Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Ages & Stages
Text Size
Facebook Twitter Google + Pinterest


I'm thinking about getting a tattoo. What will it be like?

Teens get tattoos for different reasons. Most teens get a tattoo because they like the way it looks or to express themselves. Some get a tattoo to feel like part of a group. In some states and cities, you need to be 18 or have a parent's permission to get a tattoo.

Before you decide, you should know about the possible health risks. And if you do decide to get a tattoo, it's important that it's done safely.

How It's Done

Ink is injected into the skin with a tattoo machine. Attached to the machine is a bar with needles that move up and down inside a tube, vibrating 50 to 3,000 times a minute. Because the skin is punctured, there's usually a lot of bleeding and the machine must be stopped often to wipe away the blood. It can take from 15 minutes to several sessions to get a tattoo depending on the size and detail of the tattoo. Most people say it hurts to get a tattoo.

Getting It Done Safely

Safety rules should always be followed, including the following:

  • A tattoo parlor should be as clean as a dentist's office! The work area should be clean and have good lighting.
  • Equipment should be sterilized using a heated machine called an autoclave.
  • The artist should wash and dry his hands and wear a new pair of gloves.
  • New needles should be used. They should be sterilized needles and disposable. You should be able to watch the artist open the package in front of you.
  • New ink should be used. Extra ink should never be poured back into the bottle and reused.


The following are risks of tattooing:

  • Scars, including large keloids (hard scars)
  • Bacterial skin infections
  • Allergic reactions to dyes (The pigments typically used in the dyes aren't regulated by the government.)
  • Hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS, and tetanus (Hepatitis B and tetanus vaccines are available to help reduce your risk.)
  • Bleeding

Also, if you are unhappy with your tattoo once you have gotten it or later regret getting a tattoo, it can be a painful process and cost thousands of dollars to remove it.

Caring for Your Tattoo

You need to take special care of your new tattoo in order for the dye and design to stay in place. Here are ways to care for your tattoo:

  • Keep the bandage on for 12 to 24 hours then wash with soap and warm water. All the blood and soap should be rinsed off.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment or fragrance-free lotion 3 times a day for a week.
  • Don't use petroleum jelly, rubbing alcohol, or peroxide.
  • Don't allow the tattoo to dry out or expose it to direct sunlight for 2 weeks.
  • Avoid swimming, hot tubs, and long baths for several weeks.
Last Updated
Tattooing and Body Piercing (Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Facebook Twitter Google + Pinterest