What to Know Before Getting a Tattoo

October 17, 2017

Tattoos have become more popular than ever. Some estimates show that as many as 40% of millennials in the U.S. have at least one tattoo, and the number of Americans with a tattoo has jumped 50% in the past four years to more than 45 million.

Tattoos are becoming a mainstream way for people to express themselves, commemorate special events or showcase their style and individuality. But before you go under the needle, there are some things to consider before getting a tattoo.

Tattoos are difficult to remove.

Almost 50% of people who get a tattoo eventually want to have it removed. Though the techniques for tattoo removal have greatly improved over the years, the process is still complicated. How complex the removal will depend on the size and colors used in your tattoo, as well as your age and how deep the pigment in the tattoo extends into the skin. Lasers can be used to successfully remove tattoos by breaking up the pigment with a high-intensity light beam. Removal can take as few as two or as many as 20 outpatient sessions, and treatment can span several months.

Some tattoos are more difficult to remove than others.

A tattoo uses a handheld gun with needles to puncture the skin and deposit ink deep into the dermis, the tissue underneath the outer layer of your skin. A professional tattoo is easier to remove than a homemade tattoo because the ink sinks into the layers of the skin at a uniform level. This allows dermatologists to remove a broad area of ink from the skin at the same depth. Tattoos with high amounts of deep blue and black ink are challenging to remove, as are new tattoos. Sometimes complete removal of a tattoo is not possible, and some level of skin discoloration or scarring may occur.

Tattoo removal is generally not covered by insurance.

Though there are many successful and safe treatments, tattoo removal is generally considered to be a cosmetic procedure and is not covered by insurance. Removal can be expensive and may require several visits to your dermatologist’s office to remove the tattoo completely.

Tattoos may interfere with how you sweat.

A recent study shows that tattoos may interfere with the skin’s ability to cool the body when sweating. Tattooed skin excretes about 50% less sweat. The salt in the sweat from inked skin was also found to be more concentrated, which can partially block natural reabsorption back into the skin. Though this wouldn’t have a measurable impact on someone with a single tattoo, it could interfere with the body’s ability to cool itself for those with extensive tattoos over areas densely populated by sweat glands.

Some reports link tattoos to skin infections.

The act of tattooing integrates metallic salts and dyes into the dermal layer of skin. These inks are largely unregulated, and blood-borne diseases and infections such as hepatitis C, staph and even MRSA have been known to spread through contaminated ink. The metals in these inks have also been known to cause allergic reactions, skin infections, and rashes. Unsterilized needles or the tattoo gun itself can also lead to infections in the skin.

Don’t cover up moles with tattoos.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, you should never have a tattoo put too close to or within a mole. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and can spread very quickly, but it is curable if caught early. It is important to constantly monitor changes in your moles, as they could be early warning signs that a mole may be evolving into melanoma or other forms of skin cancer. Place tattoos far away from your moles, ensuring they are left completely visible so that you can detect skin cancer early.

Contaminants can end up in your lymph nodes.

New research shows that microscopic contaminants and toxins in tattoo ink can migrate into the body and end up in your lymph nodes. These contaminants can include nickel, chromium, manganese, and cobalt, as well as various preservatives. The most common ingredients used in tattoo inks are carbon black and titanium dioxide, a pigment used in food additives, sunscreen and some paints.

The truth is that all of the risks associated with getting a tattoo are still unknown. Before you decide to get a tattoo, make sure the tattoo parlor you choose is clean, reputable and that they use sterile needles. Needles should be new and wrapped, and artists should be wearing gloves during the procedure.

Inks should be in small, single-use pots. Also, check the chemical compounds of the inks. Make sure the inks are under a brand name and include the name and location of the manufacturer on the label.

If you already have a tattoo and want it removed for whatever reason, there are many available treatment options, including microdermabrasion, laser surgery and even surgical excision in some cases.

Looking to Learn More About Tattoos?

To learn more about the effects of tattoos on your skin and your health — or to discuss safe removal options — contact our dermatologists at U.S. Dermatology Partners today. We have multiple locations throughout the country, so fill out our simple online form to get in touch with us. One of our local team members will reach out to you shortly to answer your questions or schedule an appointment for you to visit us soon.

Find a location near me


Find a location

Ready to Get Started?