Tattoos for teens

A parent asked me today if she should let her teenage daughter get a tattoo. After our discussion, the teenager herself decided “no way.” There are some genuine, serious health risks that can arise from tattoos, and if it’s your teen that wants to get one, make sure she knows:

  • They’re not just painting on the skin—tattooing involves injecting dye deep under the skin. There will be bleeding, and it will hurt.
  • Disreputable parlors may not clean or sterilize their instruments. Dangerous illnesses like AIDS and hepatitis have been transmitted via tattoos.
  • Risks after a tattoo include infections of the area and sometimes excessive ugly scarring. Allergic reactions are rare but can be disfiguring.
  • Tattoos are meant to be permanent. Removal can be tried, but it is very expensive and painful. It takes many laser sessions to lighten a tattoo. Laser removal sometimes results in permanent scars.
  • The dyes and pigments injected with tattoo needles are not regulated by any health authority. Some contain a toxic soup of lead or mercury, or compounds that are known to cause cancer. Laser removal of tattoos involves super-heating the pigment molecules, further releasing toxins into the system.
  • Having a tattoo may make it difficult or painful to undergo an MRI examination, as the strong magnetic field can drag tiny bits of metal used in tattoo dyes.

A tattoo can also have non-medical side effects, with unintended consequences for future relationships and job prospects. As a fashion statement, a haircut or even a piercing is far more reversible and safe than a tattoo.

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