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Tattoos and piercing

Ear with multiple piercings

Some people think piercings and tattoos look cool. In fact, some people call them body art. But body art can be risky to get and hard to get rid of. Make your decision carefully, and follow the advice below to protect your precious body.

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Because piercing involves making a hole in your body with a needle, there’s a chance that germs may enter your body through that hole. In addition, you can have an allergic reaction to jewelry that’s used in piercing.

Consider these tips to avoid piercing problems:

  • Never let a friend pierce your ear or anything else. You want clean conditions and someone who has been trained.
  • Make sure your piercing is done with a new, clean needle. Sharing dirty needles puts you at risk for serious infections, like hepatitis B.
  • Make sure the person doing the piercing wears gloves.
  • If the person piercing your ears is going to use a piercing gun, a single-use piercing gun is safest. Reusable piercing guns that use sterilized disposable cassettes may be OK, but some experts say any reusable guns should be avoided.
  • To avoid an allergic reaction, look for jewelry made of titanium, 14-karat gold, or surgical-grade steel.
  • Ask how long it will take to heal. Some parts of your body can take months to heal.
  • Think carefully about mouth piercings. Infections are common, and tongue jewelry can damage your front teeth and gums. You may want to get a doctor’s advice before piercing your mouth (or any part of your body that is sensitive or that doesn’t heal easily).
  • Make sure you know how to take care of the piercing. If it gets infected, see a doctor right away (but it’s probably OK to wait until the next day if you see the infection at night).
  • Beware of stretching a piercing. Sometimes people make a small piercing into a large hole, usually in the earlobe. Possible problems from stretching include infections and scarring, the lobe splitting open, and needing surgery if you want to close the hole.

Tattoos arrow. top

How about henna?

You may have seen temporary tattoos that an artist paints on using a dye like henna. These can cause an allergic reaction even a couple of weeks later. Black henna can cause dangerous reactions in some people. And no henna should ever be injected under your skin.

Tattoos are made by pushing colored inks deep under your skin. Before you get one, think about whether you’ll still want it in five or 10 or more years. Keep in mind, too, that some states don’t let anyone under 18 get tattoos.

Tattoos can be risky. Possible risks include allergic reactions, scars, and serious infections, including HIV and hepatitis B.

Consider these tips for tattoo safety:

  • Make sure the tattoo studio and procedures are clean. It’s possible to get a serious infection from germs in the studio or in the ink itself. Use only a licensed studio and artist. Make sure all needles, gloves, ink tubes, and masks are thrown away after one use. The rest of the tools should be cleaned after every use.
  • Make sure the water used is clean. Any water used to wash your skin or dilute inks should be special sterile water, not bottled, filtered, or distilled water.
  • Ask about the inks. Some tattoo inks can be made from things that are really meant for printers, not people. Check that inks are made specifically for tattoos.
  • Know what to do if you have an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions to tattoo ink are rare but can happen. Temporary tattoos that are made with surface skin dyes like henna also can cause allergic reactions. Also, henna should never be injected under your skin.
  • Make sure you know how to take care of the tattoo as it heals. If it gets infected, see a doctor right away.

Bye-bye, tattoo?

Sometimes it’s just not possible to remove a tattoo. Other times it can be cut off or sanded down. Laser removal is an option, but it can take months and lots of money. And beware of tattoo removal creams that you can buy online. There is no proof they work, and they can cause dangerous skin reactions.

 

Content last reviewed April 15, 2014
Page last updated May 28, 2014

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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