If you’re considering getting a tattoo, it’s important to know all about the health risks and side effects. After all, your tear in skin tattoo is something that will be with you for life!
There are four primary health risks associated with tattoos:
• Skin infection.
We’ve already mentioned how needles can transfer bacteria to your skin accidentally. If your artist doesn’t sterilize their equipment between clients, they can spread bacteria through the process of tattooing. The biggest concern here is Staphylococcus aureus (staph), which can lead to boils or carbuncles if left untreated.
• Hepatitis B exposure.
Hepatitis B is the most common liver disease in the US, which can lead to chronic inflammation and even cancer. Tattooists often use needles that have been used to prick vaccines or small animals, meaning they are carrying the virus.
• Tattoo-related infections.
Tattoos aren’t sterile environments, so if you don’t wash your hands properly, you’ll end up spreading any dirty tattoos on your skin. If you’re using a tattoo machine with sharp needles or any other potentially contaminated equipment, it’s possible to infect yourself without even touching the tattoo!
• Skin cancers.
The most common skin cancer is called melanoma . It’s basically a cancer of your pigment cells, so it’s not common in darker-skinned people. However, due to our white skin, we’re much more likely to develop melanomas than anyone else on the planet!
Tattoo parlors should use single-use disposable needles and tubes if they want to be truly safe. If you want to minimize your health risks even further, consider getting a tattoo of something small and on the inside of your wrist or ankle, rather than somewhere more prominent like the middle of your back.
How are tattoos done?
1. Tattoo inks are composed of heavy, fine pigments.
They are all colorfast, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. Some of them contain cadmium which is notoriously toxic, and all of them contain heavy metals like antimony and copper.
• But I read somewhere that the inks are usually not toxic, so what’s up with that?
The ATS (American Tanning Association) have stated time and time again that the ink itself is not usually toxic or detrimental to your health. However just because they’re usually not bad, doesn’t mean that they can’t be.
• What’s the truth?
Ink ingredients aren’t always listed by manufacturers, and the FDA has no regulations regarding this sort of thing. All in all, if the ink is properly labeled and not expired, you have nothing to worry about. However, because so many people are allergic (up to 4%) and sensitive to this stuff, it’s possible to get very ill from exposure to tattoo ink.
• So what am I supposed to do about it then?
You are responsible for your own health. Your artist may have assured you that their inks are free of carcinogens and will not harm you… but it’s up to you to make sure that they are right!
2. Needles are made of steel with a shaft and a disposable handle.
The steel used in tattoo needles is actually the same type used in surgical needles, so they’re quite sharp. The most common material is carbon steel, but chrome-vanadium alloy needles have also become more popular since they feel less scratchy during use.
• How sharp is the needle?
Some tattoo needles are only sharp enough to pierce skin – others can be sharp enough to pierce a vein or artery if you get an infection from the ink. The more needles at a time that are in the needle, the more likely you are to get an infection.
• What is a safety sleeve?
A safety sleeve is a plastic liner that covers the needle after use. Some artists use disposable sleeves with plastic liners, while others will wrap their needles in these materials when they’re not using them. Some tattoo artists will put their needles back into the foil packet or pouches that they were originally inside.
• Why aren’t these sleeves made of metal?
A needle stuck in your skin can leave a circular scar. A safety sleeve can reduce this risk, as the sleeve will cover any scratches on the skin surface as well as the needle. They were originally used to prevent accidental needle sticks.
3. Ink tanks need to be properly cleaned and sterilized.
Tattoo parlors will usually clean and sterilize their equipment regularly, but the tanks need to be thoroughly cleaned out with super hot water and a strong bleach solution. This can only be done safely by tattoo artists who have a professional understanding of how to properly use tongs, rubber gloves, and plastic bags.
• What else should I be looking for?
You’ll want to make sure that your artist is wearing protective gear such as gloves and masks, as well as washing their hands before touching you. If your artist is so careless about these things, then there’s a good chance they’re not caring for their equipment properly either!
• Ink composition may not be toxic on its own, but it can cause problems through improper tattooing practices.
• Ink particles can become trapped under your skin, and ink is not sterile.
• Even if your artist says that your risk is low, it’s up to you to make sure that you’re not going to suffer from inks or poor tattooing practices!