Some of my adolescent patients (who are over 18 years) have come in for check ups and shown me their latest “fashion statement”, a tattoo or an occasional tongue piercing. While years ago it was teenage girls with pierced belly buttons, that fad has declined (at least in my patient population), and societal acceptance of tattoos and other body piercings is more common. While I do see tattoos, tongue piercings and eyebrow piercings within my practice… it seems that I also notice them far more frequently on the parents of the new babies I am seeing.
While tattoos and body piercings may be a form of self-expression for a teen, it is also important to remember that there may be risks involved. A recent article in Pediatrics reviewed risks and consequences of the ever growing “body modification” trend.
In several surveys somewhere between 20%-38% of youths 18-24 years old have a tattoo or body piercing (other than ear lobe) and the perception of the association between having a tattoo or body piercing and engaging in high risk behavior is changing.
But, when a teen asks me about tattoos or body piercings I do remind them that there are risks involved, including infection. While most teens worry about a skin infection I also remind them of the risks of HIV, hepatitis B and C and even tetanus…so you want to make sure you have an up to date tetanus vaccine before thinking about a tattoo or piercing. You also want to make sure that there are good antiseptic processes and sanitary practices in place when choosing a tattoo parlor and always use a professional tattoo artist.
I also tell them that tattoos should be viewed as being “permanent”, and I would consider where I had the tattoo placed, and would it be possible to cover it if necessary for employment opportunities? In the not too distant past I remember our office requiring any employee with a visible tattoo to have it covered with long sleeves but while those days are over, at least in my office, other employers may have rules about tattoos or body piercings. Because tattoos are supposed to be permanent I also remind teens that trying to remove an ill placed or “out of style” tattoo is difficult, expensive and may only be partially effective.
If any piercing or tattoo begins to look infected or has skin changes the adolescent should definitely seek treatment with a physician. Better still….maybe use a henna “non-permanent tattoo” and limit piercings to the ear.