Tattoos and Piercings: What Every Parent and Teen Should Know

Teens often want to get tattoos or piercings. These forms of self-expression are permanent and teens and their parents should talk about the repercussions. Here are 10 things you and your teen should know before getting tattooed or pierced.

young man with piercingsWhile it may be considered a rite of passage, tattoos and body piercings are issues that most parents hope they never have to deal with. As we know, teens often struggle to find their identity and, may think about inking or piercing to improve their peer social status. It’s vital that parents inform their children about the serious health risks posed by certain forms of body modification. Unlike other forms of self-expression, like hair coloring or certain clothing styles, tattoos and piercings leave lasting marks and can have serious negative health side-effects.

Clara Mayoral, MD, chair of the department of pediatrics at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, NY, notes that it’s important for teens to realize just what’s involved before they get a tattoo or piercing. They should consider the message that they could send to others, including a potential employer or an admissions counselor at a college. Dr. Mayoral stressed that parents need to teach teens to value and respect themselves and their body and encourage them to find healthy outlets for self-expression, such as in music, art, writing, sports, etc. 

Whether they plan to get inked or pierced or not, teens (and parents) should be aware of the following:

  • If the sight of a scraped knee makes you woozy, or you pass out giving blood, then getting tattooed could be a real challenge. Despite the perceived coolness factor, getting a tattoo is a bit like undergoing surgery – it involves rubber gloves, some blood, bandages and needles, and the process can take several hours. And it hurts!
  • It’s important to realize from the beginning that your tattoo will age with you and may eventually need more work to keep it looking like you originally intended.
  • If the equipment used is contaminated with infected blood, you can contract potentially deadly infections like hepatitis B or C, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), tetanus and staph. This is the reason why people who get a tattoo are not allowed to donate blood for an entire year. And medical experts recommend that anyone who gets a tattoo be tested for hepatitis shortly after.
  • Any viruses or bacteria present on your skin can enter your body and cause infection when your skin is pierced. Practitioners who do the tattooing and piercing are also at risk of becoming infected through accidental cuts and punctures.
  • Negative side-effects can include excessive and unsightly scarring, uncontrolled bleeding, nerve damage, abscesses (deep infections) and allergic reactions. Temporary tattoos, like decals and henna, can also cause allergic reactions.
  • Removing tattoos can be expensive and painful, and the procedure usually does not leave the area looking healed or clean. When piercings are removed they can leave scars; tattooing can lead to keloids (raised areas caused by an overgrowth of scar tissue) or bumps called granulomas.
  • Should you require an MRI in the future, there could be complications from tattoos. While tattoos rarely cause swelling or burning in the affected areas during an MRI, in some cases tattoo pigments can interfere with the quality of the image.
  • If you decide to go ahead with a tattoo or piercing, it’s important to go to a trained professional at a reputable location. Quite often, high school students have these procedures done by friends (since most reputable places will not perform services on minors), and in most home situations, poorly sterilized tools are used and infection is quite often the result.
  • Make sure the tattoo artist removes the needle and tubes from sealed packages, in front of you. Any pigments, trays or containers should be unused as well. The practitioner should also wash their hands and wear a fresh pair of protective gloves for each procedure.
  • Tattooed skin should be kept clean and a mild moisturizer should be applied. The tattooed areas should be kept out of the sun for at least a few weeks and it’s important to stay out of pools, hot tubs, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water while your tattoo is healing.

Dr. Mayoral recommends that teens considering tattoos or piercings not act on an impulse, but wait for a period of time before they do, and that they discuss their plan with their parents. “If you’re worried that you might regret it one day, then think about it for awhile longer,” she explains. “Don’t be pressured into something this permanent…and definitely don’t do something like this under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

South Nassau Communities Hospital is one of the region’s largest hospitals, with 435 beds, more than 900 physicians and 3,000 employees. Located in Oceanside, NY, the hospital is an acute-care, not-for-profit teaching hospital that provides state-of-the-art care in cardiac, oncologic, orthopedic, bariatric, pain management, mental health and emergency services. For more information, visit

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