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Person being tattooed

What is it?

Tattooing or micropigmentation is the insertion of ink deep into the skin putting a permanent marking or design on the skin. It is a form of self-expression and is permanent. Tattooing involves making tiny holes in the skin. Infections can be transmitted anytime you break the skin. Allergic reactions to the components are also possible, these can occur immediately after the tattoo process or even years later. There are many things that you and your tattoo artist can do to reduce the risks.

What Should I Look For?

Ask for a consultation visit with your professional tattoo artist when you are deciding to have a tattoo. Have a good look around the tattoo studio and ask lots of questions. You can also call the Health Unit to see if your chosen tattoo parlour has been inspected and request the results of the last inspection. To speak to a Public Health Inspector, call our intake line at 519-258-2146 ext. 4475.

Your artist should have knowledge and skills for the procedure, and know how to prevent infection. Ideally the artist would have a certificate that they have completed a course provided by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit for infection prevention and control in personal service settings.

Look for:

Frequent handwashing

Hands should be washed before and after each client, before and after wearing gloves, and between breaks in procedure.

Disposable gloves

Should be worn when the tattoo artist is performing any procedure.

Ask About:

Equipment

Is the equipment (needles, razors, swabs) disposable, and if not how does your tattoo artist clean, sanitize, and maintain the equipment in the facility? Is there a sharps bin available for used needles?

Infection Control

How does the studio clean and disinfect? Is the ink to be used in disposable cups? Is the gauze in sterile packaging until just before they are used?

How your tattoo artist prevents skin infections? Skin needs to be cleaned with antiseptic cleanser before a tattoo is applied.

Your tattoo artist should provide you with aftercare instructions and tell you to seek medical attention if complications arise.

Allergies

Ask your tattoo artist what the ink is made from and what type of gloves they use. If you are allergic to latex, tell your tattoo artist prior to any contact.

What Are The Risks?

Infections

  • Can spread from unclean needles, improper sterilization, contaminated ink/dye, wound contamination, and poor aftercare.
  • Skin infections- bacterial and fungal infections can occur with improper infection control and improper aftercare. Signs and Symptoms of an infection are:  increased redness, swelling, tenderness, heat when touched, and appearance of pus.
  • Viral infections- life-threatening blood infections such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C can be spread through contaminated equipment and improper technique.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals such as lead, chromium, cobalt nickel, arsenic, and mercury can be found in some tattoo inks.

Heavy metals have been associated with certain cancers in humans. Women of childbearing age should be cautious as heavy metals have been linked to pregnancy complications. 

Pregnancy

Please speak with your health care provider prior to getting a tattoo if you plan to become pregnant or while pregnant. Some infections may affect or be passed on to an unborn baby from the mother if complications develop from a tattoo.

Medical Imaging

During an MRI procedure you may experience painful burning on your tattoo site. The medical imaging itself may be compromised by the tattoo procedure resulting in retesting or misdiagnosis of health issues.

Epidurals for pain control may also not be offered or be an option in the presence of low back tattoos. The concern is the risk of ink being pushed into the spinal cord space.

How Can I Reduce The Risk?

Unlicensed Tattoo Parlours

Never visit an underground (unlicensed) tattoo parlour, please report such places to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit at 519-258-2146 ext. 4475.

Please note not all municipalities require a health inspection before issuing a business licence.

Pre-tattoo Skin Condition

Avoid getting a tattoo on skin that is red, broken, or itchy.

Aftercare

Follow all aftercare guidelines given by your tattoo artist. Some general after care instructions are:

  • Leave original bandage on for at least 2 hours.
  • Wash your tattoo after you take off the bandage with soap and water.
  • Pat dry and apply a light layer of the ointment suggested by the artist.
  • Avoid submerging in hot water for 2-3 weeks.
  • Do not pick or scratch the healing tattoo.
  • Protect tattoo from sunlight.
  • If you notice signs/symptoms of infection (increased redness, swelling, tenderness, heat when touched and appearance of pus) please visit your healthcare provider or nearest walk in clinic

References:

Durkin, S. E. (2012, March). Tattoos, body piercing, and healthcare concerns. Journal of Radiology Nursing, 31(1), 20-25. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.uwindsor.ca/10.1016/j.jradnu.2011.09.001

Davis, C. (2014, November 7). Caring for......patients with tattoos and body piercings. Nursing Made Incredible Easy!, 49-51. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/nursingmadeincrediblyeasy/pages/default.aspx

Simunovic, C., & Shinohara, M. M. (2014, November 11). Complications of decorative tattoos: Recognition and management. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 15, 525-536. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40257-014-0100-x

Infection Control Unit- Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. (2009). Infection prevention and control best practices for personal service settings.

Esteban-Vasallo, M., Aragones, N., Pollan, M., Lopez-Abente, G., & Perez-Gomez, B. (2012, October1). Mercury, cadmium, and lead levels in human placenta: A systematic review. Environmental Health Prospectives, 15 (10), 1396-1378. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1204952