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Health Matters: The risks of getting tatted

Sailors and bikers no longer exclusively don tattoos, and nowadays even the most modest among us can sport a tattoo, including me.  However, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), people need to be more educated about the health risks involved in getting permanent body art. Some health risks of tattoos include: allergic reactions, keloids (a type of scar that forms during the healing process) and infections, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis and HIV.

Sharnee Huntsman’s tattoo is healing as she treats it with Vitamin A and D cream everyday. (Sharnee Huntsman)

According to NIOSH, customers also have a responsibility making sure that the tattoo facility is reputable, clean and safe. It is especially important to make sure all the tattoo equipment is properly sterilized.

“Tattoo artists always use sterile equipment, disposable materials and proper sanitation to ensure protection for themselves and their customers,” said Doug, professional tattoo artist and owner of Doug’s Tattoos and Piercings in Oakland (called “Doug’s Tattoos” online).  “Most tattoo materials — such as ink, ink cups, needles and gloves — are for single use only. Needles should never be used more than once because of the risk of leading to infection. Most of the single use products arrive at the studio in sterile packaging where the artist can open it up in front of you before their work gets started.”

According to Doug, it’s important to follow your intuition when choosing to get a tattoo.

“Sometimes people will come in intoxicated and will get a tattoo because it’s spontaneous. People don’t always associate getting a tattoo as a health risk, but it very much is,” he said.

While, according to Doug, it’s important to evaluate why you want a tattoo in the first place, it’s the healing process that is most important.

Because the healing process begins as soon as you leave the tattoo parlor, Oakland State Department of Health (OSDH) recommends listening carefully to the  instructions that the tattoo artist provides you with  before leaving the facility. The artist will take care to cover your tattoo with a bandage to prevent air-borne bacteria from invading the open wound.

Tattoo Parlors in the area

Doug’s Tattoos

9928 International Blvd.
Oakland, CA 94602
(510) 632-1000

Berkley Tattoo Parlor

2804 San Pablo Ave
Berkeley, CA 94702
(510) 549-2828

Industrial Tattoo

2434 Dwight Way
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 644-0968

FTW Tattoo Parlor

6536 Telegraph Ave.
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 595-0389

In my experience, I’ve had to leave the bandage on my new tattoo for at least two hours and had to clean it with lukewarm water and mild, liquid antibacterial or antimicrobial soap. I was advised to not use a washcloth or anything abrasive; my tattoo artist told me that hands are  the best for washing, too.After properly cleaning theskin and letting the area dry, I had to apply on an A and D vitamin-enriched ointment, such as Bacitracin.

However, according to MayoClinic, a non-profit medical practice, allergic reactions to the ink, especially red ink, can occur even years later. MayoClinic emphasizes that because tattoo ink is classified as cosmetic, it’s not regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. According to MayoClinic, people thinking about getting tattoos should do their research and be cautious of their own medical history.

According to Doug, the aftermath of any decision is the most important.

“When getting any kind of body art, it is important that clients clean them as they are told to,” Doug said.

If a tattoo is done at a legitimate parlor, the tattoo artist provides steps on how to take care of your tattoo, and if you follow them, infections are not  as likely to occur, according to Doug.

There are many different reasons why people get tattoos: to commemorate a memory, to harbor inspiration or to be rebellious; for the thrill, for the pain, for the look, for no reason at all or for all of the above. But as Doug said, “Proper care and health should always be number one.”

Health Matters is a column written by the second-year nursing students participating in the Nursing Leadership Class.