Skin

Updated 09 June 2016

Think twice before you get that tattoo

The FDA reports that there are more and more people developing infections from contaminated tattoo inks and having bad reactions to the inks.

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Tattoos are increasingly popular in the United States, but getting one carries risks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Potentially painful process

There are increasing reports of people developing infections from contaminated tattoo inks and having bad reactions to the inks, according to Dr Linda Katz, director of the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colours.

She offered some advice for people trying to decide whether to get a tattoo.

Read: Teen tattoos

Think carefully before you make a decision. Removing a tattoo is a painstaking – and potentially painful – process and complete removal without scarring may not be possible, Katz said.

If you do decide to get a tattoo, confirm the tattoo parlour and artist are in compliance with all state and local laws. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a web page on state laws, statutes and regulations governing tattooing and body piercing. To find out about local regulations, contact your county or city health department.

You need to be concerned about unhygienic practices, non-sterile needles and contaminated ink, Katz warned.

Non-sterile water

You can get infections from ink contaminated with microorganisms such as bacteria and mould. Contamination could occur either in the manufacturing process or at the tattoo parlour. A common culprit is non-sterile water used to dilute the pigments, the agency said.

Read: How tattoos change over 50 years

There's no guaranteed way to tell if the ink is safe. Looking at or smelling it won't offer any clues. Ink can be contaminated even if the container is sealed or wrapped, or the label claims the ink is sterile, Katz said.

Signs of a tattoo-related infection include a rash at the site of the tattoo, or a fever. More serious infections could cause high fever, shaking, chills and sweats. Serious infections could require months of antibiotic treatment.

Contact a health care provider if you develop signs of infection or allergic reaction after getting a tattoo, Katz said.

Read more:

Tattoos can make skin cancer detection tricky

Show us your tattoo

What does that rash mean?

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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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