Most persons who have tattoos are proud of their them.  So proud, they have them all over their arms and other body parts.  There’s a lot to consider before trying it out, if you haven’t done so already.  As the Food and Drug Administration says, “Think Before You Ink.”  When trying to think of the pro’s and con’s, it is hard to come up with a balanced list.  Actually, there’s really not much to say about the positive side, except that some people feel that it expresses their personalities.  However, there are many concerns on the con side, so here goes: 

  • Infection.  When you go into a tattoo artist’s shop, ask to see the autoclave (a medical pressure cooker primarily used for sterilizing medical instruments.) This autoclave must maintain a temperature of at least 246 degrees for 30 minutes to fully sterilize the equipment.
  • Spread of disease. The artist should wear some type of medical latex gloves that fit properly.  A pinhole could run the risk of cross-contamination.  Ask the artist if he/she has had their Hepatitis B vaccination.  You might be a little suspicious if he doesn’t remember, as the vaccination involves receiving 3 shots over a 4-month time frame.  You may want to consider getting the vaccination yourself,  just to be on the safe side.
  • Allergies.  Allergies to various ink pigments in both permanent and temporary tattoos have been reported, and can cause problems.
  • Granulomas.  Small knots or bumps that may form around material that the body perceives as foreign, such as particles of tattoo pigment.
  • Scarring.  Unwanted scar tissue may form when getting or removing a tattoo.
  • MRI complications.  People may have swelling or burning in the tattoo when they have an MRI.  This happens rarely and doesn’t last long.  Do not fail to have an MRI if needed. Just inform the technician so they can take appropriate precautions. 

Other concerns:

  • The FDA has not approved any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin. This applies to tattoos such as glow-in-the dark.
  • The use of henna in temporary tattoos has not been approved by the FDA; henna is approved only for use as a hair dye.
  • An increased variety of pigments and diluents are being used in more than 50 different pigments and shades.  These are approved for cosmetic use only, not injected into the skin.  Many pigments used in tattoo inks are not approved for skin contact at all.  Some are industrial-grade colors that are suitable for printers’ ink, and automobile paint.
  • Professional disposal of needles is also an indication of whether you want to get a tattoo in the salon.  They should be placed in a sharps container that you can see.  Also the needles used should be new.
  • Tattoos are permanent.  If you decide you need to have one removed, find a doctor that is experienced in tattoo removal.  The American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery can help you find the right physician. 

The FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research in Arkansas is investigating the chemical composition of the inks and how they break down (metabolize) in the body; the short-term and long-term safety of pigments used in tattoo inks; and how the body responds to the interaction of light with the inks.  Whether the migration of tattoo ink has health consequences or not is still unknown.  NCTR is doing further research to answer many questions about the safety of tattoo inks. 

Do your own research while considering a tattoo; don’t do it on a whim.  It’s going to be with you the rest of your life.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the safety of the instruments and experience of the person placing a permanent message on your body for display.