Susan Lennon MSW, LCSW Content Strategist
Communications Consultant
Specializing in Thought Leadership and B2B/B2C Marketing Communications

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Safe Tattooing
USA Weekend Magazine, March 20, 2005
by Susan T. Lennon

 If celebrities like Christina Aguilera, Allen Iverson, and Beyoncé inspire you to tattoo, you’ll join up to 20 million Americans who sport the ornamental designs. Adorning the body with indelible inks has been around for thousands of years, and almost half of the 16% of American who have a tattoo are between 18-29 years old, according to a 2003 Harris Poll study. 

Are they safe? No national regulations exist, so buyer beware! You’re at risk for allergies to the non-FDA-approved dyes, keloid scarring, and infection post-injection - including hepatitis, tetanus, or possibly even HIV. But if you think you must ink, and you’ve spent time imagining what that lotus on your leg will look like 20, 30, and 40 years from now, be smart with your body art. Per Myrna Armstrong, RN, F.A.A.N., Ed.D., tattooing expert:


  • Shop around. Expect cleanliness, everywhere, including the artist’s appearance. Eyeball the autoclave, a pressure cooker that cleans needles. Confirm that it’s tested; check for a recent certificate.
  • Watch the process on someone else. Sterilized packages of needles should be opened in front of the customer, and contaminated ones should go into a biohazard container. 
  • Make sure the artist changes gloves after handling anything other than your needle. You will bleed during the process – opening the door to disease – and hepatitis can live on an inanimate object for up to a month.
  • Verify that the studio meets its state-required licensing regulations, and that your artist is reputable – only one in four is, according to the artists themselves – the others are merely “skin scratchers.” If the artist is a member of Alliance of Professional Tattooists (, it’s a good sign.


  • Think it’ll look great right away. Your work of art will take seven to ten days to heal.
  • Try to donate blood – you’re ineligible for one year post-tattoo, per the American Association of Blood Banks.
  • Figure you can easily get rid of it easily if you change your mind. Removal, when possible, is expensive, time-consuming, and can itself cause scars.
  • Do it yourself, or have a friend do it!

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