Possible health risks when getting a permanent tattoo

Possible health risks when getting a permanent tattoo

The fact of tattooing is that a needle is being used to systematically pierce your skin over and over. While choosing a reputable tattoo artist is the number one way to ensure that your tattoo experience is a safe as possible, it doesn't mean that you'll be left without the possibility of complications.

Infections caused by tattoos

The number one possible complication of receiving a tattoo is infection6. Unclean needles, a non-sterile environment or even dirty gloves could all lead to the spread of infections. These include7:

Bacterial infections

  • Chancroid (a disease that is usually sexually transmitted and very painful)
  • Mycobacteria infections (including the invasion of the skin by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the same bacteria that causes Tuberculosis affecting the lungs).
  • Staphylococcus (staph) infection (including methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Syphilis
  • Tetanus (also known as 'lockjaw' is a serious infection that results in muscle spasms and can be deadly)

Viral infections

Unfortunately, if you opt to have a tattoo done by an unreliable source, the chances of contracting an infection8 are even higher.

Other possible health complications that may arise after getting a tattoo include:

  • Sepsis: a life-threatening complication that arises due to bacterial infection)
  • Infective endocarditis: While extremely rare, this infection of the heart’s inner lining can occur following tattooing.
  • Hypersensitivity to the pigments found in tattoo ink which leads to inflammation and itching of the skin (dermatitis)
  • Rash
  • Urticaria (hives – learn more about what hives look like here)
  • Granuloma (swelling and inflammation around the tattoo)
  • Scarring and keloids (raised scars)


6. US National Library of Medicine. 1994. Infectious complications of tattoos: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8038318 [Accessed 25 September 2018]

7. Science Direct. 2009. Infective complications of tattooing and skin piercing: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876034109000070 [Accessed 25 September 2018]

8.US National Library of Medicine. 2006. Shift in Staphylococcus aureus clone linked to an infected tattoo: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3294734/ [Accessed 25 September 2018]

PREVIOUS Types of tattoos
NEXT Answers to frequently asked medical questions about tattoos