To your health: Health tips for parents whose teens want tattoos, piercings

By Alfred Casale - To Your Health | November 14th, 2017 6:00 am

Tattoos can certainly be intriguing. Many people find piercings cool. I admit I’m not a fan of either, but it’s clear that they’re a cultural phenomenon that’s not only popular today but has been for much of human history.

Over the last two-and-a-half decades, tattoos and piercings have become mainstream — and in many instances, they can be considered high art.

Although they can be beautiful, there are risks that can come with so-called “body modifications,” and they’re not nearly as attractive. Tattoos and piercings can lead to infections, scars and other complications.

The location of a tattoo, how experienced the artist is, and how well you take care of your piercing or tattoo determine if you’ll have complications.

Plenty of young people look forward to getting a tattoo or piercing. In 2010, the Pew Research Center found that 38 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds had at least one tattoo, and 72 percent had them in a location that could be covered. In addition, 23 percent said that they had piercings in locations other than the ear lobe.

Tattoos and piercings can cause skin issues and bloodborne diseases like hepatitis B and hepatitis C, keloids and scars.

All of these risks can be scary as a parent, but rather than dismissing the request, it’s important to have a candid conversation with your teen. Forbidding them from getting a tattoo or piercing altogether increases the likelihood they’ll get one anyway. Find a compromise that suits both of you.

Talk to them about what tattoo or piercing they want and why, and make sure they understand the importance of finding a reputable artist for the best quality and for their health and safety. Explain that they need to be 18 or have parental consent to get a tattoo — if they find an artist that’s willing to do a tattoo or piercing before they’re 18, that’s a red flag.

The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recently released their recommendations for body modifications for teenagers. If your teen wants to get a piercing or tattoo, here are some conversations to have with them:

Tattoos are permanent and difficult to remove

Part of the thrill of tattoos is that they’re permanent and make a lasting statement through body art. This is also their downfall.

Getting a high-quality tattoo may cost between $100 and $300 per hour — but some artists will charge more. If you ever decide to get the tattoo removed, it is a difficult and expensive process, and it is not always effective. Laser tattoo removal can range from $49 to $300 per square inch of treatment area. Even after the procedure, the tattoo may not be completely removed.

Think of tattoo and piercing parlors as medical facilities

Getting a piercing or tattoo is essentially a type of cosmetic surgery, so make sure the parlor you go to is as sanitary as a medical facility. Choose a tattoo parlor or studio that’s reputable and well-reviewed.

Make sure your tattoo artist uses new, disposable gloves; a new needle; equipment from an autoclave or a sterile, sealed container; and new, unused ink poured into a new, disposable container.

For a piercing salon, be sure they’re using disposable gloves and new equipment from a sterilized container.

Certain procedures are riskier than others. Recently, I heard of a misguided Canadian model who got a “sclera tattoo” on her eyeball. The procedure wasn’t done properly and she suffered infections and may lose sight in that eye. Talk to your doctor and artist about risks associated with your specific tattoo or piercing.

Be preventive

After a tattoo or piercing, you’re at risk for infection. A reputable tattoo or piercing parlor should give you information on how to properly care for the area until it heals. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, contact your doctor immediately.

Here are some things to do after getting a tattoo or piercing:

  • Follow all instructions from your artist
  • Avoid touching piercings
  • Gently wash your tattoo or piercing in the shower with mild soap
  • Soak your piercing in a hot sea-salt mixture
  • Do not use cotton to clean your piercing
  • Apply gentle moisturizers to your tattoo
  • Be patient with your healing times
  • Don’t apply any makeup, perfume or hair products to the site

Depending on the situation, tattoos and piercings may impact your child’s education and employment opportunities. If this is a concern for you or your child, try getting the tattoo or piercing placed where it can be covered up.

Alfred Casale To Your Health Casale To Your Health

By Alfred Casale

To Your Health

Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]