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Tattoos have never been more popular in western society — a fairly recent survey suggests that 29 percent of the US population now "wears" at least one. If you're thinking of joining their ranks, but are concerned about tattoo safety and the chance that you'll regret your ink later on, what do you need to know?

Tattoo Complications: What Does Science Say?

Just how likely are you to encounter a complication after being tattooed? One study found that, among its participants (of which there were 301 from 38 different states in the US):

  • 3.2 percent had a tattoo get infected
  • 3.8 percent had had problems with tattoos being painful (after the tattoo being completed)
  • 21.2 percent had a pruritic (itchy and sometimes bumpy) tattoo

Look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website's consumer-focused page on tattoo safety, and you may find yourself quite scared of getting a tattoo, and the CDC doesn't, unfortunately, offer guidance on picking the right tattoo studio and artist. Nonetheless, the above study shows that physical complications are very uncommon. You can minimize your own risk both by choosing a tattooist who really knows their stuff and by informing yourself about tattoo aftercare. 

Things you should ask your tattoo artist about before getting inked are:

  • Does your tattoo studio use sterile equipment? — You're looking for an autoclave to sterilize equipment, for the use of disposable safety measures such as gloves and covers for the seat you are being tattooed on, and needles that are opened in front of you and are then disposed of in a biohazard bin. 
  • Ask what kind of ink your artist uses, and how they keep it sterile. 
  • Ask your artist if they have a bloodborne patheogrens certification. Run if they don't, ask to see it if they do. 

You can, and should, also Google the artist and studio and see if any negative reviews are revealed. 

The next component is tattoo aftercare. Your artist should give you instructions, but you are responsible for carrying them out. Every artist will have their own, slightly different, instructions, but some things that always apply are:

  • Leave the bandage on however long your artist tells you to and then wash it well with unperfumed, mild, soap. 
  • Do not touch a fresh tattoo unless you thoroughly wash your hands first!
  • Do everything you can to minimize contact between your fresh tattoo and anything potential sources of infection. This includes, for instance, making sure you have clean bed sheets and not going swimming with your new tattoo. After washing, pat your tattoo dry with a paper towel, rather than using the same towel you use for the rest of your body.
  • Wash your tattoo with a mild, unperfumed, soap however many times your tattooist tells you to every day. 
  • Use the ointment your tattooist tells you to, but minimally — don't pile on lots. 
  • Don't scratch your tattoo.

How Common Is Tattoo Regret?

According to the same study referenced above, 16.2 percent of participants regret at least one of their tattoos and 21.2 percent were thinking about getting at least one tattoo removed. According to another study, the rate of tattoo regret is higher among adolescents who were inked, with a third experiencing regret. Especially at risk of tattoo regret are the youngest males. 

If you're worried you may regret a particular tattoo or having a tattoo in general, don't get inked yet. Leave the idea to sink in and only get a tattoo you are sure you want. Regret can still set in, of course, but if you already "half-regret" the tattoo before it's even there, that's a sure sign you shouldn't get it. 

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