Health and Safety Tips When Deciding to Get a Tattoo

If getting a tattoo is still a sign of rebellion, then a lot of Americans are rebels: 29% of adults now have at least one tattoo, up from 21% in 2012 and 16% in 2003, a recent Harris Poll found.

Millennials are especially tat-happy: 47% of people ages 18 to 35 are inked, according to the poll. But that increase in popularity has occurred despite what some doctors say are under-appreciated and understudied risks.

Among those urging caution is the Food and Drug Administration: In an update for consumers posted this month, the agency says it has received increasing reports of infections, allergic reactions and other adverse reactions linked to tattoos.

The agency says it also is concerned about the unknown risks from long-term exposure to pigments and other ingredients in tattoo ink.

“Any time someone is going to inject something into their body, there are consequences,” says Linda Katz, director of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.

Consumers should know, she says, that not all of those consequences are clear.

This patient at NYU Langone Medical Center had swelling, This patient at NYU Langone Medical Center had swelling, rash and itchiness lasting more than a year after getting a tattoo on her foot.

Her doctor suspected an allergy to red ink. [click here for photo of infection] (Photo: Courtesy of NYU Langone Medical Center)

Here’s what is known about some of the risks:

• Infection

One percent to 5% of tattoo recipients get an infection, according to a review published in the medical journal Lancet in January. The infections can be bacterial, viral or fungal, and they can come from unsterile needles or contaminated ink.

The FDA has asked manufacturers to recall contaminated inks about half a dozen times since 2004, Katz says. But it has no power to police tattoo parlors, which are regulated by a patchwork of state and local laws. 

• Allergic and other immune reactions.

It’s not known how common these are, says Marie Leger, a dermatologist at New York University Langone Medical Center.

Leger and colleagues surveyed 300 tattooed people in New York’s Central Park and found that 6% reported rashes, itching or swelling persisting at least four months after a tattoo.

In some cases, she says, a reaction might occur after multiple tattoos.

“One of my patients had a red tattoo on her arm about 10 years before, then had another tattoo on her foot” with red ink, Leger says.

Both tattoos became inflamed, scaly and itchy. She suspects the patient developed an allergy to red ink.

• Masking or worsening of skin conditions.

Tattoos can trigger psoriasis flare-ups and make skin cancer harder to detect, Leger says. 

• Long-term toxic effects.

Here, little is known. Research is complicated by the fact that tattoo inks come in many different formulations, the Lancet review said.

One concern is that the inks can break down in the body over time or when tattoos are removed by lasers. 

But these concerns are being raised at a time when getting a tattoo is safer than ever, says John Montgomery, vice president of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists.

Montgomery runs a tattoo studio in Redlands, Calif., and owns a tattoo ink manufacturing company. 

“These pigments have been refined and they are cleaner and manufactured in a better way” than in the past, he says. 

While tattoo artists are governed by different rules in different states and locales, all have a stake in safety, he says. “We really want to make sure people are healthy and safe. If people are healthy and safe, our businesses are going to thrive.”

Montgomery says concerns about theoretical long-term toxicity seem overblown. People who get tattoos, he says, still tend to “have a free-spirit kind of personality,” and “if they want a tattoo, they are going to get a tattoo.

They are not going to worry about what’s going to happen 60 years down the road.”

Still, some will come to regret their tattoos and will face one more risk: the cost of removal.

“It usually costs over $1,000 to have tattoo removed” over multiple laser sessions, and it can cost much more for large tattoos, says Jared Jagdeo, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California-Davis. 

Tattoos “can be beautiful and interesting,” Leger says, “but people need to understand there are risks involved.”

Here are some things consumers can do to reduce risks and respond to problems: 

• Make sure your tattoo artist complies with state and local laws.

The National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a list of state laws online. Check with your local or county health department for additional rules.

• Treat a new tattoo like any open wound to prevent infection and scarring.

That means covering it with a bandage the first day and moisturizing and cleaning the area properly until full healing occurs, usually in two to four weeks.

It’s also crucial to protect the tattoo from the sun. 

• Report symptoms

….such as redness, rash or fever to a health care provider and to the tattoo studio.

• Read Local Reviews about a Tattoo Parlor

……I would focus on a place with many negative reviews, pay close attention to what customers are saying about their experience. I tend to take positive reviews on anything with a grain of salt, but that's just me.

• Consider a small tattoo first to observe any adverse reactions

……or even get a small portion of a larger tattoo that looks like a stand alone design by itself, observe for reactions over weeks or months, and then it everything seems OK, then continue on. You still could run into problems later on, but you could get a warning flag, if you body is prone to bad reactions to tattoos.

(for me, that's just a "common sense" something I do with anything new I put in or on my body)

• Seek out the "Holistic" Tattoo Shop

I find in most business, where something goes in or on your body,  there's always someone choosing to do that type of business Holistically, with quality ingredients…

…. and extra safety precautions in their approach to deliver a quality product. That often centers around the quality of the ink. ASK QUESTIONS!!!

**UPDATE 1/24/2918    Vegan Tattoos??? I predicted in this 2018 update to this article, pertaining to my comment directly above, you'll always find someone specializing in a more holistic version of any product sold, and that includes Tattoos!!!

Check out the video below of James Spooner owner/operator of Monocle Tattoos in LA, where he talks about what is a Vegan Tattoo. I'm sure if you contacted him, he'd have no problem answering questions.

p.s.. James Spooner says he does a lot of work specializing in Black/Dark skin…right on James!!!

most text from this article taken from an article I ran across on

The FDA also asks consumers to report bad tattoo reactions to the agency by calling:
        1-800-FDA-1088      or    filling out a form at:


~stay healthy~


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2 Responses


Great article. There isn’t enough info on tattooing for black people on the web. I do both a VEGAN tattoo procedure in Los Angeles / NYC and specialize in Dark Skin. Check out my work on MonocleTattoo dot com or (at) monocletattoo on instagram if you want a consultation.

James Spooner


Hi James Spooner,

I’ve been waiting for a professional to chime in on this issue. I have a tattoo but know little about the industry or what goes into them.

But when you’re into health and wellness, you instinctively deduce, that you should take precautions and seek out a more healthy product that is gonna go in you body your whole life.

Anyway, loved your YouTube Video, I added a “shout out” to you in the article [below the Rhianna photo] along with your video, always lends credibility to an articles when the experts chime in.

Thanks for the comment!! Very informative video of yours!!!

Doug at GAIA Health Blog

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