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Tattoos: Are They Safe?

What you need to know about the health risks of tattoos, finding a safe tattoo parlor, and tattoo removal.

Making Sure Your Tattoo Parlor Is Safe

Want a tattoo? Follow these safety checks from Tanzi.

  • Treat a tattoo as you would any other medical procedure. “You want a tattoo parlor to be at least as clean as a dentist or dermatologist’s office,” Tanzi says.
  • Ask to see the tools the artist will use. The needles should be new, sterilized, and wrapped -- no exceptions. The ink should be in small pots meant for single-use and anything that touches your skin should not be reused. And the artist should wear gloves.
  • Make sure the work area is free of any possible contamination from items like purses and cell phones.

Getting Your Tattoo Removed

You might think that if you tire of your tattoo, you can just get it taken off, but the process of tattoo removal is actually expensive, time consuming, and painful. Depending on the size of the tattoo and other factors, you may need to undergo anywhere from five to 20 sessions for a satisfactory removal -- and each session costs hundreds of dollars.

The process of tattoo removal involves a laser that targets the pigment and dissolves it so the body can absorb it. Some tattoos can never be removed completely because the ink has been placed too deep in the skin and the laser treatment can't reach it. Other complications include hypopigmentation (white spots where the tattoo used to be) and fibrosis (thickening of the skin in the tattoo site). Because of the risks (burns and scarring) involved and the skill required, you should see a dermatologist or other medical professional to have the work done.

Black is the easiest shade to remove, while green, blue, yellow and purple can be the most stubborn. Older tattoos will fade more easily than newer ones. And the darker your skin pigment, the more difficult it will be to erase your ink. Where the art is on your body can also affect removal: The further away the tattoo is from your heart, the harder it is to treat.

A new ink called Freedom2Ink has recently earned FDA approval and may make tattoos less permanent. The ink is micro-encapsulated so that when laser energy hits the pigment, it is destroyed quickly. Removal with this type of ink will require fewer visits, possibly as few as one or two, making them easier to erase.

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Reviewed on February 12, 2011

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