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While a tattoo may only take a few minutes to acquire, it is permanent. You should understand the risks and research the process before getting a tattoo. Tattooing involves breaking the skin, one of your body’s main protective barriers. This means you can be more susceptible to skin and blood infections. Specific risks include:

  • Blood-borne diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C could be contracted if equipment used for your tattoo is contaminated with the blood of an infected person (please refer to Quick Facts about HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C).

  • Unsterile tattooing equipment or re-used ink can cause symptoms of minor skin infections, from redness, swelling, or pus-like drainage, to potentially serious antibiotic- resistant skin infections (please refer to Quick Facts about MRSA).

  • Granulomas, or bumps, may form around the site of the tattoo as a reaction to the ink.

  • Tattooing can cause keloids, or raised areas of excessive scarring, if you are prone to them.

  • Inks may cause allergic reactions, such as an itchy rash, at the tattoo site.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams may cause swelling or burning of tattooed areas.

Your tattooist should tell you what to expect after getting a tattoo. Some swelling around the tattoo is normal. You should contact your health care provider if you have any of any of the following signs of infection:

  • Thick yellow or green drainage from the tattoo site

  • Continuous oozing or bleeding

  • Red streaks or a hot sensation surrounding and moving away from the tattooed area

  • Worsening pain

  • Any unusual swelling

The tattooist should provide you with detailed instructions on care for your tattoo to include:

  • Cleaning with soap and water

  • Applying moisturizer

  • Avoiding sun exposure

  • Not picking at scabs

All information presented is intended for public use. For more information, please refer to:

Guide for Sanitary Operations of Tattoo and Body Piercing Facilities in Indiana at http://www.in.gov/isdh/publications/tattoo/index.htm

Occupational Safety and Health Administration blood-borne pathogen Standard 29 CFR 1910.1030 Food and Drug Administration, Tattoos and Permanent Makeup at http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/CFSAN/~dms/cos-204.html

Alliance of Professional Tattooists at www.safe-tattoos.com

Updated April 18, 2007

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