Piercings and tattoos are a means of self-decoration and expression that have become increasingly popular and more mainstream over the past years. Getting piercings or tattoos is not without health risks. Getting a tattoo or a piercing requires breaching of the skin, your body’ protection against germs and the elements, and increases the chances of infections and allergic reactions.
The following are health problems that can occur following tattoos or body piercings:
- Allergic reactions to dyes causing itching, redness or rash at the site of the tattoo. Allergic reactions may occur within days, but may even show up months or years after you get a tattoo.
- Skin infection following tattoos and piercings due to infected tools, use of infected rings or even poor aftercare. Pain, swelling, redness or discharge around the tattoo may indicate an infection.
- Raise scars (keloids) and large scars can develop at piercing or tattoo sites. Black people are more likely to develop keloids. If you have had keloids in the past you should avoid getting tattoos or piercings, because there is an increased risk of developing another one.
- Infections such as HIV and hepatitis B due to the use of the instruments for different people without sterilizing them.
- Tongue and genital piercings can cause symptoms specific to their location, such as difficulty swallowing or breathing and painful urination and sex.
The following will help you ensure tattoos are not just beautiful but also safe and free of complications:
- Get tattooed at clean and reputable facilities. Work surfaces should be clean and wiped with disinfectant regularly. While tools should be cleaned and sterilized before and after every person to prevent the spread of disease.
- Ensure the person doing your tattoo washes their hands before and after and uses gloves during the procedure.
- The tattoo artist should cover the tattoo with vaseline and a bandage or a piece of clingfilm. Doing this will prevent germs from getting to the tattoo and to avoid irritation by clothes.
- Remove the bandage or clingfilm only as recommended by the artist, gently clean it with soap and water and then pat it dry. Do not use antiseptics or disinfectants to clean it, as this will irritate the skin.
- After this initial wash, you can wash it two times a day and put a thin layer of Vaseline over it.
- Wear clothing that protects the tattoo from the sun and use sunscreen (SPF 30 and above) on the tattoo site. Avoid wearing tight clothes to prevent irritation of the site.
- Avoid swimming or soaking your body in bathtubs or while the tattoo is still healing. You can take showers instead.
- Do not scratch or pick at new tattoos.
The majority of the tips for tattoo aftercare apply to piercings too. It would be best to do the following when you want to get a piercing:
- Pick a clean piercing place to prevent infections.
- Hollow needles are better than piercing guns, especially on parts of the body other than the earlobes. Ensure they use a new needle for you and that they throw it away after they’ve finished your piercing.
- Only use sterile and good quality rings or jewellery in a new piercing to prevent irritation and scarring.
- Clean piercings with salt water two times a day and wash your hands thoroughly before touching the piercing.
- Avoid changing jewellery in piercings that haven’t healed yet. The time to heal varies for piercings depending on the site of the piercing. It ranges from 6 weeks for an earlobe, to 1 year for belly button and cartilage piercings.
Tattoos and piercings can be a way of beautifying yourself or honouring a person or tradition dear to you. Make sure that you pick a good salon that takes proper hygiene measures. Keep the site of the tattoo or the piercing clean. If you do develop a keloid or infection following piercings or tattoos, don’t panic. Most of them are treatable if identified and treated early. In such as case, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.