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Health Risks of Tattoos

From Justin Bieber to Selena Gomez, from Julia Roberts to Miley Cyrus, from Scarlett Johansson to Victoria Beckham, from Hilary Duff to Vanessa Hudgens and from Khloe Kardashian to Kelly Clarkson, almost all the celebrities we know and love have tattoos inked on their bodies and it is a well-known fact that people like to imitate celebrities and when it comes to tattoos, we just need a reason to get some.

Imitating celebrities is all well and good but we should have a care when it comes to tattoos as they have many health risks. We cannot ask people not to get inked but we can certainly educate them about the health risks of getting tattoos indiscriminately and the precautions that should be taken before getting inked.

Health Risks of Tattoos

Health Risks of Tattoos

There are some short term health risks of tattoos most of which quite commonly occur in people getting tattoos especially if tattoos are being inked in unsanitary conditions, which happens more often than one might think. Listed below are well-known and some not so well-known risks of getting tattoos:

Risks of Infection from Tattoos

There are many health risks of tattoos that are caused by infection. Since the instruments used in the process of tattoo application come in contact with blood, they can potentially transmit various diseases which mostly happens if the tattoo parlor is operating under unsanitary conditions. Some of these infections include:


Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are two such diseases that can be transmitted through tattoos, if safety precautions are not taken. Hepatitis is basically an inflammation of the liver which is a communicable infection and can be transmitted through infected blood constituting a health risk.


Tuberculosis is an infection of the lungs and is one of the health risks of tattoos. It is transmitted through infected body fluids and can occur during tattoo application if sufficient precautions are not taken.


The potential health risk of transmission of HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is actually the most dangerous one though none of the cases of HIV transmission through tattoo application have ever been reported in the United States of America.

Staph Infection

Staph infection is caused by the Staphylococcus aureus, a round shaped gram-positive bacteria that causes skin and respiratory infections and can be transmitted through the inking of tattoos. It is actually one of the most frequently occurring health risks of tattoos.

Allergic Reactions to Tattoos

Health risks of tattoos also include allergic reactions even though they are not so common and mostly occur for red and yellow pigments but sometimes can occur for white pigments as well. The rarity of allergic reactions is contributed to the fact that the pigment particles are enclosed in the fibrous tissues by the skin’s defense mechanism. They are sometimes activated by exposure to sunlight. Despite all this they pose a health risk as a European Commission report states that 40% of organic tattoo colorant used in Europe are not approved as cosmetics and 20% of them use a carcinogenic chemical for their preparation.

Hematoma Caused By Tattoos

Hematoma is a bruise that is formed around the tattoo. This may be kind of like a halo around the tattoo or sometimes may form one large bruise. This is one of the health risks of tattoos and it happens when a blood vessel is punctured by the needle during the tattooing procedure.

Burden on Lymph Nodes Due to Tattoos

One of the health risks of tattoos is the inflammation of the lymph nodes due to the accumulation of larger pigment particles in the lymph nodes. This occurs due to the migration of pigment particles from the site of tattoos to the lymph nodes where smaller particles are carried away while larger pigment particles accumulate, potentially posing a health risk.

Health Risk of Granulomas Formed Due to Tattoos

Granulomas, a health risk of tattoos, are actually bumps that are formed around the tattoos. Granulomas are actually inflammation caused by the accumulation of histiocytes (a kind of immune cells) when the body’s immune system tries to get rid of the foreign substances.


A raised area of scar tissues formed on or around the tattoos is one of the health risks of tattoos. It is a type of scar formed from collagen where collagen slowly replaces an overgrowth of granulation tissue at the site of a healed wound.

Excess Bleeding in Tattoos Due to Blood Thinners

If during tattoo inking process, blood thinners are being used; it can lead to increased and excessive bleeding. This can interfere with the tattooing process resulting in the prolonging of the process and an extended period of aftercare as well and is therefore considered a health risk.

MRI Complications Due to Tattoos

Though rare enough, MRI complications caused by tattoos do constitute a health risk. The MRI scan can cause burning in the tattoo area, more commonly in black tattoo as black ink contains iron oxide which can heat up during the MRI scan. Even though black ink is the most common health risk, other inks have also been known to cause this complication.

Health Risk of Eczema Due to Tattoos

Some of the hypersensitive reactions such as Eczematous Dermatitis have been known to lay latent for as long as twenty years in some cases. They manifest themselves abruptly after a long period of time. The delayed reaction is due to the slow change in the chemicals used in tattoo pigments after they enter the body. They pose high health risk due to the fact that these pigments can become quite toxic after the change that occurs in them inside the body.

Health Risk of Unnoticed Melanoma Due to Tattoos

One of the health risks of tattoos is that they can interfere in correct and timely diagnosis of melanoma. This happens due to the fact that the lymph nodes sometimes get discolored and inflamed due to tattoos and the inflammation and discoloration of lymph nodes is also an indicator of melanoma and hence tattoos can interfere in the diagnosis of melanoma.

Health Risks Involving Blood Donation

Red Cross of the United States of America prohibits people from donating blood for 12 months after getting a tattoo from an unlicensed studio. Similarly, United Kingdom also prohibits citizens from donating blood for 4 months after getting a tattoo regardless of the hygienic conditions of the studio.

Unknown Health Risks of Tattoos

There can be some unknown long term health risks of tattoos as well. Tattoo ink is classified as cosmetics by the Food and Drug Association (FDA) of America and therefore long term testing of them on animals cannot be done. But unlike cosmetics which are applied on the skin and hence, remain outside the body, the pigments used in tattoos are applied under the skin and thus can accumulate in the body cells and tissues over a period of time, posing a great health risk.

So these are some of the long term as well as short term health risks of tattoos which you should definitely consider before getting a tattoo.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 6, 2023

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