What Doctors Want Kids (And Parents) To Know About Getting Tattoos

Photo by Annie Spratt.

For the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidance on safe tattoos, piercings, and scarification for young people. They aren't saying not to get tattoos — kids still have to ask Mum or Dad about that in most places, anyway. But they have some advice if you're thinking about it.

Be Really Sure You Want a Tattoo

Duh, right? Most people actually don't regret their tattoos (according to a 2016 Harris poll, 86 per cent of people with tattoos are happy with their decision), but careful decision making will help ensure that you're not looking up tattoo removal services in a few years. Although tattoos are more popular than they used to be, many employers still discriminate against potential workers with visible tattoos.

Removal services do exist, but they are expensive and time consuming, and don't always work as well as you might hope. Laser tattoo removal ranges from $US49 ($68) to $US300 ($414) per square inch per session, the AAP writes, so if you have a 15 square inch tattoo that requires 8 sessions, you'll need to pay a minimum of $US5880 ($8115) to get it removed.

Given those numbers, you're probably better off getting a larger tattoo to cover up the old one. Or, even better: not getting a tattoo you're going to regret, like a person's name (they are then guaranteed to leave you) in the first place. This is also why it's better to save up for a session with a good tattoo artist, rather than choosing whoever is cheapest or least likely to card you.

Putting Parents' Fears to Rest

The pediatricians have some statistics to reassure parents who think a tattoo will ruin their child's life. Behold:

  • Everybody's doing it. 38 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 had at least one tattoo in a 2010 survey, and 23 per cent had piercings in a place other than their earlobe. So, no, your child will not be the only weirdo out there with a tattoo. That said, 72 per cent of tattoos in that survey were in places that are usually covered by clothes.

  • Wanting (or getting) a tattoo doesn't mean there's anything wrong with your kid. Previous studies found that tattoos were more common among kids that used alcohol and drugs, but that association has grown weaker as tattoos become more popular. Body modification also doesn't count as self-injury from a mental health standpoint, since the child's intention is totally different. If you have concerns about your kid's mental health, your pediatrician can help.

Infection Is Your Biggest Risk

A tattoo is a giant open wound — or, to be more accurate, a whole lot of tiny open wounds. If the tattooist doesn't use safe practices or if you do something stupid while the tattoo is healing, you could be at risk of an infection that does anything from ruining your pretty picture to giving you a bloodborne disease for life.

So go to a licensed tattoo shop, dummy, and follow the aftercare instructions. Why, you ask? Here's why:

Infections may be superficial pyogenic infections, deep or severe pyogenic infections, atypical mycobacterial infections, systemic or cutaneous viral infections, or (rarely) cutaneous fungal infections. Systemic viral infections from bloodborne pathogens include hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and HIV. Superficial pyogenic infections are usually related to Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes, with common patterns of pustules or papulopustules along the tattoo lines. Infections are typically present 4 to 22 days after tattooing. Infections range from cellulitis and small pustules to larger abscesses that require surgical incision and drainage. Management is similar to other skin pyogenic infections. More severe pyogenic infections remain rare, but there are case reports of endocarditis, spinal abscess, erysipelas, gangrene, and amputations.

They go on, but you get the picture. You should absolutely be up to date on your vaccines before you go (especially tetanus and hepatitis), and make sure the person doing your tattoo is taking every precaution to keep you safe.

According to the Alliance of Professional Tattooists, you should pay attention to things like whether the tattooist uses sterile equipment, washes their hands, wears gloves, disinfects everything, throws everything away that touched you at the end of a tattoo session, and doesn't have ink smudges everywhere. And yes, it's fair to ask to watch them first.


Comments

    For after care, bepanthen cream, the nappy rash one, not the antiseptic cream. It's soothing and works really well. Also use a large non-stick bandaid/dressing to cover it while it's healing for at least the first couple days. It will bleed and leak colour the first day or two so you want it covered and not staining your clothes/sheets and of course covering it helps it heal.

    And for the people who ask "will it hurt?" Yes it will. How bad depends on your pain threshold, how big the tattoo is and where you get it. So it's usually a good idea to start small and not go in for a full back piece as your first tat.

    What this doesn't mention but is also worth considering is if you suffer from a skin condition like psoriasis, dermatitis or eczema or are simply prone to skin allergies. Doctors and other medical experts seem to be split on this as some say it's fine while others say don't even think about it. Needless to say though if you have a chronic pre-existing skin condition, you should think twice about injecting ink into your skin with needles because the risk will always be there that it will cause it to flare up. Even if you aren't aware that you suffer from it, trauma to the skin like a tattoo could cause it to trigger if you have the gene and it's just been dormant.

    Also, I'm being a bit pedantic about this, I know, but saying something like "Everybody's doing it" then following that up with 38% of people do it is a little misleading. 38% is indeed a lot of people...more than a third...and chances are if you don't have a tattoo yourself you know several people that do. But 38% is by no means "everybody".

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