Health Risks
Before you make a decision to get a tattoo, do yourself a favor and read about possible health hazards associated with the practice. These include transmission of diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis and possibly HIV. The American Academy of Dermatology says that non-sterile tattooing practices have led to the transmission of syphilis, hepatitis B and other infectious organisms. (Just like health care workers, tattoo artists should be vaccinated for hepatitis B.)

The Alliance of Professional Tattooists, a non-profit, educational organization that helps establish and implement professional health standards within the tattoo industry, says that since the needles used in tattooing are solid (not hollow like a syringe), and HIV doesn't live outside the body for very long, transmission is unlikely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has not been a documented case of AIDS transmission from a tattoo.

Professional tattoo artists, who contend that the number of health problems is small compared with the number of people being tattooed, have taken steps to minimize these risks. However, such diseases can still be transmitted because needles are not always disposed of after each patient and methods of sterilization are sometimes inadequate.

In addition to the infections that can occur if proper care isn't taken after the tattooing session, allergic reactions to pigments are also a risk. Doctors say that none of the 50-plus colors and shades of pigment used in tattooing are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Dispersion inks are traditionally used for tattooing, but because the inks contain resin, acrylic or glycol or all three, there is a trend toward use of natural pre-dispersed colors made with organic pigments.)