Can I Give Blood If I Have A Tattoo?
Before you head off to the blood bank to see whether they’ll turn you away, read this section. We’ll go over everything you need to know about donating blood after getting a tattoo.
Are You Allowed to Give Blood if You Have a Tattoo?
The good news is that having a tattoo doesn’t usually prevent you from donating blood. In many cases, you can be tattooed from neck to knee and still provide a pint of blood to your local blood bank.
There are, however, some exceptions, and they’re worth considering so you aren’t caught off guard if and when you are turned away at the blood drive.
Older Tattoos Are Fine
Older tattoos generally aren’t a source of worry for blood banks, and you can usually donate without a problem if you’ve had your latest tattoo for at least a year. Therefore, the tattoo you got on your arm back in 2015 won’t raise any concerns when you sit down to have your blood drawn.
Your Location Matters
When it comes to donating, which state or country you got your tattoo in makes the biggest difference.
According to the American Red Cross, you can donate blood after getting a new tattoo if you had your tattoo done in a state that regulates its tattoo studios.
You might think that this puts you in the clear, but there are almost a dozen states where tattoo studios are still not regulated by the state government. If you’ve had a tattoo for less than one year, you can’t donate blood if you got it done in one of these states:
- New Hampshire
- New York
Some Blood Banks Are More Risk-Averse
In some cases, the blood bank you’re dealing with might still turn you down, even if you’re in a state that carefully regulates tattoo facilities. This is because they are either very risk-averse or not as knowledgeable about the safety procedures that tattoo artists use while doing their work.
Regardless of the reason, be sure to mention that you have recently been tattooed when you show up to donate, or call ahead to make sure it’s okay.
The Restriction Also Applies to Related Procedures
The same cautions apply for other procedures that are sometimes offered by tattoo artists. Permanent cosmetics, scarification, and branding all might require you to wait before donating blood if you had it done in an unregulated environment.
Most People Can Donate Blood After Getting a Tattoo
Considering these factors, it’s clear that most people can donate blood soon after getting a new tattoo. If you live in a state where tattoo parlors are regulated, you should have no problem dealing with a blood bank. Still, it doesn’t hurt to look up their policy about tattoos.
Why Can’t You Donate Blood if You Have a New Tattoo?
If you have a new tattoo from an unregulated tattoo parlor, you won’t be able to donate blood. But why is that, exactly?
It can’t be a worry about the tattoo itself. If there was a risk of some ink particles making its way into the bloodstream and contaminating the blood supply, then anyone with a new tattoo would be turned away from the blood bank, not just those who got it done in unregulated tattoo studios.
But if it’s not the ink that stops you from donating, then what is it?
The biggest concern is the spread of a bloodborne pathogen. There is a very small risk of contracting HIV from a tattoo needle, but the biggest risk is hepatitis.
Hepatitis infects the liver and it’s no joke. It can damage the organ and, over time, lead to serious complications like liver cancer and liver failure. In some cases, those infected with hepatitis will eventually require a liver transplant.
Hepatitis is transferred through the bloodstream. Under ordinary circumstances, that means someone with hepatitis won’t be infecting the people they come into contact with. There is, however, a risk of transferring it between people who are tattooed with the same equipment.
Since tattooing involves piercing the skin with a needle, there’s always some blood involved. When you’re working with a professional tattoo artist in a regulated studio, the risk of transmission is extremely low. The equipment is sterilized thoroughly, the disposable components (including the ink) are never used with more than one customer, and the staff have the knowledge and training to understand bloodborne illnesses and prevent them from spreading.
That’s not to say that this isn’t the case in unregulated facilities. There are certainly countless tattoo parlors in Nevada, New Hampshire, and New York that are just as safe as the ones operating in a state with more regulations, like Florida.
The problem is that there’s no way for blood banks to know this for sure. Since there is no government body overseeing safe tattooing procedures and ensuring that tattoo artists aren’t cutting corners when it comes to disease prevention, blood banks operating in states without regulation will ask you to wait a year before donating rather than risk contaminating the blood supply.
This is completely understandable. The blood and plasma these facilities collect is used to give people a second chance at life, help them survive and recover from major surgeries, and treat medical conditions like cancer and anemia.
Having a healthy supply of blood available is also important during or after mass casualty events, like a natural disaster or mass shootings, where blood is often scarce and in high demand. The last thing anyone wants after undergoing a medical procedure or being treated after a devastating event is to learn that they were infected with hepatitis as a result.
Why the Waiting Period?
If you’re at risk of having contracted hepatitis after getting tattooed at an unregulated facility, you might be wondering why you can still donate blood after a 12-month waiting period.
The reason you’re waiting a year isn’t that you’ll be cleared of the disease after that time; it’s because that’s how long it takes to guarantee that it will show up in blood tests.
This means you may still not be able to donate blood even after the waiting period. If getting your tattoo infected you with hepatitis, you won’t be a candidate for blood donation. The only difference is that the blood bank will now be able to tell that you have the disease instead of taking a risk by drawing your blood while the virus is still undetected.
What Other Factors Can Stop You from Donating Blood with a Tattoo?
Even if you got a tattoo from a well-regulated parlor, you might still need to hold off on donating blood if it’s still fresh.
If you’re in the process of getting a tattoo over the course of a few days, or if you’ve just had yours done, it’s best to wait until the tattoo has been completed for at least a week before trying to donate blood.
Having a fresh tattoo won’t get you turned down because of the risk of infection. Rather, it’s because of the inflammation that comes with having recently been under the needle. Until your body recovers from it, you will have a harder time passing the screening procedures that ensure your blood is safe for use.
Choosing a Safe and Hygienic Tattoo Shop
If you live in one of the eleven states that don’t regulate tattoo shops, you’re not completely helpless. There are some steps you can take to ensure the tattoo shop you’re dealing with is both safe and hygienic.
Ask about their certification and training
Even when states don’t regulate the practice, tattoo artists can voluntarily acquire training and certification to ensure they’re able to practice their craft effectively and safely. Some have training that is more focused on the art. Still, they don’t teach you about hepatitis in art school, so make it a point to ask whether the tattoo artist’s training covered infection prevention and blood-borne diseases.
Ask to see the autoclave
The autoclave is a device that is used to properly sterilize tattoo equipment. It is the only acceptable method of sterilizing reusable equipment – disinfecting the equipment is not sufficient.
Pay attention to the tattoo artist’s setup
Everything the tattoo artist will use to do your tattoo should be in plain view. Nothing disposable should be reused. The needles should be in their packaging until everything starts, and the ink should be straight out of the bottle too. Don’t allow a tattoo artist to cut corners. It might be awkward to demand that they use new items or even to grab your jacket and leave, but you should never put yourself and your health at risk.
Trust your gut
You should never get a tattoo from a person or a place that makes you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. Interact with the staff and the tattoo artist beforehand. If you feel they are behaving unprofessionally, it’s best to get your tattoo elsewhere. Likewise, if the facility seems to be dirty, messy, or simply not well kept, that can also be a red flag. Again, follow your instincts and if something doesn’t feel right, get your ink done somewhere else.
Follow the aftercare instructions
Always listen to your artist’s advice when it comes to looking after your tattoo while it heals. Being careful, not irritating the area, and using a good tattoo lotion will allow your ink to heal as quickly as possible while limiting the risk of infection.
The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a (vegan) aftercare product called Hustle Butter. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process – not only to keep your tattoo really well hydrated, but it’s also very good at soothing any annoying itchiness or irritation.
Following these basic steps won’t let you bypass the twelve-month waiting period before you donate, but they’ll significantly reduce your odds of contracting blood-borne pathogens. Not only would an infection or disease be unpleasant in itself, but having hepatitis or another condition means the blood bank won’t be able to use your blood, even if they do allow you to donate it.
Everyone wants to do their part to help others. Yet if you’ve recently been tattooed in an unregulated parlor, you might need to sit out this year’s blood drive.
For most people, however, there are absolutely no obstacles to donating blood with a tattoo. If you’re still not sure whether you’re in the clear after reading this article, check your local blood bank’s website or give them a call. They should have clear policies about who can and cannot donate at their facilities.
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