Tattoos and Piercings
Tattoos and piercings are common forms of expression that many individuals wish to get post-transplant, but there are mixed reviews on whether or not these are safe to receive post-transplant.
Why is there concern?
As a post-transplant patient, you are on immunosuppression medications that weaken your immune system, putting you at a higher risk of infection. Both tattoos and piercings involve the use of needles which means that you could be injecting bacteria or other pathogens into your body, leading to an infection that could become life threatening. There have been numerous news stories and reports of immunosuppressed individuals contracting infections after receiving tattoos or piercings. (1)
Infections may range from localized infections and inflammatory skin reactions such as acute bacterial infections (impetigo, folliculitis, cellulitis), to more severe bacterial endocarditis (infection of the heart lining) and transmission of more infectious viral diseases including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. (2)
If you have the itch, and aren’t going to listen to the recommendations to abstain from a piercing or a tattoo, these are some safety tips to follow:
Do your research: Use only a licensed tattoo artist or piercing establishment. You can get information from your local public health department.
Ask questions: Ask the tattoo artist or the person doing the piercing if they have washed their hands, how the equipment was sterilized, if the gloves they are wearing are new, and the needles/ razors are single use.
Practice after care: Always obtain clear instructions from the tattoos artist or person piercing your ears on how to take care of your new tattoo or piercing, what to look for in terms of infection, how to properly clean the area with antibacterial soap, etc.
Reach out: If you notice signs of infection, such as redness, tenderness, or swelling at the tattoo or piercing site, or a rash, fever, or drainage of fluids- contact your transplant team or proceed to your nearest emergency room. Do not feel ashamed and let it get out of hand- that can turn bad quickly.
1. Davis N. Tattoo health warning for people with weakened immune systems. The Guardian. Published June 18, 2018. Accessed May 6, 2020.
2. Fall 2018: Tattoo risks: What transplant recipients should know. Transplant Talk. Published December 18, 2018. Accessed May 6, 2020.