Are Tattoos Safe For Teens?
by Gregory Plemmons, MD
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My daughter, age 17, wants to get a tattoo on her ankle. We have been back and forth on the issue for a few months now. While she doesn't have my blessing, I am terrified of the thought of her going out and getting it done on her own and maybe getting an infection. How can I help be sure that if she does do this, that it will be clean? Is there anything else we should know? - Marybeth, Texas
The Pediatrician Answers:
Tattooing is an ancient "art" (though some parents would beg to differ) and is popular again, along with body piercing.
Tattoo artists use special needles to implant a variety of pigments into the dermis, the permanent layer of the skin. Obviously, there is the risk of transmitting infectious disease, if needles are unsterilized or reused. Fortunately, many state health departments now regulate the tattoo industry, but regulations may still vary from state to state.
Some questions for your daughter to ask:
- Does the artist wash hands thoroughly and wear latex gloves during the procedure?
- Does the artist use sterile, disposable needle and tubing?
- Does the artist have an FDA-regulated autoclave (an appliance used to sterilize items) on site?
- Are materials discarded or thoroughly cleaned and sterilized properly before used again?
Finally, remind your daughter it is generally a permanent decision. Dermatologists are now able to remove tattoos with pulse laser treatments, but these are quite expensive -- costing hundreds of dollars -- and are generally not reimbursed by most insurance companies.