How Safe is Tattooing?

Over the last decade, there has been an increasing popularity of tattoos. While tattoos might seem like a unique way to express yourself, you might want to consider whether the health risks are really worth it.

First off, it's important to know that a tattoo is a puncture wound, made deep in your skin, that's filled with ink. Like any other puncture, scrape, cut, or penetration to your skin, a tattoo is at risk for infections and disease.

Here is a closer look at the risks.

What are the risks?

According to the FDA, the following are risks associated with tattooing:

  • Infection. Dirty needles can pass infections, like hepatitis B, hepatitis, HIV, and tetanus, from one person to another.
  • Allergies. Allergies to various ink pigments in both permanent and temporary tattoos have been reported and can cause problems.
  • Scarring. Unwanted scar tissue may form when getting or removing a tattoo.
  • Granulomas. These small knots or bumps may form around material that the body perceives as foreign, such as particles of tattoo pigment.
  • MRI complications. People may have swelling or burning in the tattoo when they have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The FDA has received reports of bad reactions to tattoo inks right after tattooing and even years later. Most importantly, if a tattoo studio doesn't follow precautions like using sterilized equipment or if it shares ink between customers, you're putting yourself at risk for getting viral infections such as hepatitis, HIV, bacterial skin infections, or dermatitis.  And if you already have a skin condition such as eczema, you may have flare-ups as a result of the tattoo.

Are there any studies proving the health risk of tattoo inks?

In the past there have been no systematic studies of the safety of tattoo inks. However, the FDA is currently conducting research on the chemical composition of the inks and how they break down in the body. They are investigating the short-term and long-term safety of pigments used in tattoo inks, and how the body responds to the interaction of light with the inks.

Play It Safe with Tattoos

If you do decide to get a tattoo, make sure to do the following:

  • Make sure you're up-to-date with your immunizations, especially hepatitis and tetanus shots.
  • Ask your doctor if there are any special concerns you should have or precautions you should take before getting a tattoo.
  • Plan ahead for where you'll get medical care if your tattoo becomes infected. (Signs of infection include excessive redness or tenderness around the tattoo, prolonged bleeding, pus, or changes in your skin color around the tattoo.)
  • Before you pick your tattoo artist, ask to see their sterilization certificate, and make sure that all equipment is disposable (needles, gloves, masks, etc.).
  • Make sure the tattoo artist is a licensed practitioner (ask to see the license) and ask for references.

At the Studio:

  • Make sure that the tattoo artist is using new needles. You can ensure this by asking them to open up in front of you the needle from a sealed autoclave bag.
  • Make sure the tattoo artist is wearing new gloves. 
  • If the studio looks unclean, or if you feel in any way uncomfortable, leave. It's better to take the time to find a new, clean studio.

Bottom Line

Don't take tattooing lightly. Be sure to consider the health risks when making your decision about whether or not to get a tattoo. If you do decide to go for it, take all of the necessary precautions so you can be safe.


Mayo Clinic Staff. "Tattoos: Understand Risks and Precautions." Web. 17 May 2010.

"Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?" U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 23 Feb. 2009. Web. 17 May 2010.

Van Vranken, Michele. "Tattoos." TeenHealth. Apr. 2009. Web. 17 May 2010.