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Harmful Effects of Tattoos

Harmful Effects of Tattoos

Last Updated on Oct 09, 2020
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Harmful Effects of Tattoos

Tattoos are used often to make style statement. They are increasingly being used by today's 'Millennials' as a statement of their independence. The celebrities have popularized it over the last few decades. The members from the 'Metal' band were the first to flaunt their tattoos on the stage in sixty's.


What is to blame for their increase in recent times is hard to gauge, it is estimated that almost one in five Americans have a tattoo.

If you want to have a tattoo done do remember that these permanent marks on your body might not end up looking as artistic as one would hope. They are known to cause some serious health risks if not done using a sterile environment and instruments, besides the short and long term risks of allergies to the ink.

Do also remember that the procedure for tattoo removal can be much more painful and riskier than getting the tattoo itself - so do contemplate carefully about the consequences and 'think before you ink your body.'

They may also be used in various situations. For example a group of Nazis called the Waffen-SS tattooed their blood groups near the armpits. Medically, tattoos may be used to identify people with chronic diseases, or as tattoos in order to hide surgical scars from breast surgery. Some people use tattoos to cover their self-harm scars.

Harmful Effects of Tattoos

How Tattoos are Done?

Tattooing is the process by which the superficial layer of the skin (dermis) is impregnated with pigments to form a design, symbol, or letters through needle punctures. Most tattoos are made with hand-held machines which contain a single needle or groups of needles. They work in fashion similar to a sewing machine making fast oscillations and inserting ink droplets with every prick. Tattoo ink consists of pigments- either natural or artificial, along with solvents. The pigments stain the skin with various colors. Most people undergo the procedure without anesthetics and so it might be painful. It is also associated with mild amounts of bleeding. Temporary tattoos are usually made with henna which stains the skin orange. Tattoos can also be used as permanent makeup.


Why Tattoos are Harmful?

Most of the harmful effects of tattoos result from the pigments used in the inks. Some inks are actually those otherwise used in printers and automobile paint. Such strong colors have adverse effects on the skin. Most chronic reactions occur with red ink and black ink tattoos. Purple, pink and orange colors have also shown adverse reactions. Red ink may cause severe tissue damage which may exacerbate to such an extent that the only option left is amputation of the limb. The adverse effects of red ink are due to mercury, while black ink contains iron oxide. A history of having a tattoo may be a temporary deterrent to blood donation.

Medical Issues Of Tattoos


The most common medical issue associated with tattoos is allergic reactions. Allergic reactions occur to the pigments in the tattoo ink. They may present as itchy rash with skin swelling or oozing of fluid. Allergic reactions are usually associated with red ink due to the presence of mercury which is allergenic.

Skin discoloration

The skin may get permanently disfigured and discolored due to amateur practices in applying the tattoo.


Tattoos can cause abnormal excessive scarring of tissue which results in the formation of a tough lesion called keloid. Keloids usually occur in individuals who are genetically predisposed to developing them.



Red and yellow pigments when exposed to sunlight may trigger an allergic reaction.

Bleeding and Hematoma formation

Hematoma is the collection of blood in an area of the tattoo. People on blood thinners may have excessive bleeding during the tattooing process and the healing may also take longer.


Granulomas are bumps in the skin formed around tattoo pigments which are perceived as foreign by the body.

Burden to lymphatics

The tattoo pigments may enter the lymphatic system and clog the lymphatic nodes and cause inflammation. The discolored lymph nodes appear similar to those affected by a skin cancer called melanoma and may interfere with the staging of the cancer.

Staphylococcal infections

Staphylocci are bacteria that enter the skin through the skin punctures and can cause serious infection.

Blood-borne diseases

Blood-borne diseases occur due to improper procedure, contaminated equipment and inadequate care post-tattooing. They include hepatitis B, hepatitis C and tetanus and even AIDS.

Koebnerised skin reactions

Koebnerised skin reactions refer to the formation of new lesions of an existing skin disease due to skin injury. By this mechanism, tattoos can cause psoriasis, lichen planus or vitiligo.


Glow in the dark tattoos which are made using UV reactive ink may also cause dermatitis (skin rashes) and are not FDA approved

Medical Issues Of Tattoos

How To Take Good Care Of Your Tattoo?

  • Bleeding during the tattoo procedure must be stopped by applying pressure. It can go on up to 24 hrs.
  • Application of a cold pack reduces swelling, irritation and itching, but direct contact with ice may be risky.
  • Apply mild moisturizer to the tattooed area frequently to keep it hydrated.
  • Avoid sun exposure for a few weeks and use antibacterial soap to prevent infections.
  • Anti-histamines / anti-allergic drugs may be taken as a precaution. They include cetirizine and diphenhydramine.
  • Use clean bandages initially to protect the area from exposure to germs and change them regularly.
  • Avoid swimming and other such activities during the initial period which increase the risk of infection.

Safety Precautions For Tattoos

  • It is important to go to a licensed tattoo artist and a reputed studio.
  • Some tattoo artists use test patches before the procedure to detect if the patient will develop allergic reaction to the pigments.
  • Aseptic conditions are a must. The tattoo artist must use sterile equipment which has preferably been autoclaved. He/she must wear a fresh pair of gloves during every procedure and use disposable needles or sterile non-disposable equipment. Instruments which cannot be autoclaved, for example, drawer handles or sinks, should be disinfected with bleach.

Tattoo Removal

Tattoo removal is a costly and risky procedure. Earlier, dermabrasion (scraping of tattooed skin), acid treatment using tri-chloro-acetic acid (TCA), salabrasion using salt to remove the pigments and surgical excision were performed. Now with the advancement in technology, laser removal of tattoos using Q-switched lasers are adopted. Tattoo removal may still be associated with marked amount of scarring and risk of infection and other complications.

Laser Tattoo Removal Using Q-Switch Laser

Home Remedies For Tattoo Infection

  • Tattoos must be soaked in warm water in order to ease the pain and also naturally sterilize the area.
  • Mild moisturizers can be used during the healing process and antibiotic ointment such as Polymyxin and Bacitracin must be used in order to treat the infection.
Medindia adheres to strict ethical publishing standards to provide accurate, relevant, and current health content. We source our material from reputable places such as peer-reviewed journals, academic institutions, research bodies, medical associations, and occasionally, non-profit organizations. We welcome and value audience feedback as a part of our commitment to health literacy and informed decision-making.
  1. Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe? - (http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048919.htm)
  2. Tattoos: Understand risks and precautions - (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/tattoos-and-piercings/art-20045067?pg=1)
  3. Tattoos: Understand risks and precautions - (http://www.futurity.org/tattoos-skin-immune-systems-934792/)
  4. Tattoo-associated skin reactions - (http://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/tattoo-associated-skin-reactions/)
  5. Ask the Expert: Can a Tattoo Increase Skin Cancer Risk? - (http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/ask-the-experts/are-there-skin-risks-associated-with-tattoos)

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