“Mum I’m thinking about having a tattoo!’
If you have teen kids, this is likely to be a statement that you will be faced with at some point. There are no accurate figures for exactly how many people in the UK have tattoos (it’s probably around 1 in 5 of the population) but commentators are unanimous on two things. The first is that they are more common among young people and the second is that their popularity is rising.
Irrespective of personal opinions on tattoos, parents are united in wanting to keep their teenagers safe and well and this is where the problem lies. Tattoos can present a risk to health – but so do a lot of things! What matters is the size of the risk and what you can do to keep the risks as low as possible.
Your teenager needs to fully understand what those risks are so that they can make an informed decision about where they will get a tattoo and about how they can avoid the more serious problems.
7 things your teen needs to know about getting a tattoo
I found out about a great public health initiative called ‘Before you Ink – Think’ led by the Health Improvement Team at Cardiff Council now part of Commercial Services, Shared Regulatory Services (SRS). This campaign is impressive because it in no way tells young people what to do. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is about empowering young people by giving them the knowledge and skills to participate effectively in making decisions about their own bodies.
Here are the top 7 things that your teen needs to know about getting a tattoo:
- It is illegal to tattoo a person under 18 years of age. Teenagers under 18 years cannot legally obtain a tattoo in the UK. A reputable and registered tattooist will never tattoo a teenager who is under 18 years even if the parents consent to it. If they are under 18, they cannot legally obtain a tattoo.
- Tattooing punctures the skin. A tattoo is a procedure that punctures the outer layers of the skin using a dye-loaded needle. This results in the dye entering the dermal (lower) layer of the skin where it stays permanently. If you have taken drugs, or have been drinking, it is not the time to make your decision about getting a tattoo. Tattoo removal can be painful, it can also take a long time and scars may remain.
- Tattoos present an opportunity for infection. When the skin is punctured, blood and body fluids are released and they can be transferred from one client to another. This risk can be minimised by an experienced, professional tattooist through strict hygienic precautions.
- Infections from tattoos can be extremely series. The infections that can be spread are serious (some can be fatal) and include blood borne viruses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Septic skin infections (such as those caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes) can also occur and cause anything from mild redness, pus and swelling to bacteraemia (infection in the blood) and even life threatening sepsis and necrotising fasciitis.
- Some people are allergic to tattoo ink. The chemicals in tattoo ink (especially red ink) can trigger an inflammatory response which is like eczema. This is an allergic reaction. There are several chemicals that can cause it and the components of inks vary. 
- Your tattooist must be registered. The law requires tattooists to be registered with the local authority in whose area they operate. They will be inspected by officers from the authority to make sure that they are complying with any local bye laws that are in place and the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and related regulations. Your tattooist will be able to confirm their registration. You can also check by contacting your local council.
- Unregistered tattooists put you at the greatest risk. Your teen may know of unregistered tattooists who are often called ‘scratchers’. They operate out of unregistered premises or their own homes and are an attractive option for teens as they may be willing to tattoo young people who are under 18 years and are cheap! However, it is important to be aware that they commonly lack the skills, knowledge and equipment to practice hygienic, high quality tattooing and, if you use one, you are at a much higher risk of developing allergic reactions and infections. Things can go very badly wrong, your skin may be permanently disfigured and it may be very painful.
What to look for in a tattoo parlour?
It is important to do some research and choose a registered tattooist. The experience should feel similar to a medical procedure. By this, I mean that the tattooist will make sure that a medical questionnaire is completed. The surfaces should look like they can be wiped down easily and the whole area should be clean and organised. The tattooist should wear disposable gloves and there should be disposable coverings on surfaces. Fresh needles and ink pots should be used for every client and the equipment will be packed in sterile packages before use. The tattooist should thoroughly wash their hands before starting the tattoo.
If your teens, like mine, have a preference for accessing information on YouTube, rather than listening to you, this excellent video sums up all the information in this post and gives a lot more. I highly recommend you having a look and share with any teens who may benefit.
Concerns and queries regarding tattooing in the Cardiff area can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. For other areas contact your local authority.