How Safe Are Tattoos?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 5, 2019
    Last Updated: October 13, 2021

Tattooing is an art that’s been practiced for millennia. Today, the practice is more popular than ever. The growing popularity of getting inked surely means it’s safer than it ever was, right? That isn’t strictly true.

Getting tattooed can add to your look in ways nothing else can. Before you go into this journey of self-expression and modification, there are things to consider. Are you putting yourself at risk for the sake of a pretty picture on your skin? Educate yourself ahead of time, so you’re prepared for anything that comes up.

For the most part, tattoos are safe, but there are some associated risks:

What’s in Tattoo Ink?

It’s challenging to know what goes into tattoo ink since there are no FDA regulations, and almost every brand uses different ingredients. This immediately poses a risk and can challenge one’s belief of whether a tattoo is safe or not.

Tattoo inks are made from a carrier and a colorant. The carrier is usually made from an active substance like rubbing alcohol or glycerin. Carriers are harmless, and alcohol-based carriers may even help prevent infection.

It’s the colorant you need to worry about. In incorrect doses, heavy metals commonly used in tattoo ink colorants are poisonous, and bad tattoo inks have been accused of various bodily disorders, ranging from mild allergic reactions to cancer. Heavy metals used in ink include: 

  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Nickel
  • Zinc
  • Chromium
  • Cobalt
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Barium

Some inks even use animal products, like shellac, animal fat glycerin, beeswax and bone char, although vegan alternatives are available.

Are Tattoos Safe?

Judging by how popular tattoos are in our current and past populations, you could assume they’re safe. I’m yet to personally know someone with a horror story, but that’s not to say they don’t exist.

The needle is a concern for many, but tattoo artists are trained professionals. The needle never goes far beneath the skin’s surface, and the pros know exactly what they’re doing.

When getting a tattoo, your safety concerns need to be in the ink and the sanitary practices. You can look into how the parlor approaches sanitation, but you can never fully know if the ink is safe.

Obviously, the major ink brands will generally be safer to use than cheaper or lesser-known brands. And of course, homemade tattoo ink is the least trustworthy variety. If you’d like to research the ink your artist uses before getting tattooed, just ask them and they’ll usually have no problem telling you.

You shouldn’t be scared when getting a tattoo, but knowing the risks will come in handy.

The Risks of Getting a Tattoo

You need to know your body when getting a tattoo. If you have allergies, let your tattoo artist know or look into the ink’s ingredients yourself. If you have any pre-existing conditions, take precautions to make the tattooing experience as safe as it can be.

Even if you do everything you can to ensure a safe session, unexpected circumstances can still arise afterward.

Poor Healing

If you get a tattoo while sick, it may take longer to heal. Your white blood cells help heal your tattoo. If those cells are battling against something else, they won’t be able to work on healing your skin sufficiently. If you’re sick at the time of your appointment, you should reschedule.

Not keeping up with correct aftercare practices can also cause delays in healing. Ensure to keep the area as clean as possible and make sure to apply a tattoo lotion or skin-friendly moisturizer to the area to prevent excess scabbing and cracking.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.​ Click here to buy from Amazon.


If you take blood thinners or drank alcohol around the time of your appointment, you’ll be prone to excessive bleeding. This can cause visibility issues for the tattoo artist, compromising their work. Excess blood may also get on their equipment and furniture, causing sanitary issues.

A bit of blood bleeding while getting tattooed is completely normal

Unsanitary Equipment

All tattoo studios need to be licensed, but the artists don’t have to be. If they don’t properly sterilize their equipment, you could contract blood-borne diseases such as:

  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • HIV

At your initial consultation, speak to the artist about the parlor’s specific sanitary procedures. If you aren’t happy with them, get your work done elsewhere — it’s that simple!

A tattoo shop should always look sparkling-clean

Allergic Reactions

You may experience an allergic reaction hours or years after getting a tattoo. Maybe it’s something in the ink; maybe it’s in your aftercare cream. Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • Itching
  • Rashes
  • Redness
  • Skin flaking

More serious allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis, will rear their ugly heads immediately. If you experience any of the below, seek urgent medical assistance:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Swelling of the throat
  • Hives
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness


Overgrowths of scar tissue may form around the tattoo site. These formations are usually a result of keloids. People with darker skin are more prone to getting keloids, but nobody is exempt. Keloids can form after any skin injury. 

You probably won’t know right after your tattoo if you’re going to get keloids, and pressure dressings may prevent them. Ask your doctor for guidance if you’re worried about keloids after a tattoo.


Tattoo infections occur when bacteria gets into an open wound. This bacteria may come from the tattoo ink or inadequately sterilized equipment.

When you get a tattoo, you’ve opened thousands of tiny wounds on your skin. Any open wound, no matter how small, is open to infection. Staph infections and tuberculosis (atypical mycobacterial infections) are two you’re at risk of.

What to Do If a Tattoo Goes Bad

If you experience unusual symptoms after getting a tattoo, notify a healthcare professional immediately. They’ll make sure you get the treatment you need and avoid any long-term consequences. 

Notify the tattoo artist and get the information on the ink they used. Ask how they sterilize their needles. Inquire whether any previous customers had a similar complication.

Lastly, tell the FDA. Although they don’t regulate ink, they take safety information seriously and can ban harmful inks and ingredients.

How to Get a Safe Tattoo

Here are some things you can do beforehand to ensure your tattoo experience is as safe as it can be:

  • Make sure the artist and parlor are licensed and reputable 
  • Ensure the entire area is correctly sanitized; ask about how they sterilize their equipment in advance
  • Stop taking blood thinners for 24 hours before your appointment
  • Don’t consume alcohol for 24 hours before your appointment
  • Make sure your tattoo artist uses fresh gloves 
  • Ensure your skin is properly cleaned before tattooing
  • Care for your tattoo cautiously until it heals
  • Keep an eye on the tattoo, but never get an eye tattoo

Your Safety Is in Your Hands

Tattoos and tattooing procedures aren’t thought to be unhealthy, and are as safe as they’ve ever been. There are risks involved, but with proper preparation and due diligence, most of them are completely avoidable. Tattoos have even been shown to boost the immune system!

Use your common sense when it comes to getting a tattoo, and the process should go as well as expected.

If there’s anything you can do to help the appointment go smoothly, don’t be afraid to do it. It’s your health on the line, and nobody will judge you for taking care of it. Ask stupid questions, be overly aware, and stay safe in your inky adventures.

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