Are tattoos bad for my skin?

Tattoo action, canon 1Ds mark III
Can getting a tattoo harm your skin?

In today's culture, body art and piercings are a popular form of self-expression. Tattoos in particular are a common way of displaying your individuality. Because they are permanent, however, a lot of consideration should go into the decision to get a tattoo. The first question you may have is whether or not a tattoo will have a harmful effect on your skin. The process does involve, of course, needles and ink.

The tattoo itself, once healed, is not bad for your skin. Issues arise, in fact, when complications occur during the healing process. A tattoo is essentially a series of punctures that insert dye into different levels of the skin, so it is by nature an invasive process. When done correctly and in a sterile environment, complications are uncommon, and the only immediate discomforts may be bleeding or pain.


It's important to keep potential complications in mind, however. One potential risk is a bacterial infection at the tattoo site. Symptoms of this include redness, warmth and a pus-like drainage. You may also have a reaction to the tattoo, in which bumps called granulomas or excessive scarring may appear. Some people may have a serious allergic reaction to the types of dyes used in tattoos, so it's important to leave the tattoo parlor with a list of the types of dyes used, just in case of emergency [source: WebMD].

A more serious risk is the spread of infectious disease, which can be avoided by being particular about the tattoo parlor you use. Diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, tetanus or HIV can spread if an artist uses dirty equipment. To be safe, make sure that the parlor uses an autoclave, or a heat sterilization machine, on all non-disposable equipment before you get your tattoo. Needles and tubes should be removed from sterile packaging before every tattoo job [source: Mayo Clinic].

Be sure to follow all instructions from your tattoo artist in order to ensure proper healing. If you keep these potential risks in mind and carefully select your tattoo parlor, a tattoo can be a safe form of body art. See the links on the next page for more information.


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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Mayo Clinic. "Tattoos: Risks and Precautions to Know First." Feb. 16, 2008. (Aug. 12, 2009)
  • WebMD. "Tattoo Problems -- Topic Overview." Sept. 4, 2008. (Aug. 12, 2009)