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Tattoo Safety: What Are the Warning Signs?

For some people, tattoos are an expression of their personality, where others see them as a way of creating everlasting art. No matter the inspiration that prompts people to explore the world of body art, around a quarter of American adults have a tattoo. Despite the popularity of tattoos, in a study published by Pew Research Center, 21% of respondents announced that they regretted their decision to get ink. Dissatisfaction and regret make up one of the primary reasons why getting a tattoo should never be a passive or last-minute decision. The other reason is that there are numerous risks involved with getting a tattoo particularly in regards to infection, allergic reaction, and even disease.

No matter how beautiful they are, tattoos are technically self-inflicted wounds albeit well-designed ones. This means you should only ever get a tattoo in a sterile shop that uses clean utensils and trained skill. Like any wound, tattoos are open to infection, so if you want to avoid some serious discomfort, it’s important to be aware of the following warning signs. Make yourself familiar with these signs that your tattoo parlor shouldn’t be trusted, and symptoms that you may experience from an infected tattoo.

Warning Signs of an Unsafe Parlor

One of the most important steps a customer can take to avoid potential health risks associated with tattoos is to thoroughly examine the tattoo parlor in advance. Often, people are either too excited about the concept of their new art, or so focused on the pain they might experience, that they fail to notice signs that their chosen tattoo shop is dangerous. Here’s what to look out for:

  • A Tattoo Artist with No Background

Before you get any artwork done, speak to your artist and ask to see a portfolio of their work, as well as any recommendations they’ve gathered during their time in the profession. If your chosen artist has no evidence of their experience, or is unwilling to show you recommendations, this should be an instant red flag.

  • The Shop is a Mess

If the tattoo parlor is dirty, with blood or grime on the floors and seats, then you can’t expect the work to be sterile. If the shop seems cluttered or disorganized, there’s a higher chance that tools and equipment could be exposed to contaminants. Your tattoo parlor should be as clean as a doctor’s operating room; any dirt or mess is a clear sign to go somewhere else.

  • There Are No Gloves

Though a tattoo may not be a surgical procedure, it is very similar and can be just as dangerous without the right safety measures. After all, your tattoo artist is puncturing your skin and although the artist should wash his hands before working on you, he should also apply gloves as an extra precautionary measure.

  • The Needles look Dirty or Reused

It is essential that your artist uses sterilized ink and needles. Re-used tools in a tattoo parlor are one of the easiest and quickest ways to be exposed to a blood-borne disease. Watch your artist carefully, and be sure that all tools are either fresh from the packet, or completely sterilized before use.

Warning Signs of a Tattoo Infection

Infections caused by a tattoo can be either mild and uncomfortable or incredibly dangerous. In fact, some of the many infections caused through tattooing include tetanus, fungal infections, hepatitis B, and even HIV. All it takes is one dirty needle. Even if you’ve had your tattoo completed in a sterile office, and were confident with the cleanliness of the procedure, it’s still worth watching out for any signs of infection.

  • Severe Inflammation

While all tattoos experience some degree of swelling, and complicated or larger tattoos often take longer to heal than smaller tattoos, it’s important to watch out for abnormal inflammation. If the tattoo remains swollen for more than a few days, this could be a sign of infection, particularly if it seems to radiate heat.

  • Itchiness

If the inked area is itchy, and the discomfort seems to spread outwards from the area of the tattoo, this could also be a sign of infection or allergic reaction. Tattoos can itch, but if the sensation lasts for more than a week, or gets particularly strong, you may need to get it checked out.

  • Redness

All new tattoos will show some redness in the area around the lines, but if the redness begins to get darker (instead of lighter), or becomes more painful over time, this could be another sign of infection. Look out for red lines that radiate away from the tattoo as well, as this can indicate blood poisoning.

  • Foul Smelling Discharge

Foul smelling discharge or pus can also be a very serious sign of infection, and should prompt you to visit your physician or go to the emergency room straight away.

  • High Temperature

At any time, if you’re worried about the possibility of an infection, it’s a good idea to use an accurate thermometer to take your temperature. If you are feeling feverish, this could be a sign that you need to see your doctor.