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Tattoo safety

Getting a tattoo is a breeze if you know your mind and take basic precautions to minimise infection risk.

india Updated: May 21, 2006 02:14 IST

Angelina Jolie flaunts several tattoos, and so do Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Beckham. Some, like Pamela Anderson, got tattooed but wished they hadn’t. The busty beauty got hepatitis C from a tattoo needle and since then has become a champion of needle safety.

Even though tattoos have become almost as popular as blue denim, few people consider the health risks that accompany them. Though most dermatologists do body piercing in India, no one offers tattooing facilities. Tattoo shops are not required to follow the same sterile operating practices as medical clinics, so it’s for for the customer to ensure safety.

Tattoos are harmless if you take some basic precautions. “I have got three tattoos done over the past three years and each time I insisted on disposable needles. To make sure, I got a new pack opened in front of me,” says Meghna Hazarika, 23, a copywriter with Oxygen Communications, who got a striking cobra and a horse-head imprinted on her shoulder and another tattoo on her lower back from Funky Monkey in Gurgaon.

Agrees Tanya Singh, a third-year student of political science at Bhagat Singh College in Delhi: “It’s best to ask around to find out who is good and safe and go only there.” She got her two tattoos done at Michaels’ in Delhi’s CR Park, where fresh needles and antiseptic is always used.

Not everyone, however, knows basic safety rules. Goa still remains the hotspot for tattoos and is popular with students because the prices are far lower than in Delhi. “They use gloves, sterile needles and astringent to clean the tattooed area,” says Kingshuk Dey, a post-graduate advertising student at Amity School of Communication.

Even cheaper are traditional tattoo artists, though safety is not an issue with them. “I got two really funky traditional tattoos made for peanuts — Rs 8 each — at Pushkar, but all he did was rub some oil on my arm and make a pattern. Do you think I could have caught something dreadful?” says Abhishek Gupta, 23.

He may have. A study in the medical journal Medicine reported that people with tattoos are nine times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C that causes cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. Contaminated needles can also cause Hepatitis B and HIV, as can shared inks used to make the tattoos. “Since infection can also harbour in the lubricants and inks used, go to tattoo parlours where individual portions are used and discarded after single use,” says Dr Shehla Agarwal, consultant dermatologist at Apollo Clinique in Vasant Kunj, Delhi.

Another hazard is the removal of tattoos using laser, which may leave a scar or a mark. “The laser breaks the ink into particles that are absorbed by the body. While absorption is not an issue, how well the skin heals depends on each person’s constitution. Some mark or scar almost always remains,” says Agarwal.

You should opt for temporary tattoos or get permanent ones in areas that are not highly visible, such as the face or neck, advises Agarwal. Also go for black and blue inks as these are easier to remove. Avoid exotic inks such as green, purple, red and orange: these are stubborn shades and may require several laser sittings to remove.