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Teens and Body Art: Staying Healthy with Tattoos and Piercings

Posted by on September 19th, 2017 Posted in: Blog

Tattoos of aliens with stay weird text
My daughter’s 18th birthday meant something completely different to her than it did to her Dad and I. For a whole year before that coming of age birthday, in spite of  pleading and at times anger, we stood firm in our decision that we were not going to give our permission for her to pierce her nose. If she wanted to get pierced once she was old enough according to the law, which is 18 years old in Massachusetts, that was fine. The afternoon of her 18th birthday, as soon as school got out, Carro’s first decision as a “legal adult” was to visit a piercing parlor to get her nose pierced.

I was reminded of  that memory today because for the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued guidelines about tattoos and body piercings. Did you know that 38% of millennials have at least one tattoo and 23 percent have a piercing somewhere other than an earlobe (this information comes from the Pew Research Center)? Whereas, just 6 percent of boomers have tattoos, and just 1 percent with other piercings.

As I drove into work today I listened to an NPR news story about the new body art guidelines. AAPs report “Adolescent and Young Adult Tattooing, Piercing and Scarification” will be published in the October 2017 issue of Pediatrics (available online on September 18th). As part of the September 18th press conference by lead author and chair of the AAP Committee on Adolescence, Cora C. Breuner, MD, presented recommendations from the nation’s pediatricians. The guidelines address the need to be aware of the health issues tattoos and piercings could potentially cause. In addition to providing health and safety information to patients, the recommendations also will help health care professionals to advise patients and their families when a tattoo or body piercing is being considered. The federal government does not regulate the tattoo and piercing industry. It is a smart idea to know about the rules in your state as the regulations are different in each state. In some states the age for minors is 14 years old, if they have their parent’s permission. Also, what is considered “sanitary” varies greatly from state to state. Take a look at the following link to make sure you know the rules pertaining to body art in your state  http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/tattooing-and-body-piercing.aspx(link is external). Although body art is popular, “Most of my medical colleagues don’t know regulations in the states, complications rates or later impact on young people when looking for a job,” states Dr. Cora Breuner, member of the division of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital and chair of the AAP Committee on Adolescence.

The AAP recommends that pediatricians communicate the importance of hygienic practices such as using new disposable gloves, making sure that needles used are from a sealed, sterile container; and that fresh, unused ink is poured into a disposable container for each new patient. In some states, such as California, practitioners are required to register with the state health department and must submit proof of a hepatitis vaccination, as well as take a yearly course in blood borne diseases and infection. control. If you are considering a tattoo make sure your immunizations are up-to-date, especially tetanus. People who take medications that suppress the immune system, such as steroids or Accutane should avoid both tattoos and piercings.

Additional information for parents can be found on the AAP website, HealthyChildren .org.(link is external) MedlinePlus also has a page providing helpful information about Tattoos and Piercings https://medlineplus.gov/piercingandtattoos.html#cat_83(link is external) . MedlinePlus offers information in several different languages, as well as provides links to journal articles, clinical trials and current news stories related to body art.

The NPR story concluded with some good advice – keep in mind that tattoos are permanent.  Experts often counsel teenage clients to avoid getting a tattoo on a visible part of the body, as many professions are still conservative and avoid hiring people with visible tattoos for some jobs. “Definitely stay away from the face, we call that the job stopper; if you don’t want to get employed, tattoo your face.”

Here’s a link to the September 18th NPR story by Patti Neighmond:
https://www.mprnews.org/story/2017/09/18/npr-teen-wants-tattoo-pediatricians-say-heres-how-to-do-safely(link is external)

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NNLM Region 7
University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01655
(508) 856-5985

This has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School.

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