Tattoo Risk and danger, infection
March 12 2017 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.


A tattoo is a mark made by inserting pigment into the skin: in technical terms, tattooing is micro-pigment implantation. Tattoos may be made on human or animal skin. Tattoos on humans are a type of body modification, while those on animals are most often used for identification.


Tattoo Risks and danger

During the process of getting a tattoo, the skin is pierced. The skin is one of the body's most important barriers to germs. This means you can be more susceptible to skin infections and other skin reactions. From 2004 to 2016 the FDA received 400 reports of problems with tattoos, such as infections from contaminated tattoo inks or allergic reactions. Infections can result from ink contaminated with bacteria or mold.


Each time a tattoo gun pierces the skin, the needle creates a wound -- and a pathway by which bacteria can enter the body. The larger the tattoo, the higher the risk of possible infection.


Microscopic particles from tattoos can make their way within the body and reach the lymph nodes. Tattoo inks, along with the pigments, contain preservatives and contaminants such as nickel, chromium, manganese and cobalt.


Specific tattoo risks include:


Tattooing became a popular phenomenon during the late twentieth century. Because the act of tattooing involves repeated injection of ink through the skin, a risk of contracting infections from contaminated tattooing equipment and ink and the surrounding environment exists. Progress has been made in infection control strategies; however, contraction of bacterial and viral infections from tattooing continues to occur.

Blood-borne diseases. If the equipment used to create your tattoo is contaminated with the blood of an infected person, you can contract a number of serious blood-borne diseases. These include hepatitis C, hepatitis B, tetanus, tuberculosis and HIV the virus that causes AIDS. Make sure that the needles are clean and germ-free.


Skin disorders. Your body may form bumps and lumps called granulomas around tattoo ink, especially if your tattoo includes red ink. Tattooing can also cause areas of raised, excessive scarring (keloids), if you're prone to them.

Skin infections. Tattoos can lead to local bacterial infections. Typical signs and symptoms of an infection include redness, warmth, swelling and a pus-like drainage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked clusters of potentially serious antibiotic-resistant skin infections to unlicensed tattoo artists who don't follow proper infection-control procedures. Some antibiotic-resistant skin infections can lead to pneumonia, bloodstream infections and a painful, flesh-destroying condition called necrotizing fasciitis.
     You can get infections from ink contaminated with microorganisms such as bacteria and mold. Contamination could occur either in the manufacturing process or at the tattoo parlor. A common culprit is non-sterile water used to dilute the pigments.

Allergic reactions. Tattoo dyes, particularly red dye, can cause allergic skin reactions, resulting in an itchy rash at the tattoo site. This may occur even years after you get the tattoo. Allergies to tattoo dyes is not common, but does occur.

You may not like your tattoo even if it was done well. Not liking the tattoo is the most common reason people give for having one removed. If you decide you want to get rid of a tattoo, it usually takes many treatments and costs a lot of money. Scars may form when getting or removing a tattoo.


J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2013. Tattoo-associated complications. Tattoo rates in the United States have been rising in recent years, with an expected concomitant rise in tattoo-associated complications. Tattoo complications range from cutaneous localized and generalized inflammatory eruptions, to local bacterial or viral infections, and finally to infectious endocarditis and hepatitis. Many complications may be avoided with proper counseling prior to tattoo placement, especially in high risk individuals. It is important for physicians to be able to recognize and diagnose complications from tattoos to avoid morbidity and possible mortality.


Henna tattoo
Henna is a vegetable dye that can be brown, red or green. Henna tattoos wear off within a few days. Some tattoo artists add a chemical called para-phenylenediamine, or PPD to make the henna tatttoo darker.