Pediatricians Group Releases First-Ever Guidelines for Teens and Tattoos

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teen getting tattoo“An 18-year-old in France is getting a second tattoo on his arm. Like many other teens, he did not wait until he was 18 before getting his first tattoo or piecing. MARIE GIFFARD/AFP/Getty Images

Tattoos and body piercings have been a popular form of self-expression throughout history, but today they’re more mainstream than ever. In fact, according to a 2015 Harris Poll, nearly half of millennials (47 percent) and more than a third of Gen Xers (36 percent) said they had at least one. And 71 percent of those polled who were parents said they don’t mind if their children’s teachers or doctors have visible tattoos, either.

So, with tattoos — and even piercings — gaining so much more mainstream acceptance in the last 20 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) decided to announce its first-ever recommendations on tattoos, piercings and scarification for youth. The report will be published in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The new guidelines are to help teenagers and young adults who want to get tattoos or body piercings to be aware of any potential health issues involved. In most states, the legal age to get a tattoo or piercing is 18, and there are no federal government standards, so the state laws and regulations vary.

"Tattooing is much more accepted than it was 15 to 20 years ago," lead author Cora C. Breuner, said in a statement. "In many states, teens have to be at least 18 to get a tattoo, but the regulations vary from place to place. When counseling teens, I tell them to do some research, and to think hard about why they want a tattoo, and where on their body they want it."

The AAP doesn’t discourage youths from body modifications. Rather, it lays out guidelines pediatricians should give teens before they make a decision they may later regret. Below are some of the suggestions:

Advice for Teens

  • Talk over any decision to get a tattoo or body modification with a parent or adult, as well as a pediatrician first.
  • Research why you want a tattoo and where on your body you want it.
  • Changing can be costly: Laser removal can range from $49 to $300 per square inch of treatment area.
  • If you have a history of keloid (serious scarring) formation, you should avoid body modifications that puncture the skin.
  • Before getting a tattoo or piercing, make sure the salon is sterile and clean, as well as regulated by the state. A reputable tattoo parlor and piercing salon should provide you with a list of do’s and don’ts on how to care for your new art, plus signs of infection.
  • Be sure you are up to date on your immunizations.

"In most cases, teens just enjoy the look of the tattoo or piercing, but we do advise them to talk any decision over with their parents or another adult first," David A. Levine, M.D., FAAP, a lead author of the report said in a statement. "They may not realize how expensive it is to remove a tattoo or how a piercing on your tongue might result in a chipped tooth."

Advice for Pediatricians

  • Pediatricians should learn about the laws in their states related to minors and tattooing and piercings.
  • Counsel patients about the possible effects on employment and education of visible tattoos and piercings.
  • Encourage patients to seek medical care if they show symptoms of infection, including lesions within a tattoo.
  • Remind patients with piercings to remove them during contact sports to avoid injuries to themselves and other players.

The decision to get a body modification is certainly a lasting one with plenty of room to misstep, but it is also a personal decision. The AAP leads by example in this report by approaching the subject without judgment or opinion; instead it offers the best advice available to safely and responsibly handle a body modification.

Now That’s Crazy

About three in 10 Americans have at least one tattoo, and according to Inked magazine, Americans spend $1.65 billion (with a B!) on tattoos. That’s a lot of tattoos!

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