Answers to frequently asked medical questions about tattoos

Answers to frequently asked medical questions about tattoos

Most people who get a tattoo do so without considering the possible health and medical ramifications of this form of body art. For those who do, the following questions often arise:

What if you need an MRI?

Certain tattoo inks contain heavy metals which can be a real issue when going for an MRI. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines are used to locate tumours and other abnormalities in the body. They do so by scanning the body with extremely strong magnets. If the inks used in your tattoo contain heavy metals (which many do, including those used in permanent make-up) they can cause burns on the skin.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) assures that tattoo burns occur rarely during MRIs, if you already have a tattoo it is important that you always disclose this before this type of imaging technique so that the medical professionals involved can evaluate the risk vs benefit of such a procedure and arrange for anaesthetisation if necessary.

Will a tattoo affect getting an epidural?

Over the years, it has been speculated that women with lower back tattoos could not have epidurals. This subject has been studied extensively, and researchers have found no evidence of their being any risk in having an epidural unless the tattoo seems to be infected.

The only other possible complication could be adding a large puncture mark to your design or possibly trapping tattoo pigment inside the large needle. Either way, a trained anesthesiologist should know how to circumvent these issues without too much problem.

Can I get an epidural when I have a tattoo

Can surgery ruin a tattoo?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. If you need surgery, especially emergency surgery, in an area that is covered by a tattoo, the design will more than likely be ruined. While a doctor may take care when cutting into the skin, there's a good chance that you'll have scarring instead of ink in its place. After all, in the eyes of medical practitioners your health and safety come first. 

What if you tattoo over a mole?

It's not advised by doctors or tattoo artists to tattoo over a mole. Not only can the ink cause possible harm to the mole itself, but tattoo inks may also hide the onset of skin cancer that would otherwise be revealed by the noticeable change in appearance of a mole. If you're concerned about a specific mole on your body, always check in with your doctor and avoid tattooing areas with moles.

Tattooing over a mole

 Can you get tattoo when pregnant?

There are a number of reasons why it’s not advisable to get a tattoo while pregnant. The first of which is that the risk of infection is high and that infection could be transmitted to your unborn child through your bloodstream. Hepatitis B (HBV), Hepatitis C (HCV), syphilis or any other form of infection could cause unnecessary complications in pregnancy.

The next reason to reconsider getting a tattoo during pregnancy is due to the rise in blood pressure that you may experience. Depending on where on your body you're getting your tattoo done, the pain levels may push your blood pressure up resulting in increased risk for your baby.

It's best to postpone getting any new tattoos until well after your new baby is born to avoid in possible issues.

Applying sunscreen to tattoos

Can tattoos cause cancer?

Throughout the lifetime of tattooing, the question always remains whether or not is it safe. Many have questioned the practice and the fact that inks are not regulated by the government in many countries.

Moreover, the process of repeatedly piercing the skin, the healing time and the risk of the body possibly rejecting tattoo ink9 can all lead to questions of safety.

One of the main questions is whether tattoos can cause cancer or not. This has not been established without a doubt, but many researchers believe that if there is a cancer risk, it would be linked to a multifactorial process.

More than just the possibility of tattoo rejection due to inflammatory reactions, people with tattoos must also take care when exposing the skin to the sun. Tattooed skin is more sensitive than the rest of the skin on the body and exposure to the sun (as well as ultraviolet radiation) could be linked to long-term risks of developing skin cancer10.

Does this mean that tattoos cause cancer? No. But that doesn't mean that more care should be taken to protect the skin and ensure that safe dyes are used for the utmost safety and peace of mind of those who are now permanently marked with their favourite artwork.


9. Scientific Research. 2009. Market survey on toxic metals contained in tattoo inks: [Accessed 29 September 2018]

10. Academia. 2005. Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans arising in a decorative tattoo: [Accessed 29 September 2018]

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