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Tattooing

What is tattooing?

A tattoo is a permanent design made on the skin.

How is tattooing done?

Tattoo artists use one or more needles attached to a tattoo machine to insert pigment under the skin’s top layer. The needles rapidly pierce the skin over and over again, inserting a tiny droplet of pigment with every pierce.  

What are the health risks?

A tattoo needle breaks the skin, so you could get a bacterial skin infection or have an allergic skin reaction. If the tattoo is not done properly, you could also get a blood-borne disease such as HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C.

How can I protect myself?

Lower your chance of infection by checking and asking about:

  • The shop should be well-lit, clean and tidy.
  • All of the artists should be trained professionals.
  • Ask your artist about his or her experience and background. Ask as well to see a portfolio of his or her work. 

What should I expect from my tattoo artist?

  • He/she will ask you for your contact information (for record keeping purposes).
  • The artist may ask for parental consent if you are under 18 years of age.
  • The artist will answer any questions you may have about getting a tattoo.

To protect you from infection, your artist should:

  • Wash his or her hands with soap and water and wear gloves.
  • Clean your skin with soap and water and apply an antiseptic, like alcohol.
  • Use a disposable, single-use razor if a part of your body needs to be shaved — and throw the razor in an approved sharps container right afterwards.
  • Put on new gloves after touching any other equipment like the light switch or phone.
  • Use only sterile needles. You should be able to watch the artist open the package and dispose of it in the proper sharps container too.
  • Remove needles and tubes from sterilized sealed packages before starting your tattoo.
  • Use only instruments that have been cleaned and sterilized in an approved sterilizer like an autoclave.  It uses steam under pressure to sterilize equipment.
  • Use only unused pigments and trays. The artist should pour the ink from the bottle into disinfected ink caps right before starting the job.
  • Use single-use applicators (e.g., wooden sticks) for all creams, lotions or ointments. There should be no "double dipping".
  • Cover your tattoo with a non-stick bandage when your tattoo is finished.
  • Tell you and give you written instructions on how to care for your tattoo while it’s healing.

What can I expect after getting my tattoo?

  • Follow your tattoo artist’s instructions on how to clean and when to moisturize your tattoo. 
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before cleaning or touching your tattoo.
  • Wear loose clothing that won’t rub against the tattoo.
  • Wear fabrics that will let the tattooed area breathe.

Healing time
Tattooed skin takes about two weeks to heal. Protect yourself from scarring and infection by following your tattoo artist’s instructions and caring for your tattoo properly.

When to call your doctor

See your doctor if your tattoo develops pus or becomes red, swollen, and tender. These might be signs that your tattoo has become infected.


How long will the tattoo last?

An ink tattoo applied with a tattoo machine is permanent. Colours will fade with time. Removal of a tattoo is a painful and costly process.




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Revised: Wednesday June 13 2012

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