Are Tattoos Bad For You?

Tattoos are more popular now than ever, with recent research from The Harris Poll confirming a whopping three in 10 Americans have at least one. In spite of the prevalence of tattoos, they're still a form of body modification and many workplaces will still not allow them to be visible. 

When done right, tattoos are truly beautiful. When done wrong, they make for some of the most horrifying images conceivable — you can waste hours online looking at bad tattoos. Tattooing is also safer these days than ever before, but are we still taking a risk going under the needle?

What does tattooing actually do to your skin?

The process entails an artist utilizing a specially-designed, handheld machine with a grouping of needles (yes, multiple needles, according to These needles insert ink into the dermis layer of the skin, the second layer under the epidermis, which changes its pigment and is then used to create artistic images. A piece for Healthline warns this can lead to several complications. 

These include, but are not limited to allergic reactions to the colored dye, skin infections such as staph, the development of nodules or inflamed tissue around the area itself, keloids or scar tissue, interference with future MRI testing, or swelling. In the case of contaminated needles, risks include blood-borne diseases, including hepatitis. 

It's worth remembering, too, that the FDA has only approved pigments for external use, not injection under the skin, so the long-term effects remain unknown. 

Do tattoos cause cancer?

There are also suggested links between tattoos and cancer. A 2018 research review found 30 suspected cases, though, it's worth noting, it doesn't prove (at all) whether the tattoos actually caused cancer, just that there was an overlap with the diseased areas. 

Elsewhere, a 2017 study found titanium dioxide particles in tattoo ink could spread and gather in the lymph nodes, with the research leading to concerns about it causing cancer because titanium dioxide is a possible carcinogen. A 2010 study of Danish adults even found traces of nickel, lead, and other cancer-causing agents in 65 different tattoo inks.

Will tattoos affect your job prospects?

Tattoo stigma is widespread, too, according to a study published in the journal Stigma and Health. Hand tattoos are particularly hot right now, but the reason celebrities like Demi Lovato have them is because, well, they're celebrities. If you're working in an office, or any public-facing job, it's worth considering how visible tattoos will be perceived by your bosses and clients alike.

Plainly speaking, tattoos aren't necessarily bad for us, health-wise, but if you're considering going under the needle, as Healthline advises, always do your research first. Make sure you go to a licensed, reputable artist, inform yourself about the process, and follow their aftercare procedure exactly.