Are Tattoos Safe?

What are health risks associated with getting a tattoo?

People may worry about their friends or children getting tattoos, especially since tattoos break the skin and carry a risk of infections and other complications. Tattoos can lead to local bacterial infec­tions that are characterized by redness, swelling, pain or a pus-like drainage. Impetigo, cellulitis, herpes simplex and viral warts are all concerns. Worst case: infections from dirty needles, such as hepatitis, HIV and staph, have been reported. So choose your tattoo artist carefully, and if you suspect a problem, seek the advice of your physician.

What are the chances of an allergic reaction?

There can be allergic reactions from the various inks that are used. The two most common are hypersensitivity reactions to tattoo pigments, allergic contact derma­titis and photo allergic dermatitis. The reaction usually appears as an inflamed red rash or may sometimes be scaly and flaky    (exfoliative dermatitis). Red tat­too pigments cause the most reactions, particularly those made from mercury sulfide (cinnabar). Hypersensitivity reactions to pigments used to make black, blue and green tattoos are much less common.

Are there any skin problems I need to watch for, such as rashes or scar tissue, around the tattoo?

A reaction to a foreign body, such as red ink, may cause raised red bumps at the site of the tattoo. These are made up of epithelioid cells, lymphocytes and a few giant cells. A reaction is most often associ­ated with red ink, but also can occur with green, blue and purple pigment tattoos.

In most cases scarring occurs with tattoo removals.

Dr. Asim Ali is a board-certified internal medicine physician. He earned his medical degree at Dow Medical College and completed his internship and residency at St. Louis University School of Medicine and Forest Park Hospital

Tags :


We welcome the opportunity to work with journalists to get the information they need. We ask that all journalists call us before contacting a physician, an employee or a patient at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, or before coming to the hospital.

Media Contact

For all media inquiries:
Email us

or call 314-996-7590.
Copyright © 1997-2018 BJC HealthCare. All Rights Reserved.