tattoos, care of new

Tattoos are not my most favorite things to see adorning adolescents. While they have become more accepted and prevalent in adolescent and young adult society, several facts about them are certain:

  • They are more or less permanent. While they can be removed with great expense and discomfort, they are basically a permanent "statement."
  • Sentiments expressed in tattoos in the heat of youthful exuberance may not be heartfelt in later years. In fact, they may be downright embarassing.
  • While the risk is probably very low, tattoos are at least a potential cause of transmission of bad diseases: HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C being most significant. All are fatal or potentially so. Here is a statement from the US Centers for Disease Control website on tatoos (and piercing):
    "CDC knows of no instances of HIV transmission through tattooing or body piercing, although hepatitis B virus has been transmitted during some of these practices. One case of HIV transmission from acupuncture has been documented. Body piercing (other than ear piercing) is relatively new in the United States, and the medical complications for body piercing appear to be greater than for tattoos. Healing of piercings generally will take weeks, and sometimes even months, and the pierced tissue could conceivably be abraded (torn or cut) or inflamed even after healing. Therefore, a theoretical HIV transmission risk does exist if the unhealed or abraded tissues come into contact with an infected person's blood or other infectious body fluid. Additionally, HIV could be transmitted if instruments contaminated with blood are not sterilized or disinfected between clients."
  • Tattoos are a known identifying marker for what we medically term "risk behaviors:" smoking cigarets or marijuana, drinking binges, and premarital sex among them. This is not an opinion, prejudice or stereotype, but a statistical fact. Tattoos do not cause these behaviors, but are an indication of their increased liklihood.
Having said that, the fact remains that kids are going to get the things done, whether you like them or not. In fact, probably especially because you do not like them. If that is to be the case, talk with your adolescent about the facility and make sure it meets sterility standards set by the state licensing codes. The Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals website (a professional association) Frequently Asked Questions page lists these checkoffs:
"If proper sterilization and sanitary guidelines are met, permanent cosmetics should be completely safe. These guidelines include the following: MOST IMPORTANT Things To Look For:
  1. All Needles should be new and sterile for each client. Other machine parts should also be
  2. pre-sterilized and disposed of in a sanitary manner. Other equipment and supplies should be kept in a sanitary manner.
  3. Gloves should be new for each client and changed during the procedure when needed.
  4. The technician should be clean and neat and knowledgeable of environmental safety requirements.
  5. Clean sheets should be used for each patient.
  6. The room or treatment area should be in an area free from other contaminants."

The following instructions are taken from the patient handout section of Small Talk, Vol. 11, Number 4, published by Ross Laboratories. Some of you may get something of a surprise one day when your teenager comes home with a new distinguishing mark. In the interest of avoiding the additional trauma of a nasty skin infection, this care handout is republished.

  1. Keep the tattoo covered with the bandage for 2 to 12 hours or overnight. Touch the area as little as possible and do not let others touch the tattoo.
  2. Remove the bandage by first wetting the gauze in the shower. Do not reapply a bandage.
  3. Wash the tattoo with antibacterial soap such as Dial® or Lever2000®. remove all petroleum jelly and blood. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with a clean soft towel. Do not use alcohol or hydrogen peroxide; they are too drying.
  4. Apply a light coat of antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin®, Bacitracin® or Mycitracin®) to the tattoo at least three times a day. Rub it into the tattoo like lotion. The scab will stay soft and will not get hard and crack. Do not use Vaseline® because a heavy scab will form and the tattoo will become dull.
  5. If a rash occurs, stop using the antibiotic ointment and use A and D ointment or your regular hand lotion.
  6. After five days, you may stop using antibiotic ointment and switch to a gentle body lotion such as Dermassage® lotion or Curel¨. Use a cream-based moisturizer that is not greasy. Do not use lotions with perfumes or color additives. Within 7 to 10 days your tattoo should no longer feel tender. Continue to apply the lotion for at least two weeks.
  7. Avoid direct sun exposure of the tattoo for at least 4 weeks. Five minutes of direct sunlight can trigger an allergic reaction. A strong waterproof sunscreen of at least SPF 30 should be used for unavoidable sun exposure thereafter.
  8. Do not use a tanning bed during the healing process. Even after the tattoo is healed, wear a bandage over the tattoo if you use a tanning bed.
  9. Soaking in a hot tub, swimming, or taking hot baths too soon can ruin a tattoo. Avoid these activities until the peeling has stopped.

    You must see your doctor right away if
    • there is any sign of localized infection, including redness or pus at the tattoo site or
    • there is any sign of systemic infection such as generalized body aches and pains, fever, or fatigue

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