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Are you safe with that tattoo?

By By DR ALFRED MURAGE | August 23rd 2013 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300


Tattoos, in other words body art, are more common than ever before. Walking along the city streets exposes you to a barrage of tattooed Nairobians keen to show off their body artwork. Some will even risk indecent exposure to give a glance of tattooing in some unimaginable places! And more tattoo studios are coming up by the day.

But don’t let the ease of getting tattoos stop you from making a thoughtful decision about permanent body art. Before you get a tattoo, be clear about what’s involved and be certain that tattooing is the right decision for you. Tattooing is not without health risks – make sure you understand the risks and basic safety precautions.

A tattoo is a permanent design made on your skin with pigments inserted through pricks into the skin’s top layer. The tattoo artist uses a hand-held machine that acts much like a sewing machine, with one or more needles piercing the skin repeatedly. With every puncture, the needles insert tiny ink droplets.

The process causes a small amount of bleeding and some pain. The breaching of the skin raises the potential for allergic reactions, infections and longer-term skin conditions associated with scarring referred to as keloids. At worst, contaminated tattoo equipment can transmit blood borne diseases like Hepatitis B and C, and even HIV.

Various strategies can help reduce health risks associated with tattoos. We could borrow a leaf from the most tattooed nation, the UK, and legislate on licensing of tattoo studios. Tattoo licences can be restricted to only trained tattooists, and their studios must surpass the threshold of health and safety.

The tattoo artist must disinfect their hands and wear protective gloves for every customer. Non-disposable equipment must be sterilisable. And tubes and needles must always be from sealed packages before the next customer’s tattooing begins. Any leftover pigments, trays and containers from a previous customer should always be discarded.

You as the customer should also dictate your own tattoo safety standards. Do not allow yourself to be pressured into getting a tattoo, and certainly don’t get a tattoo when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Choose your tattoo studio carefully. Make a decision whether your tattoo should be visible or hidden under your clothing. Remember weight gain, including pregnancy, can distort or otherwise affect the appearance of your tattoo.

Take good care of your tattoo. It can take up to two weeks for the skin to heal. Keep the tattooed area clean, well moisturised and free from tight clothing or direct sun exposure. If any signs of poor healing or infection occur, please see your doctor promptly. Occasionally, tattoo removal may become necessary so please consult a dermatologist about laser surgery or other removal options.

A tattooed body can appeal in many ways, but be wary of tattooing yourself to some unwanted disease.

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