Want to know the up and downside of getting a tattoo?

We know: All About Tattoos

Are tattoos regulated by the government for safety?

Only locally. There is no federal regulation.

What are the risks involved in tattooing?

  • Infection. Unsterile tattooing equipment and needles can transmit infectious diseases, such as hepatitis. The risk of infection is the reason the American Association of Blood Banks requires a one-year wait between getting a tattoo and donating blood.
  • Allergic reactions. Although allergic reactions to tattoo pigments are rare, when they happen they may be particularly troublesome because the pigments can be hard to remove. Occasionally, people may develop an allergic reaction to tattoos they have had for years.
  • Granulomas. These are nodules that may form around material that the body perceives as foreign, such as particles of tattoo pigment.
  • Keloid formation. If you are prone to developing keloids -- scars that grow beyond normal boundaries -- you are at risk of keloid formation from a tattoo. Keloids may form any time you injure or traumatize your skin and may occur more frequently as a consequence of tattoo removal.
  • MRI complications. There have been reports of people with tattoos or permanent makeup who experienced swelling or burning in the affected areas when they underwent magnetic resonance imaging ( M RI). This seems to occur only rarely and apparently without lasting effects.

Can tattoos be removed?

Despite advances in laser technology, removing a tattoo is a painstaking process, usually involving several treatments and considerable expense. Methods for removing tattoos include laser treatments, abrasion, scarification, and surgery. Some people attempt to camouflage an objectionable tattoo with a new one. Each approach has drawbacks:

  • Laser treatments can lighten many tattoos, some more easily and effectively than others. Generally, several visits are necessary over a span or weeks or months, and the treatments can be expensive. Some individuals experience a lightening of the natural skin coloring in the affected area. Laser treatments also can cause some tattoo pigments to change to a less desirable shade. There also have been reports of individuals suffering allergic reactions after laser treatments to remove tattoos, apparently because the laser caused allergenic substances in the tattoo ink to be released into the body.
  • Dermabrasion involves abrading layers of skin with a wire brush or diamond fraise (a type of sanding disc). This process itself may leave a scar.
  • Salabrasion, in which a salt solution is used to remove the pigment, is sometimes used in conjunction with dermabrasion, but has become less common.
  • Scarification involves removing the tattoo with an acid solution and creating a scar in its place.
  • Surgical removal sometimes involves the use of tissue expanders (balloons inserted under the skin, so that when the tattoo is cut away, there is less scarring). Larger tattoos may require repeated surgery for complete removal.
  • Camouflaging a tattoo entails the injection of new pigments either to form a new pattern or cover a tattoo with skin-toned pigments, however, that injected pigments may not look natural because they lack the skin's natural translucence.

What about temporary tattoos?

Temporary tattoos, such as those applied to the skin with a moistened wad of cotton, fade several days after application. Most contain color additives approved for cosmetic use on the skin. However, the FDA has issued an import alert for several foreign-made temporary tattoos.

In a similar action, FDA has issued an import alert for henna intended for use on the skin. Henna is approved only for use as a hair dye, not for direct application to the skin. Also, henna typically produces a reddish brown tint, raising questions about what ingredients are added to produce the varieties of colors labeled as "henna," such as "black henna" and "blue henna."

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