Getting a tattoo removed or faded is a big decision, just like getting one in the first place. So if you choose to get a new tattoo we want you to be informed of the risks. Read this article to find out what you need to know and the questions you need to ask before you get that new tattoo.
Do your research before you get inked
Tattoos are more popular than ever, but it’s important to do thorough research before getting ‘inked’.
One of the well-known risks of improperly performed tattooing is the spread of blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis C and B and HIV. This is due to infected blood from one client being transferred to another through a tattoo needle. It can happen when the same needle is used for multiple clients, or even when the tattooist uses the same tattoo needle twice.
The risk of serious disease from needles is actually twofold because an infectious disease can also be spread when a tattooist dips a new, sterilised needle into the same pot of ink that was used for a previous client who was infected with a transmissible disease. This practice is especially common in developing countries, which are also tourist meccas, such as Indonesia (Bali) and Thailand.
It is also possible for tattooists to become infected with serious diseases during the process of tattooing an infected client. That person will then be a danger to every future client they provide with a tattoo.
A popular pastime while travelling is to acquire a tattoo as a memory or token of the visit. There are many trained and untrained tattooists in some of Thailand’s most popular tourism spots – and other countries – waiting to ‘ink’ customers during the day and late into the night for a fee that is cheaper than in Australia. Some use bamboo needles, and some use the same pot of ink for multiple tattoos on multiple clients. Tattooists often operate out of makeshift shops near the beach without proper sterilisation procedures, hazardous waste disposal or basic hygiene protocols. They are also sometimes located near popular nightspots where travellers can have a drink or two before embracing the idea of taking home a souvenir tattoo.
Third-world and developing countries do not have the same health and safety standards as Australia. While their safety and hygiene procedures may be in line with the local laws or customs, they may not meet the standards required to operate in Australia. It is the responsibility of the customer, or client, to ensure they will not be exposed to infectious diseases or infections when they purchase a service such as a tattoo.
Bacterial infections are also a risk when acquiring a tattoo. If the client has a pimple, wart or skin abnormality at the site of the tattoo, when the skin is broken the bacteria may enter the body and cause infection.
It is possible to purchase tattoo kits from online sites, but there is no way of knowing whether these have been previously used. Even if they are new, there is a danger of causing scarring and nerve damage if an untrained person attempts to tattoo themselves or other people.
In Australia there are trained tattooists who provide sterile environments and who have well-maintained crosscontamination procedures. These businesses usually meet national health and safety requirements. Many use singleuse equipment, which is immediately disposed of after each procedure, and all working surfaces are covered with a disposable barrier. Items are scrubbed and run through ultrasonic cleaners and autoclaved. However, there is some concern within the industry that the laws regulating the tattoo industry are not as ef ective regarding individual tattooists. There is also concern within the more experienced that the less experienced are permitted to perform tattoo procedures without satisfying appropriate legal requirements.
What this means is that clients need to do their research about any potential tattoo procedure. Visit the premises and ask questions. Ask to see how equipment is sterilised, how the instruments are stored and whether fresh ink is used for each procedure. The more informed the client, the more likely the procedure will progress without any temporary or permanent mishaps.
© The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 2012. This article originally appeared in While you’re waiting, Autumn/Winter 2012 edition, 2012.