend to inhibit clotting. The alternatives are topical anesthetics which contain some lidocaine, or one can buy benzocaine over-the-counter. The drawback is that these do not work on unbroken skin. Once the first needle stick is made, these can be applied and can make a tremendous difference.

What type of tattoo is he, or she looking for and where do they want to have it placed? It is important to do some research on the type of tattoo that he, or she wants’ and exactly where they want to put it. They do not want something they will regret later. I think the best way to make sure of this is to picture yourself at 80 years old, wrinkly, maybe even fat. If he, or she can still enjoy their tattoo when it is on their wrinkly, fat, 80 year-old self, then by all means, get it!

Remember, it is important to ask many questions and truely pay attention to the type of work that each tattoo artist does. Each one has a uniquely different style so he, or she wants’ to make sure that they pick the one that is best suited for what he, or she wants.

Since tattoos are no longer considered taboo, the popularity of them proves that skin is always in. I believe that if people go into it with a broad knowledge of what getting a tattoo entails, they will be able to make the best possible choices for themselves and, be happy with their tattoo for the rest of their lives.

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