Think before you ink!

Published: November 9th, 2011

Category: Student Health Care Center Blog

What is body modification?

For centuries, cultures have used tattooing, body piercing and scarification as a form of body art, identity and allegiance. Today, piercings and tattoos are also considered a way to express identity. Before expressing yourself through scarification, piercing or tattooing, educate yourself on the benefits and risks.

How can you be happy with your decision?

  • Be sure body art is right for you. If you have doubts, wait.
  • Let the decision be your own. Don’t be pressured by friends.
  • Know the artist. Make sure he or she is knowledgeable and has professional experience.
  • Consider your safety. Some scarring and branding can lead to serious complications.
  • Know it is permanent! Ask yourself, will I like this in five to 10 years?

What are the risks of tattoos and piercings?

The majority of the health risks associated with tattooing and body piercing are related to infectious complications and localized skin reactions. There is also the potential for blood-borne diseases.

In a study of college students with body art, 45 percent had infection at the piercing site, and another 29 percent reported a local skin reaction.

Complications associated with body piercing can include bleeding, bacterial infection and trauma. Infection is the most common risk associated with piercing. Hepatitis B and C can also be transmitted during tattooing or body piercing if equipment is not sterilized. This is more a risk among teens who use amateur piercing or tattooing methods rather than among individuals who seek out professional care.

Scarification? What’s that?

Scarification is the act of scarifying. It involves scratching, cutting, burning or making permanent incisions on the body. Similar to tattoos, scarifying and branding are permanent.

  • Branding is done by heating surgical sheet metal to 1,900 – 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit and then applying it to the skin
  • Scarification is done most frequently (and most safely) with a scalpel blade making small cuts to the skin.

Know the risks

Scarification has far more risks than tattooing or piercing. By far, the largest risk is the aesthetic. Branding, cutting, and scarification are far from precise arts, and because the call for scarification is much smaller than that for piercing or tattooing, most artists are not experienced. In addition, even experienced artists have trouble getting consistent results because there are so many variables in the healing process.

Things to consider

  •  Flat, fleshy areas are the usual sites for branding and scarification: shoulder, back, thigh, and arm.
  •  Avoid branding and scarification near joints as it may hinder mobility.
  •  Plan on a healing time of three to six weeks.

When should you see a health care provider?

Swelling and redness can be normal. If you have any of the following signs, see a health care provider immediately.

  • Thick yellow discharge, including pus
  • Continuous oozing or bleeding
  • Heat or red streaks originating from and moving away from the site
  • Pain does not go away or increases
  • Unusual pain or swelling
  • Loss of function