DENVER, Colo. – Welcome to the world of tattoos. Body art is one of the most popular forms of self-expression and the tattoo industry has evolved throughout the years.
The country has become more open to those with tattoos. The Pew Research Center reported nearly four in ten millennials ages 18 to 29 has a tattoo. Half of those have between two and five pieces.
The Pew Research Center also reported 40 percent of those between the ages 40 to 54 years old to have a tattoo as well.
With how popular tattoos are, there have been a lot of recent articles and news challenging if tattoos are safe, and both sides of the issue want those who are considering a tattoo to be educating before making the decision.
“I’ve been tattooing for 12 years,” said Matt Sager, the owner of Think Tank South in Littleton, Colorado. “Tattoos are more mainstreamed now, and you got a lot of really good shops now-a-days. At this shop, we take it pretty serious and have a pretty high-quality standard for how clean it is around here and the overall quality of tattoos that we are doing.”
When it comes to safety, Sager says it’s hard to find a tattoo shop that doesn’t put cleanliness in top priority.
“We get inspections by the tri-county health department,” Sager said.
Sager also said shops like his monitor bad ink recalled from the Federal Drug Administration.
“Before we start any tattoo, we log and document what batch they came from, what expiration dates they have, so we can track back everything to the company if there was an issue with the ink.”
Some of the risks he’s aware of and thinks customers should be aware of is allergic reactions when getting a tattoo.
“Everybody is different, everybody has a different type of allergy and reactions they can come across, and some people don’t have any,” Sager said. “Some of our clients who are more prone to being allergic to stuff that come in, we will do a simple skin test where we’ll take certain colors that we would use on their tattoo. We place it on their skin, wrap it with plastic, and see if it creates any redness or swelling.”
According to Haley Snadecki, a dermatologist, red ink is a common allergy when it comes to tattoos.
“Cinnabar, which is not so commonly used anymore, is a composed of mercuric sulfide and that can cause an allergy,” Snadecki said. “There’s both red and yellow tattoo compounds that can cause a photo-allergic-reactions. So, when you’re exposed to the sun you can get an allergy and the tattoo can raise off the skin.
Snadecki said clients should do some research about their own bodies and skins before making the decision to get a tattoo. She said if someone is prone to scarring, the tattoo could be problematic.
“Because a tattoo is an open wound on your skin, it could heal abnormally for those who are prone to scarring. It could form a keloid scar which is basically your body forming a bigger scar.”
In rare cases, doctors have discovered black tattoo ink in swollen lymph glands thinking it was cancer.
“Because it’s taken by an immune cell, it can travel through the lymph system to your lymph nodes,” Snadeck said. “It can be problematic when it comes to a diagnosis. In the cases I’ve seen, it was confusing for the doctors who took a test of that lymph node and saw black pigment which could be melanin made by melanoma versus ink from a tattoo. That could confuse the picture for a doctor developing a diagnosis.”
As for Sager, he said the biggest risk he’s seen is people not taking care of their tattoos after it’s fresh.
“Yeah it’s an open wound,” Sager said. “Anything you come into contact with can affect the healing process. We advise people not to go swimming or go to the gym while it’s healing since those places can be dirty.”
According to Mayo Clinic, this is what you should do when taking care of your tattoo:
Take good care of your tattoo
How you care for your new tattoo depends on the type and extent of work done. Typically, however, you'll need to:
- Keep the tattooed skin clean. Use plain soap and water and a gentle touch. While showering, avoid direct streams of water on the newly tattooed skin. Pat — don't rub — the area dry.
- Use moisturizer. Apply a mild moisturizer to the tattooed skin several times a day.
- Avoid sun exposure. Keep the tattooed area out of the sun for at least a few weeks.
- Avoid swimming. Stay out of pools, hot tubs, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water while your tattoo is healing.
- Choose clothing carefully. Don't wear anything that might stick to the tattoo.
- Allow up to 2 weeks for healing. Don't pick at any scabs, which increases the risk of infection and can damage the design and cause scarring.
If you think your tattoo might be infected or you're concerned that your tattoo isn't healing properly, contact your doctor. If your tattoo isn't what you expected and you're interested in tattoo removal, ask your dermatologist about laser surgery or other options for tattoo removal.
According to Mayo Clinic, this what you should know before getting your tattoo:
Know the risks
Tattoos breach the skin, which means that skin infections and other complications are possible, including:
- Allergic reactions. Tattoo dyes — especially red, green, yellow and blue dyes — can cause allergic skin reactions, such as an itchy rash at the tattoo site. This can occur even years after you get the tattoo.
- Skin infections. A skin infection is possible after tattooing.
- Other skin problems. Sometimes an area of inflammation called a granuloma can form around tattoo ink. Tattooing also can lead to keloids — raised areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue.
- Bloodborne diseases. If the equipment used to create your tattoo is contaminated with infected blood, you can contract various bloodborne diseases — including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
- MRI complications. Rarely, tattoos or permanent makeup might cause swelling or burning in the affected areas during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams. In some cases, tattoo pigments can interfere with the quality of the image.
Medication or other treatment might be needed if you experience an allergic reaction to the tattoo ink or you develop an infection or other skin problem near a tattoo.