Weekly check up: Dangers of piercings and tattoos

Piercings and tattoos are popular tools for self-expression among college students, but if you’re not careful, these body decorations could become ugly scars or painful mistakes.

According to a study published in September in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, 24 percent of surveyed participants between the ages of 18 and 50 had tattoos, and 14 percent had body piercings, the Washington Post reported last week.

Even though the once-taboo act of getting a tattoo or piercing has become more common today, students should recognize the risks associated with going under the needle.

Susan Haney, clinical program coordinator for Student Health Services, said skin and blood infections are one of the biggest phsycial threats associated with piercings and tattoos. This risk is especially high at tattoo and piercing parlors that don’t take the necessary steps to sterilize their needles and piercing guns.

“Students need to be careful about where they get their tattoo or piercing,” Haney said. “With piercings especially, the biggest problem is the risk of infection.”

People who opt for tattoos and piercings also run the risk of developing allergic reactions to tattoo ink, blood-borne diseases like hepatitis C, tetanus, HIV and skin disorders, according to MayoClinic.com.

But finding a safe and clean environment to get a tattoo or piercing done is only half the battle. Neglecting to properly care for body art is one of the sure-fire ways to develop an infection. Haney said it’s necessary to follow all post-procedure instructions.

“Sometimes piercings need gentle cleaning, but this is often overlooked,” she added. Many people end up cleaning their piercing too harshly – or even worse, not at all – leading to problems with the healing process that can lead to scarring, infection and a closed hole.

Haney cautioned that it’s even possible for a person to suffer from nerve damage if a piercing is done incorrectly. This risk appears to be especially common in the case of eyebrow piercings.

Haney said Student Health doesn’t see many tattoo-related infections, but due to the medical risks involved, she does not encourage tattoos and piercings. She stressed that students should not be discouraged from seeking medical help at Student Health for any body art-related problems. She said clinicians won’t preach to students about their tattoo and piercing decisions.

She said, “students should realize we see a lot of tattoos and piercings, and clinicians will not be shocked.”

“Weekly check up” is a regular feature in the Life section. If you have a health topic you want to know more about, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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