As tattoos and piercings have become more common in young adults, experts warn of the health risks of body art.
We’re letting more things get under our skin — or through it — than ever before.
Nearly 50 percent of Americans between ages 21 and 32 have at least one tattoo or piercing in a body part other than the ear, according to a 2006 survey by researchers at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.
All this has been met with worry from physicians and dentists who see a small but regular toll of infection and complications from this body adornment.
A recent study published by the British Medical Journal reported that 28 percent of all people who got non-earlobe piercing experienced a complication — usually swelling, residual bleeding, slow healing or infection — with half of the complications serious enough that the patient sought help from a medical professional.
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Even traditional pierced earlobes can become infected, but more radical piercings through the cartilage of the ear are more prone to serious infection, and studs through the eyebrows, nose, lips, tongue, chin, nipples, navel and genitals all carry particular risks.
“It is vital that anyone considering a piercing ensures that they go to a reputable piercer to reduce the risk of problems,”said Dr. Fortune Ncube, with Britain’s National Health Protection Agency, who led the study.
Dentists have seen a number of problems with infections and other complications. Researchers at the school of dental medicine at Tel Aviv University reported in 2008 that up to 20 percent of teens with oral piercings are at high risk for both tooth fractures and gum disease as metal studs bump and scrape the inside of the mouth.
Less frequently, swelling from the tongue can be so severe that it affects the ability to breathe.
Medical concern for tattoos is both because of possible infection from contaminated needles and possible allergic reaction or other long-term effects from the inks used, which are not regulated as cosmetics and can range from natural dyes like henna to ink made for pens and printers and even to automotive paints.
Researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have linked clusters of antibiotic-resistant skin infections to unlicensed tattoo artists who didn’t follow proper sterilization and needle-disposal procedures, and there have also been reports of transmission of hepatitis, HIV and other blood-borne infection.