Getting a tattoo is definitely a big decision. It's one decision that will stay with you for years, so it can make you feel both excited and scared all at once. That’s why doing your homework to ensure you’re well prepared for the occasion is absolutely necessary. We’ve rounded up all the things you need to know before you get your first tattoo.
8 risks you should know before getting a tattoo
Despite the everlasting popularity of tattoos, it's important to note that while complications are rare, there are still potential risks associated with these procedures.
1. Allergic reaction
Certain tattoo inks may cause allergic reactions in your skin since some types of ink contain metals. Research suggests that some inks like red pigments might be more likely to cause allergic reactions. Symptoms of allergic reactions can include a rash and severe itchiness. Before you get a tattoo, it's better to test the ink using a skin patch test. Use a bit on a small patch and leave it for at least half an hour. If there's no allergic reaction, then you're safe to go.
2. Skin infections
While tattooing is an art, the actual process can cause injury to your skin. Because your skin is continuously penetrated, the risk of getting an infection often increases. You can also get an infection after the procedure while the skin is still healing. Symptoms may include itchiness, redness, and discharge. To avoid an infection, your tattoo artist should give you some tips on how to heal your new ink safely.
Keloids are slightly raised areas of scarred skin that usually resemble your skin color. As the tattoo needle penetrates the skin, it causes tiny injuries, where the tissue may scar and keloid scars might develop. This is more common in cases when the tattoo does not heal properly. Keloid scars are painless but may cause emotional distress.
4. Bloodborne diseases
If the needles or equipment used for tattoo procedures are unsterilized or contaminated, you might be at risk of contracting a bloodborne illness. Some examples of bloodborne infections include hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. To avoid such problems, always ensure your tattoo artist uses sterilized equipment, wears gloves, and performs services in a hygienic environment.
A granuloma is a cluster of white blood cells formulated in response to inflammation in the skin tissue that may form around the tattoo area. According to research, granuloma is a rare type of tattoo reaction, usually caused by black tattoo ink. Inflammation of inked skin in the area next to lymph nodes may also cause the lymph nodes to swell. If you experience long-term swelling in the lymph nodes, seek medical attention.
6. MRI complications
Although rare, tattooed people may experience swelling or itchiness in the tattooed area while getting an MRI, as older, low-quality ink may contain metal pigments. However, these complications tend to go away on their own. Always talk to a doctor if you’re worried about your ink interfering with an MRI scan.
7. Skin swelling
Swelling around the tattoo is usually a very common occurrence. This is because the skin experiences injury from the needle penetrations, which usually leads to an inflammatory response manifesting as swelling, redness, and pain. The burning sensation is also common in the area where you have gotten a tattoo. Therefore, it’s important to take care of the tattooed skin area immediately after getting inked in order to prevent infections leading to further inflammation.
8. Skin problems
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), if you carry the psoriasis genes, getting ink can trigger psoriasis flare-ups, or cause it to appear for the first time. Other skin problems such as eczema or lichen planus may also appear around the tattoo. The skin condition can appear days after getting the tattoo or even years later. If you see signs of a skin condition, consult a dermatologist.
Hiding the imperfections with a tattoo
While all bodies are beautiful and unique in their own way, some people with visible scars may struggle to feel confident. Birthmarks, stretch marks, and scars are markers of who we truly are and what we've been through, but they may also hold negative meanings. Nowadays, tattoos over stretch marks and scars have become a common way to help cover up certain skin features.
Research shows that white scars can be changed in color into a normal look by using medical tattooing. This can help a lot of scar victims regain their quality of life. However, achieving a safe and aesthetically pleasing outcome when tattooing over keloids or scars demands a high level of skill and patience.
Just like getting ink on any other part of the body, getting a tattoo on birthmarks and scars has its pros and cons. While it may help boost confidence and cover up unwanted scars, it also hurts quite a lot. There's also a risk of scar reopening. Therefore, if you intend to tattoo over a scar, you have to give it time to heal completely.
Preparing for your tattoo appointment
The more prepared you are for your tattoo appointment, the better the result will be. Here are a few tips to help you prepare:
- Don't drink alcohol. Alcohol tends to decrease the clotting time, which may increase bleeding. Also, alcohol may alter your perception and reaction to pain.
- Eat healthy. The nervousness and excitement might make your stomach turn, so eat something that won't upset your stomach. A good meal also provides the energy you need. Getting tattooed may take a toll on your body, so your body might need fuel to get through the day.
- Stay hydrated. Before you get a tattoo, you want to ensure that your body is well-hydrated. Not only is it great for your health, but it also ensures that your skin is hydrated and prepared for your ink session.
- Get enough sleep. This might be easier said than done, but getting enough rest is one of the best ways to ensure you’re ready for the upcoming day.
- Avoid heavy training before or after. Make sure your body is well-rested for the tattoo process. It's advisable to avoid heavy training or outdoor exercise in sunny conditions to promote optimal healing and preserve the quality of the tattoo.
Does ink matter?
Colorful tattoos do require more pigment, which increases the risk of allergic reactions. More than that, certain colors, like red, usually have a higher risk. Black and grey inks are generally considered safer. Overall, the type of ink does not affect the pain levels during an inking session; however, color tattoos usually need more needles and more time to finish the tattoo. With that, you may have a more painful experience.
Proper tattoo aftercare is important to ensure your tattoo heals properly. Most tattoo artists will give you a rundown of how to take care of your new ink. You should always make sure you follow your artist’s aftercare instructions.
- Your tattoo artist will cover your new tattoo in a breathable bandage.
- Leave the bandage on for 24 hours (or as long as your tattoo artist recommends) and wash your hands before taking off the bandage.
- Gently clean the tattoo with antibacterial soap and warm water, and then pat dry with a clean towel.
- Apply a moisturizer or an antibiotic ointment if one is recommended by your healthcare provider.
- Make sure to wash your inked area three times every day.
- Keep applying a moisturizer or an ointment after cleaning your ink to keep it moist.
- Protect your tattoos from the sun because they may fade if you expose them to too much sunlight. Always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
If you regret your tattoo
Tattoo often seems like a great idea at the moment, but tattoo regret is also common. If you find yourself regretting the ink, the first thing you have to do is not be hard on yourself. The good news is that you can always have the tattoo removed. Nonetheless, removal is expensive and usually more painful than getting the ink itself.
If you do decide you want the tattoo removed, consult a dermatologist. They can talk you through the procedures available and also answer any questions you might have.
Your first tattoo is a big decision, but it can go super smoothly with the tips above. Find an artist with a lot of experience and a hygienic working space. Make sure you're well prepared before your appointment. Once you get your new tattoo, follow the aftercare tips recommended by your artist. Keep the tattoo clean, moisturized, and out of the sunlight. And if you do have a great experience with your first, you can make sure it doesn’t have to be your last.
How to get a tattoo you won’t regret?
To get a tattoo you won't regret, do lots of research first, take time to choose the design you want, and choose a qualified artist.
Is it normal to feel sad after getting a tattoo?
Yes, it is completely normal to feel tattoo regret after getting a tattoo, especially if it didn’t turn out exactly how you wanted. Give yourself time to get used to the new artwork. If the feeling persists, you have the option to have it removed.
Are tattoos 100% safe?
No, tattoos are not 100% safe. Some people can develop infections or even allergic reactions after getting a tattoo.
Some of the most common side effects of getting a tattoo may include allergic reactions, skin infections, scarring, swelling and burning sensation, and other skin diseases.
Tattoo coverup has become a popular way to cover stretch marks, scars, birthmarks, and other body imperfections.
To make sure you’re well prepared for your tattoo appointment, avoid drinking alcohol, don't work out immediately before and after, eat well, get enough sleep, and stay hydrated.
Tattoo aftercare tips include gently washing the tattoo with soap and warm water, using moisturizing ointment, and protecting the area from sunlight.
- Wiley. Identification of pigments related to allergic tattoo reactions in 104 human skin biopsies.
- The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. What do people really know about the medical risks of body ink.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bloodborne infectious diseases: HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, hepatitis C.
- Sage Open Medical Case Reports. Granulomatous and systemic inflammatory reactions from tattoo ink: case report and concise review.
- American Academy of Dermatology Association. Tattoos: 7 unexpected skin reactions and what to do about them.
- Pubmed. Tattooing of scars and disfiguring burn lesions.