Choose your tattoo or piercing artist carefully from recommendations from others, and once in the shop make sure that needles are one-use-only and in sealed packages, and that there is an autoclave to sterilize equipment that isn’t disposable. Anything that can’t be autoclaved, like a sink, counter or drawer handle, needs to be wiped with bleach or a commercial disinfectant, preferably an EPA-approved one that kills viruses and tuberculosis. We’re talking pristine!
Ask questions about hygiene. If they’re not answered willingly and openly, walk away. The tattooist or piercer should not only thoroughly clean the area to be inked or punctured, but also wash their hands before they start and then wear fresh disposable gloves while they work on you. If they touch their phone, face, hair, etc., while at work, they need to change into a fresh pair. Afterwards everything used — from needle to gauze pad — needs to be properly, quickly and safely disposed of.
Tattoos cannot only become infected but there can be an allergic reaction to the ink, either right away or even years later. Red, blue, green and yellow dyes are the most common culprits. People can get tuberculosis from non-sterile needles, as well as hepatitis B or C, tetanus, even HIV.
There is ongoing research on the safety of tattoo inks and their byproducts as they break down in the human body. There are many different kinds of ink used for tattoos, most of which are not FDA-approved for under the skin use. Some pigments are the same used for car paint or printers. Ink can be contaminated and spread disease. Single-use ink bottles are safest, but many tattoo parlors buy it in bulk to save money.
Bumps called granulomas can form at the tattoo site or keloids from scar tissue gone wild. Rarely, when getting a diagnostic MRI test, the tattoo can burn briefly or affect the image.
To prevent problems after you’re inked, you should leave your sterile, non-stick bandage on for 12 hours, or according to the instructions of the artist, and keep it very clean all the time, patting it dry very gently and applying any moisturizing cream that has been recommended for you. Keep it out of the sun for a few weeks, and stay out of hot tubs and bodies of water. Don’t pick at or scratch the tat. If you see any sign of infection like redness, swelling or oozing, call the doc; don’t try to treat it yourself.