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Tattooing as a form of body art is increasing in popularity, especially among young adults. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that 36 percent of Americans ages 18-25 report getting a tattoo. As a result, dermatologists are seeing increased complications such as allergic reactions, serious infections, and reactions to tattoo ink that can mimic skin cancer.
One of the most common problems associated with tattooing is allergic reactions to the tattoo pigments.
Itching, bumps, or rashes can occur days, months or even years after the initial tattoo. These reactions need to be treated with a topical steroid ointment.
In cases where an allergic reaction occurs months or years later, the affected person might not suspect that the tattoo is the culprit.
In people with psoriasis and eczema, tattoos may cause the chronic skin conditions to flare.
Sarcoidosis is an autoimmune disorder characterized by swelling and itching that can occur in a tattoo decades after the procedure and can involve other organs, such as the lungs or eyes. This type of reaction is not directly caused by the original tattoo, but can show up within the tattoo. Treatments include topical creams and, in severe cases, immunosuppressant medications.
Some tattoo-related infections can pose serious health implications. Common infections linked to tattooing include localized bacterial infections. In addition, there have been reports of syphilis and hepatitis B and C being transmitted due to non-sterile tattooing practices. However, Dr. Shinohara noted that outbreaks can also stem from the tattoo ink rather than the tools used in the procedure.
A recent outbreak of atypical mycobacterial infections has been traced to contaminated tattoo ink, which causes itchy, painful pustules and red bumps within a tattoo during the first month of the procedure. With this type of infection, a biopsy of the tattoo is taken and the bacteria are cultured. This type of bacteria is harder to treat than regular staph bacteria and can require a several-month course of oral antibiotics to clear the infection.