One big concern for a lot of people are the potential negative effects to your health that having a tattoo could have. A lot is made of these and they are a big concern, though the anti-tattoo brigade like to make a lot more of your chances of your actually being negatively effected than is actually true.
On this page I hope to allay any fears you may have regarding your health, with links to bona fide medical data to support what I'm saying, of course there are horror stories and of course there are those who assume much but know nothing that will fill your head with nonsense, The reality is far less grim, if you do it right.
If you go about finding your artist in the right way and treat your aftercare seriously you should have almost no risk of your health being affected in the long term. If you get tattooed in the basement of a guy who learned to tattoo from You Tube....all bets are off.
I suppose the best place to start is at the top, with the potentially deadly risks of getting tattooed. Blood-borne diseases such as as HIV, AIDS and any of the strains of Hepatitis are things no sane person wants to contract but you could (note I don't say "will") contract anyone of them while getting tattooed. However, strict health guidelines introduced across Europe, the US and here in the UK mean getting tattooed is one of the least likely ways to contract any of them. In this section I will go into what each disease is, what it does and how likely you are to acquire them while at your local tattoo parlour.
Hepatitis is a "family" of diseases which cause inflammation of the liver. There are a number of different types of Hepatitis, the main ones being; Hepatitis A-E, Alcoholic Hepatitis and Autoimmune Hepatitis. Some strains will come and go with out major health problems while others can become chronic and cause cirrhosis of the liver, loss of liver function and, potentially, liver cancer. So how likely are you to get any one of them at your tattooist's?
Hepatitis A - Hep A is most commonly found and contracted in countries with poor sanitation and generally caught by consuming food or drink contaminated with the excrement of another person infected with the virus. Though occasionally life threatening, Hep A usually passes within a few months of the victim being treated for the symptoms of the disease. Hep A is most common in India, Africa, Central and South America, the Far East and Eastern Europe. It would seem highly unlikely that you'll be getting Hepatitis A from getting tattooed.
Hepatitis B - The most common methods by which Hep B is transmitted are unprotected sex with an infected individual, injecting drugs with shared needles, it can be passed from an infected mother to her unborn child, transmitted from child to child in countries where the virus is common and sharing a toothbrush or shaving razor with an infected person. There is also a chance of contracting the virus from being tattooed or having a body piercing with unsterilised equipment, however this also applies to visiting the dentist or having a medical procedure. If the equipment isn't clean...there's a risk. Adults who contract the virus will generally fight it off with treatment, while it can lead to chronic symptoms in children.
Hepatitis C - Hep C is the most common type of Hepatitis in the UK with around 215,000 people being infected. It is transmitted in much the same way as Hepatitis B, though is most common among drug users. The National Health Service regards the chances of contracting the virus through being tattooed as "low". The danger with Hep C is that unlike most other forms of Hepatitis there are no obvious symptoms, usually manifesting itself in much the same way as the flu does. There is now a vaccine for the virus but, as with Hepatitis C, if you choose the right tattooist you shouldn't need it.
Some years ago, Pamela Anderson, of Baywatch fame, quite famously DID catch the Hepatitis C virus while getting tattooed, as one rather sensationalist, anti-tattoo Christian website* put it, "Ask actress Pamela Anderson about the harmless tattoo. Pamela contracted the deadly hepatitis C from a simple, small finger "TOMMY" tattoo."
Well, somebody did ask Pamela and here is what she said,
“When we got married, we both had physicals, we had AIDS tests, we had every kind of test you can imagine and we were gonna tell each other what we had, because we’d just started our life together — what normal people would do and when Tommy did his blood work, the doctor told him, ‘You have hepatitis C and you really need to tell Pamela.’ and the next time the doctor saw Tommy, he said, ‘Did you tell Pamela?’ and Tommy said, ‘Yeah, I told her, everything’s cool.’ But he never told me.”
She went on to say, “A tattoo artist came to our hotel because Tommy wanted a specific tattoo. He was doing his tattoo and I was looking through the art book that this guy brought and I said, ‘Oh, my God, oh, that is such a beautiful tattoo. Can I have that, too?'” and he goes, ‘Well I only brought one needle, but you guys are married. I mean there’s nothing you could give each other, is there?’ and I was like, ‘No.’ And Tommy goes, ‘No.’ I get the tattoo, time passes, and after a physical, my doctor calls and says I have hepatitis C.”
So where did it go wrong for poor ol' Pammy? In short, all over the place.
Well, you could start with trusting the word of a rock star but more seriously she allowed herself to be tattooed by a tattooist who was willing to use the same needle on two different people and knowingly allowed an already used needle to be used to tattoo her. Husband or not, this is simply THE most stupid thing you could do. If a tattooist offers to use the same ink or needle, because they don't have enough to perform the task properly they are, in many countries, suggesting you allow them to break the law and endanger your health. You get up and you leave, you don't crack on and hope it will be alright.
Hepatitis D - In order to contract Hepatitis D you must first contract Hepatitis B. It is transmitted in much the same way as Hep B and while there is no vaccine for it, the Hep B vaccine is used to treat the symptoms.
Hepatitis E - Hep E is much like Hep A and is a short term, milder form of Hepatitis that is usually fought off by the body without treatment. Hepatitis E is now the most common cause of acute Hepatitis in the UK, which suggests you are more likely to get a form of Hepatitis from your local kebab house than your local tattoo shop.
Alcoholic Hepatitis - As the name suggests alcohol abuse can lead to Alcoholic Hepatitis. Getting tattooed while hideously drunk, doesn't count.
Autoimmune Hepatitis - This form of the virus is potentially very damaging to the liver. It is a rare and chronic form of Hepatitis with no known cause and consequently there are no known preventative measures.
Medical Source: NHS Interview Source: Salon * I won't be referencing the source of this quote, it comes from a Bible thumping, anti-tattoo, Christain "truth" website the content of which is, frankly, the biggest pile of horse shit I've ever had the misfortune to read. If you want to find that kind of thing (or perhaps watch the homepage counter that shows the number of departed souls lost to Satan since you hit the site), find it yourself, I refuse to promote it.
HIV and AIDS
Most people these days are aware of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and, perhaps quite naturally, some people are concerned that getting tattooed increases their risk of contracting these illnesses. My research on the likelihood of this happening has surprised me a little and I've learned a few things, which I will now share with you.
Getting HIV does not necessarily lead to AIDS (I knew this already but you may not)
You cannot contract AIDS without first contracting HIV.
It is technically possible to contract HIV from getting tattooed.
There are no confirmed cases of anyone getting HIV from being tattooed since records began in 1985.
While I have read numerous sensational stories about getting tattoo increasing your risk of getting HIV from being tattooed, the truth is the chances are so slim that nobody has yet managed it.
You see, once HIV leaves the body it is very short lived, in order to contract the virus a tattooist would pretty much have to take the needle out of an infected person and immediately start tattooing you (much like how Pamela Anderson got Hepatitis C from her husband). Even going to a back street scratcher working in the filthiest of conditions, whatever else you catch it isn't going to be HIV. If the chances are so remote in those circumstances you can relax entirely if you get your tattoo from a reputable tattooist.
Articles like this one in the Daily Mail use over the top headlines to draw attention to them and then proceed to omit crucial information and consequently, they spread incorrect information to their readers.
Finally, the website of UK based HIV & AIDS charity The Terence Higgins Trust, has only one reference to tattoos that I could find in relation to HIV & AIDS. That reference is a story about a woman who got a tattoo of the red ribbon logo, associated with HIV & Aids awareness.
In short, the chances of you contracting HIV or AIDS from getting a tattoo are almost nil.