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What You Need to Know before Getting a Tattoo or Piercing

Tattoos have long been perceived as a sign of high-risk behavior. However, attitudes toward people with tattoos and piercings have begun to change, and the medical community is taking note.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report aimed at educating physicians, young adults, and their families about the potential harms in such body modifications as well as the factors they should consider.

Experts know that teens are going to get tattoos with or without their parents’ consent, but they just want them to be smart about it.

There have been previous medical reports on tattoo and piercing safety, but none have been a simple collection of all the evidence-based material.

What is scarification?

Scarification usually refers to three kinds of body modifications: cutting, branding, and braiding, which can pose even more risks than tattooing and piercing.

You should not try these procedures on yourself or others, as cutting or burning too deeply into the skin can cause serious problems. Special studios may do certain types of scarification, but there are still serious health risks involved.

Safety Concerns For Tattooing And Piercing

  • Tattooing and piercing break the skin and may cause bleeding.
  • They cause open wounds and infection is possible.
  • Infections at the site may cause permanent deformity, scarring, and severe illness.
  • Skin can be infected with resistant organisms such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and can be life-threatening.
  • Needles and other equipment used can contribute to the risk of cross-contamination and disease if the equipment is not new or properly sterilized.
  • If proper hygienic guidelines are not followed, blood-borne diseases, like hepatitis B and C (which may lead to life-long liver damage and subsequent liver cancer), HIV, tetanus, and tuberculosis, may be transmitted.

One major concern about tattooing is the dye used. Many dyes used for tattooing are made from metals and can cause skin irritations and allergic reactions.

While irritation may not be life-threatening, the area will itch and the tattoo will not look as it should. There is also safety concerns related to piercing some parts of the body (e.g., ear cartilage, tongue, eyebrows, nipples, navel, etc).

There is an increased likelihood of infection when cartilage is pierced because the blood supply is less. Piercing can easily cause greatly enlarged scars that project above the surface of the skin.

Tongue studs and rings have been linked with tooth breakage, and some nipple piercings have been associated with partial removal of the breast due to infection or abscess.

What To Look For In A Safe Studio

If you are interested in getting a tattoo or piercing, choose a safe, reputable studio, where proper hygiene and safety standards are followed. Health Risks increase dramatically if individuals attempt the procedure on themselves or others.

The staff and studio area should be very clean, and the studio should have separate areas for piercing and tattooing.

The studio should also have and use an autoclave (equipment used to sterilize the necessary equipment), and if there is not an autoclave, do not proceed.

Needles and other sharp equipment should only be used once and should be opened in front of you before the procedure, and staff or artist should wear new latex gloves during each procedure.

Piercings should not be done with a piercing gun as the “gun” cannot be properly sterilized in an autoclave and can spread infections.

Jewelry used for piercings should be non-allergenic only, like stainless steel-300 series, gold, niobium, platinum, etc…

Inks used in tattooing should be placed in a single-use cup and then disposed of. Ink should never be returned to that bottle.

Ask about after-care instructions, and read and understand the instructions before getting a tattoo or piercing.

Ask questions on how long has the artist been piercing or tattooing, and ask to see photos of their work.

Ask if you can watch the preparation for and an actual piercing or tattooing, as this may give you a chance to check out sterilization and techniques.

Take your leave, if you feel uncomfortable in a studio or with the staff.

Tattoo Self-Care

Tattoos take a couple of weeks to heal and scab over. The scabs will flake off, and you must follow the directions your tattooist gives you. A tattoo may be very itchy, but don’t scratch or pick at it, and if necessary, seek medical care.

Remove the bandage anywhere from an hour to the next morning after getting your tattoo, and during the healing process, gently wash your tattoo with a mild antibacterial soap.

Pat dry, and apply a thin layer of ointment until scabs flake off.

Use an ointment like vitamin E, tea tree or a product recommended by your tattooist, and after your tattoo has healed, applies a good quality moisturizing skin lotion to keep it healthy.

Don’t soak in a tub or go swimming until your tattoo is fully healed, and avoid sunlight, as it will damage your tattoo. Apply a sunblock (with a high SPF) to your tattoo for the rest of your life.

Tattoo Removal may be done by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon, but if you are considering a tattoo, think of it as permanent, as the results are highly variable and the process expensive.

Piercing Self-Care

A piercing can take a few weeks to several months to fully heal, depending on where it is located on your body.

Do not touch the piercing, and do not pick at the piercing or jewelry, since your hands carry germs that can cause infection.

Use a warm salt-water soak or a mild liquid antibacterial soap every day to aid healing and prevent infection.

Oral piercings need to be cared for differently than other piercings, and you should use an alcohol-free antibacterial mouthwash to cleanse the area in your mouth.

Do not use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol on piercings, as these products can irritate the healing tissue.

Do not use antibiotic ointments, gels, or creams on piercings, as they can attract dirt and prevent oxygen from reaching the area.

When To See A Clinician

If you suspect an infection of any kind, see a clinician because untreated infections can lead to further problems.

Signs of infection include:

  • redness and burning beyond the normal healing period
  • discharge of yellow or green pus;
  • deep, dark redness that extends from the piercing;
  • swelling;
  • heat at the site; and
  • fever

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