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Possible Medical Issues with Body Art

Video 20 of 41
2 minutes
English, Español
English, Español
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Let’s talk about some possible medical issues associated with body art. Piercings and tattoos have become really popular. And people interested in this trend should be aware that it is not without health risks. Some of the following are risks that we should evaluate: Bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and HIV can be spread when needles are reused or the body art professional does not use aseptic techniques. General skin infection. This is the most common risk of tattoos and piercings, characterized by redness, swelling, pain and puss like drainage. Serious infections like impetigo, MRSA or cellulitis can also occur. Since the mouth is teeming with bacteria, oral piercing carries a high potential for infection at the site of the piercing. Metal jewelry in the mouth can also cause damage to gums and teeth. Allergic reactions. Materials such as tattoo dyes and metal can cause reactions at the tattoo or piercing site. Usual signs include pain, an itchy rash, skin blotches, and bumps and swelling. Keloids. This is a type of scar that forms during healing. Tattoos damage the skin because they are essentially deep puncture wounds in the skin that are then filled with ink. Keloids can occur when the skin heals and can look like raised up scar tissue. Unlike scars though, they do not go away or diminish over time. Sometimes nerve damage. If a nerve is pierced, especially above the eyebrow or bridge of nose, short-term or long-term neurological damage could occur. Risk of bleeding. People taking certain medications or who have medical disorders can be more susceptible to bleeding. Tattoos normally heal within two weeks when properly cared for. Healing times for piercings can range from a few weeks to over a year depending on how and where the body site was punctured. The concern is that longer healing times increase the risk of site infection and can result in serious bloodstream infection if proper care is not taken. The body art professional really needs to give customers aftercare instructions that explain the procedures on how to prevent health problems and protect the quality of the image or the piercing.

In this lesson, we’ll be looking at some of the possible medical issues that come with tattoos and body art procedures like piercings. These health hazards are for those people receiving these services and also for those people providing these services. However, for the providers, your risk is always going to be higher just based on the amount of exposure you have compared to your clients.

Piercings and tattoos have become increasingly popular over the last decade, and while most people may not think about the risks involved, they really should. Some of those risks include bloodborne pathogens, general skin infections, serious infections, allergic reactions, keloids, nerve damage, and bleeding. Let’s look at each one.

Bloodborne Pathogens

Bloodborne pathogens include Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV. These pathogens can be spread when dirty needles are reused. They can also be spread when tattoo artists and body art professionals don’t use the proper aseptic cleanup techniques you’ll be learning about in subsequent lessons.

General Skin Infections

The most common risks associated with giving or receiving tattoos and piercings comes in the form of general skin infections. These infections are not considered medically significant or serious and are characterized by:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Pus-like drainage

Serious Infections

While your chances of getting a serious infection is much lower than other possibilities on this list, they can also occur. Serious infections include:

  • Impetigo
  • MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)
  • Cellulitis

Pro Tip #1: It should be mentioned that oral piercings carry an especially high risk, because the mouth is home to a disproportionate number of bacteria, which translates to a higher than average risk of infection at the site of the piercing. Besides infection, metal jewelry in the mouth can also damage gums and teeth.

Allergic Reactions

Allergic reactions are another common medical issue, particularly when it comes to materials like tattoo dyes, various metals used in piercings, and the like. If an allergic reaction is present at the site of the tattoo or piercing, some of the usual signs include:

  • Pain
  • Itchy rash
  • Bumps
  • Swelling
  • Skin blotches


Keloids are firm, rubbery lesions or shiny, fibrous nodules, and can vary from pink to the color of the person's skin or red to dark brown in color. A keloid scar is benign and not contagious, but sometimes accompanied by severe itchiness, pain, and changes in texture.

This type of scar can form during the healing process. Tattoos cause damage to the skin – essentially numerous deep puncture wounds – and keloids can occur as a result. The problem is compounded by the fact that keloid scars don’t go away or become diminished over time the way other types of scars do.

Nerve Damage

There does exist the possibility of accidentally damaging a nerve during a piercing procedure. This is more common above the eyebrow or along the bridge of the nose. As a result, both long-term and short-term neurological damage could ensue.

Serious Bleeding

While a serious bleeding incident is unlikely, there are certain people who are more at risk than others. People on certain medications or those with medical disorders that can affect bleeding should be a little more cautious.

Tattoos typically heal within two weeks when they are properly cared for. Healing times for piercings can range from a few weeks to over a year depending on what body part was punctured and how specifically it was punctured.

Pro Tip #2: Longer healing times increase the risk of getting a site infection. A site infection can then result in a serious bloodstream infection if proper care is not taken.

All body art professionals should always provide the client with after care instructions that explain in detail the risks involved and how to prevent those risks from becoming reality. Proper care to protect the site of the tattoo or piercing also has a positive effect on the quality of the image or piercing.