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I’m not going to lie; I’ve wanted a tattoo ever since I was little. When I was little, I was obsessed with temporary tattoos and henna because they were the closest thing that I could get to a real tattoo.  Something about them just appeals to me. Adding artwork to your body screams self-expression and confidence in my eyes. People that have tattoos seem to carry themselves with a sense of pride and high self-esteem.  

Tattoos are becoming very popular now and it feels like everyone either has one or is thinking about getting one, whether it’s a favorite quote, an infinity symbol on their wrist or something a little more abstract. We’ve all seen them, expressed our opinion about them and thought about what we would get and where, acting like it was a commitment we might actually be willing to make, myself included.

And yet, I still don’t have any ink. I’ve heard many myths and warnings about getting tattoos from previous generations like, “Be careful where you get it, you might not get a job if you can’t hide it,” or “It’s permanent. Do you really want that on your body for the rest of your life? What if you regret it?” and sometimes even “When you’re old it’ll sag and look disgusting.” But let’s not forget the ever-present risks involved with getting a tattoo. These are much more serious than a sagging tattoo when you get old and gray.

Not all fun and games

It’s not very clear how safe tattoos are. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are no regulations of tattoo ink. “This applies to all tattoo pigments, including those used for ultraviolet (UV) and glow-in-the-dark tattoos. Many pigments used in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colors suitable for printer ink or automobile paint.”

The FDA states that they’ve received multiple complaints in which people experience an itchy rash or inflamed skin after receiving a tattoo, along with having allergic reactions, infections and granulomas, which are small knots or bumps that form around material that the body perceives as foreign, in this case tattoo pigment. Not to mention the risk of exposure to blood borne diseases due to the use of dirty needles and sometimes complications during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams, according to the Mayo Clinic. (Check out these images here to see some of the effects of these allergic reactions. WARNING: these are not for the faint of heart.)

For those of us contemplating getting a tattoo, we’ve been repeatedly told the risks and possible negative outcomes. Don’t get me wrong, those are extremely important. But no one really mentions the benefits of getting a tattoo and I assume it’s because they don’t know them. Here’s something you can tell your mom next time she harps on you about the negative effects of getting a tattoo.

Immune System Boosting

A study, conducted by the University of Alabama, in the American Journal of Human Biology states that people who’ve received multiple tattoos have better immune systems than those who don’t. The study goes on to suggest that the experience of getting a tattoo stimulates the immune system similarly to a vaccination and makes your immune system less susceptible to pathogens that are entering the body.

The study involved collecting saliva samples from their 29 participants before they received a tattoo to examine the amount of immunoglobulin A in their bodies. Christopher Lynn, an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama and coauthor of the study, defined immunoglobulin A as “a front line of defense against some of the common infections we encounter, like colds.”

The nine participants receiving tattoos for the first time had a much lower level of immunoglobulin A in their system. This suggest that people with more experience receiving tattoos, have immune systems that are more accustomed to that kind of stress and faster to react to those types of stressors.  

Lynn suggests the experience of receiving a tattoos is similar to the experience you’d have at the gym. “After the stress response, your body returns to an equilibrium,” Lynn said. “However, if you continue to stress your body over and over again, instead of returning to the same set point, it adjusts its internal set points and moves higher.”

Tattooing Tips

To avoid as many negative consequences as possible when getting a tattoo, Mayo Clinic suggests asking multiple questions and knowing the answers to those questions before you even sit down in that tattooing chair. Who does the tattooing? Does the tattoo artist wear gloves? Does the tattoo artist use proper equipment? Does the tattoo artist sterilize non disposable equipment?

Also, be sure to take care of your tattoo afterwards by following the instructions of your tattoo artist. Usually these care directions are very typical. Remove the bandage after 24 hours, keep the tattooed skin clean, use unscented moisturizer, avoid sun exposure, avoid swimming, choose clothing carefully and allow up to two weeks for healing.

After many requests, the FDA is now conducting research on the safety of tattoos. “Our hope is to get a better understanding of the body’s response to tattoos and their impact on human health, and to identify products at greatest risk,” says Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., Director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Even though there are a few studies that suggest the benefits tattoos have on the immune system, there are still risks involved. But I mean, aren’t there risks involved with everything? If you’re contemplating getting inked for the first time or for the hundredth time, be sure to know the risks and complications that are associated with it.

As always, get a tattoo for YOURSELF. Don’t get one because your friend or partner or role model got one. Also, make sure you’re in your right mind when you decided to get a tattoo, not when you’ve been drinking and/or peer pressured into it. This is a choice that you should take some time with. Think about what you want. Take time to design the tattoo and make it awesome. Think about where you want it and what will be most practical for you and your life. Most importantly, think about why you want it. Tattoos aren’t for everyone. Know what’s right for you and your body.


Robin is a junior at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities studying Professional Journalism, Studies of Cinema and Media Culture and Communications. She is a huge film, TV and musical theater buff (needless to say she spends too much time binge watching). She is an avid Couponer and money saver with hopes of becoming a Film Critic one day. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/robinrose44 or find her pieces on http://www.hercampus.com/school/minnesota
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