Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

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Tattoo Safety


  Teen Health Facts 

So, you are eighteen now, and mom and dad gave you permission to go ahead and get that tattoo you've been dying for. You have already chosen the tattoo parlor, the tattoo artist, know the cost, and the design of your tattoo. Wow, it sounds like you are really prepared, but are you? How clean is that tattoo parlor anyway, and have you considered the risks that are involved?

Although the inks used in tattoos and the pigments in these inks are subject to FDA regulations, the FDA has not attempted to regulate their use and does not control the actual practice of tattooing. Local laws and jurisdictions handle these regulations. According to the FDA, there is an increase in the variety of pigments being used in tattooing. There are many additives that are approved for cosmetic use, but none are approved for injection into the skin. Many pigments are not approved for skin contact at all, and some are even industrial colors that are used for printers and automobile paint.

Make sure the tattoo parlor is clean and safe. Remember, the artist is going to be sticking needles into your skin, so be picky about the tattoo parlor you choose. If you do not feel comfortable asking the prospective artist questions about cleanliness, experience, and safety, go ahead and look somewhere else or forget about the tattoo and wait until you are comfortable asking appropriate questions.

The artist should use a brand new, sterile needle with every tattoo. Ask the artist to go through the entire procedure with you, including all of the tools to be used and the specific design. If the artist looks annoyed, go somewhere else. All other tools involved must be sterile. Everything should be personally laid out just for your tattoo, for example: single use disposable ink bottles. The artist should wear latex gloves and apply Vaseline on the new tattoo with a disposable instrument - NOT BY HAND!!

You did it! You found a clean and safe tattoo parlor, and an artist you were comfortable with that did a great job on your new tattoo. The next step is caring for it. Remember, your tattoo is an open wound. You should leave the bandage on for at least twelve hours. When the bandage comes off, let the wound dry for about an hour; then wash the wound gently with soap, and apply a thin coat of antibiotic cream. Wash gently and apply the cream twice a day for the next four to five days. Also, remember to not submerge your new tattoo in water; that means no baths, swimming, or hot tubs. After four or five days, switch to a water-based cream until the tattoo is completely healed. Your tattoo is like any open wound; that means washing it when it gets dirty, and no scratching or picking.

Like any consumer purchase, you should be informed to make the best decision and do what is safe and best for you. Now, let's just hope that this permanent artwork on your skin will satisfy you for the rest of your life.