Do you know someone with a tattoo? The chances are pretty likely. One in four people ages 18-30 have a tattoo, about 65% of them being women. People get tattoos for different reasons. Some tattoos are military, tribal, cultural, make up, a memoir or for medical reasons. Someone receiving multiple radiation treatments may be tattooed at the radiation site. Tattoos can also be used during reconstructive breast surgery.

Even though tattoos may be meaningful, they can also be harmful. Did you know some people are allergic to Thimerosal-a preservative used in tattoos and vaccines? A patch test for contact dermatitis can now show if someone is allergic to certain substances, including Thimerosal. Symptoms include swelling, redness, itching and blisters filled with fluid.

Additional tattoo complications can include Hepatitis C, MRSA (staph infections), cellulitis or even HIV, from used needles. Used ink can also cause problems if it contains bacteria or mold. This can cause further health complications.

If you are considering a tattoo, follow these safety tips first:

  • Research your tattoo shop and artist. Visit the shop first before picking out the tattoo and jumping in the chair. Make sure the building is clean, licenses are valid and check the cleanliness of the tattoo station. Does the artist wash their hands and put on clean gloves? Are the needles and tools sanitary and new?
  • If you are getting a medical tattoo, make sure everything is spelled correctly. Some people have a diabetic symbol or other medical alerts tattooed on a visible part of their body.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take Aspirin 24 hours prior to getting a tattoo
  • Wait until you are feeling healthy
  • Follow all instructions for after care
  • Consider patch testing for contact dermatitis

If you are having problems or concerns with your tattoo, contact your physician. Laser removal is always an option, however, it should be done by a doctor and not a tattoo artist. If you are concerned about a possible ink allergy, schedule an appointment with an allergist. It’s never too late to check for allergies!