The Health Risks of Getting a Tattoo

Tattoos have become more and more popular within the last 15 years and statistics show that one in every 10 Americans has a tattoo. The reasons for getting a tattoo are as varied as the designs themselves. Tattooing involves breaking the skin and this can create a myriad of health risks. A lot of research has gone into the effects of inking your skin and as its prevalence continues to grow, the big question remains; are tattoos safe?

Dangerous Health Risks of Tattoos Allergic Reactions

It’s fairly common for a person to get allergic reactions from the tattoo dyes, which come in blue, green, red or yellow colors. The tattoo could cause a toxic or immunological response and become itchy and infected, forcing you to use antibiotics. An allergic reaction can occur immediately or several months after getting a tattoo. Unfortunately, you can’t tell whether or not you’ll get allergic reactions until you get the tattoo. Tattoos can also worsen certain skin conditions.


Tattooing could also cause scar tissue. You may notice small bumps or knots forming around the area with the tattoo. This is your body’s way of trying to get rid of the foreign substances (the chemicals found in ink) introduced to the skin.

Tattoos Increase the Risk of Bacterial Infection

According to research published in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, tattoos could increase your risk of bacterial infections caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. This could lead to septicemia, impetigo, and erysipelas. Other bacterial infections include Mycobacterium leprae which causes leprosy and Staphylococcus aureus which can cause infections of the soft tissue and skin. Sometimes, granuloma can develop around the skin area with the tattoo. Other people also experienced keloids, raised skin areas caused by scar tissue overgrowth. These skin infections are blamed on lack of equipment sterilization and poor skin preparation.

One case study published in BMJ Case Reports identifies a man who tattooed his leg. When the man swam in the Gulf of Mexico, he was rushed to hospital and doctors discovered he was infected with the Vibrio vulificus bacterium which caused septic shock and skin necrosis. Unfortunately, the man didn’t make it. While the tattoo didn’t directly cause his death, doctors said that the tattoo exposed his skin to the seawater allowing the bacterium to enter his body. However, exposed wounds could also expose the skin to the bacterium, and, therefore, there isn’t sufficient evidence to support this report.

May Complicate Medical Procedures

Several case studies have linked metal-based ink tattoos with interfering with the quality of images during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. In some cases, patients suffered MRI-induced burns in the areas covered by tattoos. This was attributed to iron compounds in the tattoo ink. Although this is rare, the iron compounds increase skin temperature causing the burns. Other reports also suggest that tattooing could lead to serious misdiagnosis, which could pose a health risk.


Hepatitis C is a highly infectious disease that is mostly transmitted via needle sharing. Since the industry is not well regulated, there are a lot of inexperienced people damaging people’s skin. That’s why it’s critical to inspect the tattoo shop and get to know how they operate their business in terms of hygiene and professionalism. Although Hepatitis C can now be treated, contracting the disease can cause long-term effects such as liver cancer. As a precaution, check if all the employees wear gloves and use new and sterilized needles with every new client.


There isn’t a direct link between tattoos and skin cancer. However, tattoo inks contain compounds that could cause cancer. Black ink contains high levels of benzo(a)pyrene, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists as a carcinogen. Most individuals are covered with the heavy black tattoo ink, which covers a large portion of the body. This could change the skin pigmentation, a factor that contributes to skin cancer. There are also concerns that when tattoos start fading after you’ve had it for a while, the ink breaks down and may release cancer-causing compounds.

How to Take Care of a Tattoo

It’s important to keep your tattoo clean while it’s healing. Avoid sun exposure, hot tubs, swimming pools and wear loose fitting clothes. Additionally, keep the tattooed area moisturized throughout the day. Statistics show that almost 50 percent of people having tattoos regret their actions, especially when they get older. Tattoo stigmatization is real and most employers don’t consider people with tattoos as serious prospects. That said, your tattoo will not look the same 30 years from now. Similarly, the appearance of a tattoo may be distorted during pregnancy or with weight gain. It’s, therefore, imperative that you think it through before deciding to get one.

Final Thoughts

While getting a tattoo is a personal preference and responsibility, removing it is a slow and quite expensive procedure. So, be sure you understand the risks and disadvantages first. If you’ve already made up your mind, only get a tattoo from a reputable parlor that practices good hygiene. This is a permanent mark that you have to deal with for the rest of your life and you don’t want anything going wrong. Keep a close look on the progress of your tattoo and if you notice any weird reactions, talk to your doctor immediately to avoid health complications.

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