A tattoo is created when an artist inserts ink, using a needle, into the layer of skin known as the dermis. It changes the pigment of the skin and can be used to create almost any image imaginable.
Tattoos have become increasingly popular in recent years. According to some surveys, between 30% and 44% of American adults have tattoos.
Piercing is another popular form of body art. In this type of body modification, a piercer uses a needle to pierce a hole in the body. They then insert a jewel into this hole.
Although tattoos and piercings are becoming increasingly popular, these procedures carry health risks. Before making the decision to modify your body, it is important to understand the unwanted side effects associated with these procedures.
There are different types of tattoos and piercings.
For example, permanent makeup is a form of tattooing. This is when permanent ink is used to mimic the look of eyeliner, lip liner, eyebrow pencil, or other types of makeup.
Body parts that can be pierced include:
More dramatic body modification procedures include:
When you receive a tattoo, a tattoo artist uses a hand-held machine with an attached needle to pierce the skin. Each time this device makes a hole, it injects ink into the dermis – the second layer of skin below the epidermis.
Tattoos are a common form of self-expression, but they also damage the skin and can lead to complications. Complications can include:
- allergic reaction to tattoo dyes, which may develop years later (symptoms of an allergic reaction include a rash at the site of the tattoo)
- a skin infection, such as a staph infection or skin tuberculosis
- burning or swelling at the tattoo site
- granulomas, or nodules of inflamed tissue, around the tattoo site
- keloids or overgrowth of scar tissue
- blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, and tetanus (these can be contracted through contaminated and unsanitary needles)
Tattoo ink can even interfere with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests.
The long term effects of tattoo ink and dyes remain unknown. Until recently, no government regulator had looked closely at the safety of tattoo ink.
More than 50 dyes used in tattoos have been approved for use in cosmetics, but the risk of injecting them under the skin is unclear.
These pigments are regulated by the
Modifying your body with piercings also carries a measure of risk, such as the risk of bacterial infection.
Some people develop an abscess after getting a piercing. This pus-filled mass can develop around the piercing. This is a serious side effect. If left untreated, there is a risk of sepsis or blood poisoning.
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs in response to an infection. This can lead to organ failure and death. Symptoms of blood poisoning include:
Infections are more common with mouth and nose piercings because these areas contain more bacteria.
Other risks associated with body piercings include:
- swelling around the piercing site
- formation of a keloid around the piercing
- bleeding caused by a damaged blood vessel
There are also location-specific risks with body piercings.
A tongue piercing can damage your teeth and prevent you from speaking.
Also, if your tongue swells after getting the piercing, the swelling can block your airways. This will make breathing more difficult.
A genital piercing can cause pain during urination and intercourse. The risk of complications is higher if you have other medical conditions, such as:
Speak to a doctor before getting pierced if you have any of these conditions.
You can reduce the risk of health complications from a tattoo or piercing by taking a few simple precautions.
Tips for safe tattoos
- Get tattooed at an approved and reputable establishment. Tattooing regulations and requirements vary by state, so check with your local health department for the latest safety laws.
- Choose another facility if there are signs of poor hygiene in the store. Work surfaces, chairs and non-disposable equipment should be properly cleaned and sterilized between clients.
- Make sure your artist uses a new pair of gloves and washes their hands before beginning the procedure.
- Be sure to watch your artist remove the needles from a new sealed package. Needles and razors should not be reused.
- The area of skin to be tattooed should be dabbed with a disinfectant, such as rubbing alcohol, before tattooing.
- Fresh tattoos should be covered with sterile gauze or a bandage. Follow the artist’s instructions for caring for newly tattooed skin.
Tips for safe piercings
- A piercing gun should only be used on the earlobes. To avoid crushing delicate tissue, your piercer should use a hollow needle on other parts of the body.
- Piercers should wash their hands and put on a new pair of disposable surgical gloves.
- Body piercings should be done with a single-use needle, which is discarded after each use.
- Jewelry must be sterilized before being inserted into the body.
- Equipment and piercing surfaces should be disinfected and wiped down after each client.
Following the proper aftercare steps will reduce your risk of infection and complications.
Caring for a tattoo
It may take about 2 weeks for the top layer of your skin to heal. You can reduce the risk of infection by only touching the tattoo on rare occasions until it heals.
- Keep new tattoos bandaged for the first 1-2 hours only. Apply antibiotic ointment to your skin after removing the bandage.
- Gently clean the tattoo with plain soap and water, then pat dry.
- Use a mild, unscented moisturizer on newly tattooed skin throughout the day.
- Avoid direct sun exposure for the first few weeks.
Caring for a piercing
Healing times for piercings vary.
According to the Center for Young Women’s Health, they can range from about 6 weeks for ear or nose piercings to 1 year for belly button or male genitalia piercings.
- Gently clean new piercings with a salt water solution. Dip clean gauze into the solution, then apply the gauze to the new piercing.
- Only clean piercings twice a day. Excessive cleansing can irritate the skin and slow the healing process.
- Wash your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap before touching or cleaning piercings.
Signs of infection
Signs of an infected tattoo or infected piercing include fever, abscess, and red, swollen skin. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect an infection.
Tattoos can be removed, but not always completely or with satisfactory cosmetic results. The process is expensive and requires repeated visits to a doctor. Scarring is also likely.
The FDA recommends laser surgery performed by a dermatologist as a safe tattoo removal technique. Consult your doctor if you are considering having a tattoo removed.
Reversing a piercing is usually as simple as removing the jewelry and allowing the hole in the skin to heal. Perforated cartilage, stretched skin, and other body changes may require surgical correction.