Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold: Tattoo Risks

(WEAU) - About 1 in 5 adults has at least one tattoo. WEAU’s Courtney Everett sat down with Dr. Alicia Arnold to talk about safety issues related to tattoos in our health beat.

CE: What are some of the risks of infection associated with getting a tattoo?

AA: If the equipment is not properly sterilized, you could be exposed to diseases that can be passed through blood like hepatitis. It's also possible to get skin infections. There have been rare cases where the ink was contaminated, even if the tattoo artist sterilized the equipment correctly.

Ce: Besides infection, are there other medical risks?

AA: Allergic reactions to the dye are rare, but do occur. Granulomas, which appear as small bumps in the skin, sometimes form after getting tattoos. These can form around material that the body perceives as foreign, like ink particles. Individuals who form keloids, which are raised areas of scar tissue, risk forming a keloid at the site of a tattoo. If you have psoriasis, you may risk a flare by getting a tattoo.

Ce: What are some tips for caring for a tattoo that someone already has?

AA: Protection from the sun is important. Use sunscreen since sometimes UV light can fade tattoos. Also, UV light can sometimes cause a rash in skin that has been tattooed. It may be more common with red or yellow ink. Keep in mind too that skin cancer can form in tattooed skin. So if you notice a change in the skin involving your tattoo, be sure to let your health care provider know.

CE: How about temporary tattoos from henna?

AA: Henna is different from the sticker temporary tattoos that you may see. Henna, a brownish dye that is sometimes applied to the skin to make temporary tattoos, has not been approved by the FDA for use on the skin. It has only been approved for use on hair. On a related note, the pigments in tattoo ink are also not approved by the FDA. Some of the pigments in tattoo ink may be industrial grade, meaning they are suitable for printing or auto paint.

CE: Tell us a little about tattoo removal.

AA: Some statistics say that about 1 in 8 people who have tattoos regret getting them. Lasers are commonly used for removal. Lasers use high-intensity energy to break down the tattoo ink. Lighter colors may be more difficult to remove than darker colors. Sometimes it's impossible to remove the tattoo completely, and it can be costly and time consuming to try to have them removed.

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