Can Tattoos Be Toxic?
Q. I recently decided to get a tattoo. Do you know of any medical complications that can develop? Can you get hepatitis or any other diseases from tattoos?
Tattooing can be dangerous, so you should know the risks -- and take the appropriate precautions when selecting the tattoo artist. The biggest potential health problem has to do with infections from the needles and other equipment used for tattoos. Hepatitis B has been transmitted when equipment is improperly sterilized, and while there are no reported cases to date of hepatitis C and HIV from tattooing, both are possible risks. Some states -- and some localities (including New York City) -- have banned tattoo parlors because of infections traced to poor sanitation. Elsewhere, state and local health departments may regulate tattoo parlors, so it is worthwhile to check the regulations for tattoo artists in your town.
In choosing a tattoo artist, try to find someone who has been certified by the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, a non-profit professional organization, which in association with the Food and Drug Administration, has developed infection-control guidelines. Once inside a tattoo parlor, look for the following signs that proper sanitation procedures are being used:
A clean, well-lit work area.
Prompt disclosure of sanitary and infection-control procedures.
The presence of an autoclave (a heat sterilization machine used to sterilize equipment between customers).
Tattoo needles that are prepackaged and sterilized. They should only be used once and then disposed of in a special biohazard container.
Disposal of leftover tattoo ink after each procedure. It should never be poured back into the bottle.
Needles are never inserted into the bottle.
The tattoo artist washes and dries his or her hands before each procedure and wears latex gloves when applying the tattoo. Gloves should be replaced if the artist touches any nonsterile object during the procedure.
After you have been tattooed, the affected area will take a week to ten days to heal. In the meantime, keep it clean and moisturized. You'll probably wear a bandage over your tattoo for a few hours. Once you remove it, wash the area with antibacterial soap, and apply antibiotic ointment three times a day until the tattooed area heals.
In addition to the risk of infection, there have been rare instances of allergic reactions to tattoo dyes. And one final concern: Think about whether you'll regret your tattoo. For many, they are fashion statements -- permanent ones -- and should you change your mind after you've had one applied, the cost of removal is far greater than the price of putting one on.