Monday, March 22, 2010

Is a TATTOO for you?

From Angelina to Jesse, tattoos are in the news. The popularity of tattoos has soared in the last decade. I'd estimate in my suburban Austin practice that somewhere between 50-75% of my patients under the age of fifty sport a tattoo somewhere on their body. Many are discreet- a simple musical note above the ankle, or a heart or butterfly tucked away in a typically clothing covered area. The twenty-somethings often prefer what is jokingly referred to as the "tramp stamp," which is the tattoo centered in the back, peeking out above their low cut jeans and thongs. Another favorite spot for women is the back of the neck, only revealed when they wear their hair "up".
Some people take their tattoos to the extreme, including full body art work that literally takes decades to complete.
What is my medical advice regarding tattoos? Well, I've seen a few nasty skin infections in fresh tattoos that end up leaving the owner with a very disappointing outcome, but with proper skin care (and antiseptic technique during its creation) most tattoos are relatively safe. But please note that I say relatively! Why? Because any time you are dealing with breaking the barrier of the skin, there can be transmission of infection. For example, though it is uncommon, we do know that there are cases of hepatitis C that have been transmitted from tattoos. Make sure the tattoo artist is not only using clean needles, but fresh ink as well!
My motherly advice includes the suggestion that you pick a location on your body that is not always visible. Neck, hand, forearms and lower leg tattoos may clash with business attire in a future job interview, and "perky" young body parts do not always stay quite so...young. I'd advise trying a few long lasting, but non-permanent tattoos (henna) before making the life-long commitment of a "real" tattoo. Remember, there is reason that you see so many ads for laser tattoo removal!
BOTTOM LINE: Single, professionally-crafted tattoos pose little (but not NO) true medical risks, and need to be considered a permanent choice (translation, do not make this an impulsive, perhaps alcohol-enhanced decision!)

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