Holiday Tattoos – Some Considerations

By: Jenna Trubschenck, M.S. PA-C

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The holidays are coming. Which, if you’ve been nice, possibly means lots of presents! And food. And eggnog… and the bad decisions that can come with too much eggnog. Please don’t let a “holiday tattoo” like the one above be one of them. But cool tattoos are cool, so if you’re considering getting some ink, then this blog post is for you!

Some Risks:
Infection: The superficial epidermal layer of the skin is broken when ink is being placed in the dermis in order to create a tattoo. Thus, infections such as hepatitis, HIV, syphilis, staph, and MRSA become a concern.
Allergy: Certain types of tattoo inks (and even contamination) can cause allergic reactions, sometimes even very severe allergic reactions that may need to be excised. Frequently the mercury sulfide (cinnabar) in red ink tends to be a culprit, although any color can illicit these reactions.
Scarring: This can occur while getting tattoos and/or removing tattoos.
Other: Reactions can occur within days or several years after getting tattoos. Also, tattoos can flare and cause problems with MRIs, although this is rare.
The Unknown: When the ink is inserted into the dermis it create an immunologic response, and ink particles find their way to lymph nodes. Lymph nodes play a role in our immune systems, and long term effects of tattoo ink here is still unknown.
Home Tattoo Kits: Do I even need to address this? This is a bad idea. Please just don’t do it.

Getting Inked – Some Basics:
Cleanliness: Make sure you investigate your tattoo studio. The epidermal barrier is broken exposing blood to the environment. You want the studio to be as clean as a doctor’s office. Ask the studio about their sterilization techniques – make sure they have autoclaves. Make sure needles come from single use packages. Tattoo artists should wash their hands before putting gloves on.
Substances: Abstain from drinking, drugs, and NSAIDS (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) the day before getting a tattoo.
Tetanus Shot: You need to get one of these if you have not had one in the past 10 years (or if you can’t remember when you last got one).
Illness: Don’t get a tattoo if you are sick.
Informed Inking: Make sure you get the name of the ink and the lot number used on your tattoo.
Following Directions: Make sure you obtain and carefully follow directions from your studio on how to care for your tattoo.

Mild swelling and redness around a new tattoo is common; however, if signs of infection (including increased redness, swelling, streaking, or fever) or allergic reaction develop, it’s time to make an appointment stat.

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