Can You Die From Getting a Tattoo?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on February 01, 2022
    Last Updated: February 1, 2022

Tattooing breaks the skin and may cause bleeding. It causes open wounds and therefore infection is possible. 

Infections at the site may cause permanent deformity, scarring, or severe illness, but can you die from getting a tattoo in some instances? We explore the possibilities of tattooing leading to death and the likelihood of it happening.


Can Tattoos Kil ?

There are recorded instances of people dying from getting a tattoo, but there always seems to be mitigating circumstances. 

We explore what those circumstances are, look at some recorded cases and discuss the do’s and don’ts to ensure a safe tattooing experience. 

Risks of Infection Leading to a Threat to Life

Getting a tattoo has a significant risk of infection. It is critical to adhere to proper hygiene and safety requirements.

A tattoo is a type of body alteration that involves the insertion of ink, dyes, and/or pigments into the dermis layer of the skin to create a design. Using non-sterile equipment to carry this out can lead to infection.

Blood-borne infections such as hepatitis B and C (which can lead to life-long liver damage and subsequent liver cancer), HIV, tetanus, and tuberculosis can be transmitted if the equipment is not new or adequately sanitized, or if proper hygiene rules are not followed.

Skin infected with resistant organisms such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can be life-threatening.

Even celebrities aren’t immune to the dangers—according to Salon.com, actress Pamela Anderson got hepatitis C, after a tattooist used the same needle on her and her husband Tommy Lee. 

Safe Tattooing

The best way to avoid a risk of infection is to use a reputable tattooist. They should ideally be professionally licensed or accredited. 

  • The shop should have an up-to-date blood-borne pathogens certificate.
  • The shop should be clean and clinical.
  • New materials and sterile equipment should be used at the tattoo parlor.
  • Rubber gloves should be worn by the tattoo artist at all times.
  • Individual pots of ink should be used.
  • A clean, water-proof coating should be applied on the tattooing surface.

Health risks are effectively managed and occur infrequently if these circumstances are in place.

Tattoo Aftercare to Avoid Infection

Once you’ve made the plunge, remove the bandage between an hour and the next morning after receiving your tattoo.

Gently wash your tattoo with a mild antibacterial soap during the healing period. Pat dry rather than rubbing. 

Tattoos take a few weeks to fully heal. They’re going to scab over. The scabs will peel away. Even if your tattoo itches, don’t scratch or pick at it! If required, get medical treatment.

Apply a thin layer of ointment to the affected area until the scabs fall off. Use an ointment that your tattooist has recommended.

If you have redness and burning beyond the normal healing period it could be an indication of infection and you should seek medical advice.

Do not bathe in a tub or go swimming until your tattoo is completely healed. Once it has healed, treat the tattoo with a high-quality moisturizing skin lotion to keep it healthy.

You should protect your tattoo from sun damage by using high-factor sun cream whenever it is exposed to sunlight.

Reported Cases of Death From Getting a Tattoo.

The death of a 35-year-old man 10 days after his recently obtained tattoo was reported in the British daily newspaper, The Mirror, in 2009. 

A blood clot in his lung caused by a deep vein thrombosis in his right calf, the site of the newly etched tattoo, was the cause of death.

However, The coroner couldn’t tell if the thrombosis was caused by the infection of the tattoo or by the fact that the man was unusually inactive due to the pain.

In 2017, a Hispanic man died after going swimming shortly after getting a new tattoo.

He was suffering from cirrhosis and ignored advice given by experts to wait for two weeks before going into pools or oceans. 

He went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico just five days after he had a religious cross inked on his leg. Consequently, he contracted a flesh-eating bug and developed sepsis.

In 2013 it was reported that a ‘healthy’ 23-year-old Italian student died just hours after getting a Tattoo. It’s possible that she had a very rare allergic reaction to the ink.

These incidents of death are few and far between, and there always seems to be a case of neglect or some other underlying reason for the fatality.

Conclusion

With any kind of medical procedure or breaking of the skin, there is a real risk of infection. 

To ensure the minimum risk, take the time to make sure the tattoo artist you choose is adequately trained and their premises are hygienic. 

Then, carrying out the correct aftercare is the best way to avoid infections or complications after getting your tattoo.

The reported incidents of death resulting from a tattoo are minuscule, and in such cases, there always is an underlying reason, such as neglect or medical grounds, that the death occurs from.

Millions of people get happily and safely tattooed every day (and even twice in one day) so go on, take the step.