Think Before You Ink


According to psychologist Dr Jan Hittelman, many companies do have policies against body art and piercings. Most of them still require workers to remove their piercings or cover their tattoos while at work in order to maintain a professional image for the company.

Dr Jan asserts that even the army has guidelines for the types of tattoos that soldiers can have. He advises young people to think twice before they have tattoos done. At the end of the day, self-expression can take many forms. It does not have to be permanent ink in your skin. Fashions keep changing anyway, so think before you ink.

Adverse Reactions

At this time of writing, tattoo parlours/studios in Singapore are not regulated. Even in America, only a few states regulate the business and subject operators to inspections.

One observation I’ve made is that few tattoo artists here use autoclaves to sterilise their instruments. Viral and bacterial infections can occur, especially in piercing. Other adverse reactions include ink allergy, scars and keloid formation.


There are also no recent studies conducted on tattooed people here documenting of the incidence of cross infection. A 1988 study done on Chinese men showed the risk of hepatitis B infection from tattooing was 0.7% (Am J Public Health, W O Phoon, N P Fong, and J Lee).

Theoretically, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are easily transmitted through a tattoo needle that has been used on a carrier. Outbreaks of hepatitis B infections attributable to tattooing occurred in Singapore during the 1970s.

Bacterial Infections

For normal, healthy individuals, these are easy to prevent, but the lack of knowledge of aseptic techniques on the part of tattoo artists may subject customers to unnecessary risks. While bacterial infections are easy to prevent, they may not be so easy to treat. No environment, even that in a best equipped, world class surgical theatre can be completely sterile.

For customers who have medical conditions which make them less resistant to infections, abscesses may occur. Reuters reported that in June 2006, 6 outbreaks of a superbug resistant to antibiotics had been traced to unlicensed tattoo artists.

The highest risk of bacterial infection comes from DIY tattoos using crude instruments.

There are even more risks and complications with piercings. Many youngsters pierce themselves with safety pins and sharpened paper clips. Body jewellery of dubious origin may contain allergenic nickel and cobalt. Worse, toxic metals like lead may slowly poison the body. Only a few metals like 14K gold, titanium and platinum are safe.

Removing Tattoos

In the past, it is quite common to hear about people “washing” their tattoos away. Some of those who DIY, apply trichloroacetic acid (TCA) – a highly caustic chemical that bleaches and burns. In most cases, this procedure only fades a tattoo.

Tattoos are most often removed by laser surgery nowadays. The surgeon would direct a laser beam on the tattooed area. It’s a long, tedious and painful process, requiring multiple visits. In some cases, scarring can occur and complete removal is not always possible.

Dermabrasion is another method that is commonly used. Also known as “sandpapering”, rotating disks and brushes are used to abrade the top skin layer away. The wounds are covered up and allowed to heal. Results vary. In most cases, the tattoo would still be vaguely visible.

The surest way to remove a tattoo completely is to go for surgical excision. The surgeon excises the piece of skin impregnated with the tattoo with a scalpel and stitches up the wound. Tattoos can be completely removed using this method, but morbidity is high and it always leaves a scar.

Just as temporary tattoos can be applied to one’s body, permanent tattoos can be masked with skin tone concealers which can be sprayed on or applied like foundation. You can see a dramatic demonstration of these products and technique on YouTube

Whatever it is, think before you ink.

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