Health Hazards of Tattooing

Manila Bulletin, March 9, 2003 | Go to article overview

Health Hazards of Tattooing


Tattooing refers to the process of creating permanent designs on the skin by pricking and marking the skin with indelible pigments. Tattooing is traditional and sacred in many tribal cultures of the world. The Tahitians practice it and the word tattoo in fact has been derived from the Tahitian word tatau.

But in the Western world, the practice has largely been popular only to criminals and people in the lower classes until recently when it has become in among all the social classes the young usually to adorn their bodies with all kinds of designs, the old usually to enhance their body appearance as in tattoos to replace eyebrows, and to define the eyes, and lips for example.

Tattooing involves the use of a handheld device that may be as crude as an ordinary needle or as sophisticated as hi-tech tattooing machines that puncture the skin hundreds of times per minute with a very fine needle, and pushing a pigment about an eighth-inch deep into the skin. The procedure is usually performed without anesthesia, the pain of the procedure is bearable to most people and some actually relish it.

The pigment that has been inoculated is engulfed by cells and called macrophages that reside in the skin. Thus, the pigment stays permanently in the skin although some fading and displacement may occur with time. When embedded properly, the pigments usually do not cause a foreign-body reaction and does not pose any serious health hazard to the individual. Often, years after they have been made, tattoos are no longer a source of joy for those who bear them. They serve more as ever-present reminders of the persons foolhardiness.

As with any procedure that involves puncturing the skin, tattooing carries a risk for certain infectious diseases. High on the list are Hepatitis B & C, syphilis and all sorts of bacterial and viral infections of the skin including abscesses, impetigo, erysipelas and warts. …

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