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Tattoo Safety and Health Considerations

Getting a tattoo is a physically invasive procedure that requires needles to be repeatedly inserted into the skin. Because tattooing involves needles, tattoo artists need to take care to provide their clients with clean environments and equipment.

Health risks that can arise from tattoos are:

Infection – Tattoo needles that are not clean can introduce bacterial or viral infections into the skin and blood. In the worst situations, the tattoo needles could be contaminated with Hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS that are severe, potentially deadly diseases transmitted by blood or other bodily fluids. Even with properly prepared sterile needles, a fresh tattoo is also an open wound and vulnerable to infection from airborne bacteria during the healing phase.

Allergic reactions – Although rare, an allergic reaction to tattoo inks can be especially troublesome because the offending substance is difficult to remove. To end the irritation, the tattoo might need to be removed, which is a costly and time consuming process.

Granulomas – These are nodules in the flesh that can form around foreign particles (like tattoo inks) in the body. Although not particularly dangerous to a person's health, the granulomas would likely interfere with or ruin the appearance of the tattoo.

Keloid formation – Keloids are oversized scars resulting from the body's tendency to overcompensate when repairing flesh. Some people have a tendency to form keloids and they may already be aware of it from prior wounds or surgeries. For people prone to keloids, a tattoo might be made unsightly by these growths.

With infection being the primary concern for people receiving tattoos, it is highly recommended that people seek tattoo artists that maintain high safety standards.

Best practices for tattoo artists to promote sterility and a disease free experience include:

  • Using brand new sterile needles for each client.
  • Using individual packets of ink for each client instead of loading the tattoo machine from an ink receptacle that may be shared by other clients.
  • Vaseline and other ointments should be applied with new tools that are disposed of after one use. Ointments should not be applied by the artist by hand.
  • Non-disposable tattoo equipment should be sterilized by an autoclave and not an ultra sonic cleaner or simply washing with rubbing alcohol. An autoclave uses super hot steam under high pressure to clean and kill germs.

Caring for a new tattoo

The first two weeks after receiving a tattoo are the most critical for carefully tending the open wound and promoting proper healing. On the first day, the bandage should be left on the tattoo for at least 12 hours. When it is time to change the dressing, the bandage should be removed carefully. Applying warm water to loosen it is acceptable.

For the rest of the first week, the tattoo should be cleaned gently with mild soap and water and an antibiotic cream applied twice a day. In the second week, a water-based moisturizing cream can replace the antibiotic cream in order to protect and hydrate the healing skin.

During this two week period it is important not to allow the tattoo wound to be submerged in water for any length of time. No swimming, bathing, or hot tubbing is allowed. Showers only.

Scabbing during the healing process is normal, but people must resist the common urge to pick, scratch, or fiddle with the wound. Touching of this kind greatly increases the chance of starting a skin infection. Infections, as well as threatening a person's overall health, can produce scar tissue, cause the tattoo inks to run into each other, and smear or ruin the appearance of a tattoo.

People who seek tattoos should be aware of the health and safety issues and hire tattoo artists who adhere to best practices for sanitation and care. A good tattoo artist should be willing to show his or her sterilization processes as well as provide good instructions for tattoo aftercare. Getting a tattoo in a professional setting and attending carefully to the resulting wound help people protect their health and ensures the appealing results of the tattoos.


"Body Piercing and Tattoos" edited by J.D. Lloyd, Greenhaven Press, 2003.

"Tattoos and Permanent Makeup" U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2000.

Copyright Falbe Publishing All Rights Reserved.