Stay safe when getting a tattoo

By: Jul 23, 2012
tattoo safety

Learn the risks and the safety precautions necessary to ensure a safe tattoo procedure.

These days, tattoos are more popular than they have ever been. As the tattoo culture has proliferated, so have tattoo artists and tattoo parlors. Unfortunately, many people fail to research the risks involved with a tattoo and the safety precautions necessary to ensure a safe tattoo procedure.

How Tattoos Work

Modern tattoo artists typically use hand-held machines that operate in much the same way as sewing machines. They make a series of small punctures in the skin and deposit ink droplets in order to create a design. The punctures can cause anywhere from mild to majour pain, and often bleed a little. The end result, though it can be beautiful, is essentially an open wound and should be cared for as such. 

Risk of Illness or Complications

Tattoo artists are using a greater variety of pigments in their tattoos than ever before, and these pigments can occasionally cause allergic reactions. If your skin reacts to the ink an itchy rash will develop around the tattoo site. Reactions affect some people right away, but have been known to occur several years after the tattooing process.

If a new tattoo does not receive the proper care, skin infections may develop shortly after tattooing. Localized infections typically involve red and swollen skin, some pain and tenderness, and pus. Granulomas – raised bumps – or keloids – irregular tissue that forms around scars – can also occur at the site of a tattoo.

Metallic pigments have caused rare complications during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams. Pain or burning can occur during the exam, and the results of the MRI are sometimes distorted by the presence of a tattoo.

Lower back tattoos should not normally prevent pregnant women from receiving epidurals during labour, but there are some things to keep in mind. A new tattoo that has not fully healed and covers a large portion of the lower back will be difficult for the anesthesiologist to work around. It is also ideal if the needle can be inserted through skin that is not tattooed, to prevent pigment from getting trapped in the needle.

The greatest risk faced during tattooing is the risk of blood borne diseases. Theoretically, any blood borne disease could be contracted through tattoo equipment that has not been sterilized. Tetanus, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are among the risks. No cases of HIV transmission through tattoos have been documented, although the risk is present.

Choose the Right Tattoo Artist

Much of the risk involved with tattoos can be mitigated by selecting an experienced and  reputable tattoo artist who follows universal precautions for blood borne pathogens. Allergic reactions can be unpredictable, and care for your tattoo will be up to you, but the tattoo artist is responsible for providing safe equipment and procedures.

Good tattoo parlors should be clean and orderly, and the artists should be transparent with their procedures and open to your questions. Have the artist narrate each step of the tattoo process so that you know each safety precaution has been satisfied.

Tattoo artists should use a fresh pair of protective gloves for each tattoo procedure. Since petroleum-based ink can erode latex, artists should be sure to wash their hands between procedures in case small tears appear in the gloves.

Make sure that your tattoo artist replaces disposable equipment such as needles, tubes, pigment trays or containers for each procedure. Non-disposable equipment should be sterilized between each customer with a heat sterilization machine, a commercial disinfectant, or a bleach solution. Heat sterilization is the most thorough, and should be used wherever possible.

Tattoo artists should pat dry tubes after rinsing so that water and colour does not spray. When cleaning a new tattoo after the procedure, the artist should spray soap onto a clean tissue rather than the wound itself, to prevent blood from becoming airborne.

Caring for Your New Tattoo

The first two weeks after you get a tattoo are critical for proper healing and avoiding infection. The tattoo should stay bandaged for 24 hours, after which you should remove the bandage to allow the tattoo to breathe.

Clean your tattoo daily with soap and water, but avoid extremely hot water or direct streams. Pat the area dry instead of rubbing it to avoid irritating the skin. Apply moisturizer to the tattooed and surrounding skin several times throughout the day.

The tattoo needs to remain dry whenever possible and have access to the air in order to heal properly. As a result, you should avoid swimming in pools, hot tubs, or any body of water for at least a couple of weeks. Don’t wear clothing that will rub against the tattoo or possibly stick to the tattooed skin. Don’t expose the tattoo to the sun until it has healed.

Tattoo Removal

Tattoo removal used to involve painful surgery, but modern laser removal technology has made the procedure much quicker and not quite as painful. Most tattoos require multiple laser sessions for complete removal. Laser removal is also much less expensive than outdated tattoo removal procedures, although is may still cost more than the tattoo itself.

Even laser tattoo removal is not always completely effective, and colour variations and skin blemishes may remain after the procedure. Any scar tissue that formed following the tattooing will remain, and the tattooed area may have more or less colour than the skin around it.