Yep, it’s that American Academy of Pediatrics — the organization that brings you doctor’s office pamphlets about MMR vaccines — just weighed in on tattoos and body piercings for the first time ever, which in itself signifies that all that rebellion is becoming… well, normal. *Yawn*
The report reflects the fact that more teens than ever are getting tattoos; in fact, one Harris poll discovered that 3 in 10 Americans — nearly half of the millennial cohort and 36 percent of Gen Xers — have at least one. That’s a pretty inked nation in which tattoos have become (*gasp!*) nearly mainstream.
Time Health released a short video about the growing popularity of tattoos and their consequences, saying that more “scientific scrutiny” is needed:
Dr. Cora Breuner, head author of the American Academy of Pediatrics report, said “Tattooing is much more accepted than it was 15 to 20 years ago. 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.”
That’s all? Just think about it, and then go for it? Pretty sweet deal, teens. You’ve got it easy; when we were your age, we had to sneakily get tattoos behind our parents’ backs and then hide them for years, and then walk home 15 miles in the snow or whatever. Gone are the days of horrified parents and shocked Norman Rockwell-esque pediatricians. These days, when it comes to tattoos, teens are far more likely to have their doctors ask them where instead of why.
“These services have come a long way, safety-wise,” Breuner adds, “but it’s best to proceed with caution.”
So definitely do your research on tattoo artists and shops (and maybe keep it on the down-low for Grandma’s sake).
That said, there are risks with any tattoos or piercings. Complications can happen after you get inked: infection, inflammation of blood vessels, abnormal tissue growth. And piercings — especially if done by an untrained, less-than-sanitary mall piercer — can cause serious pain, cysts, bleeding, allergic reactions and scars according to the AAP’s report.
The federal government is hands-off in regard to body modifications; rules vary by state. That said, state laws still tend to make it tricky for a teen to get a nipple piercing or a full-back Grim Reaper — with at least 38 states requiring parental consent for non-ear piercings and 45 states requiring mom or dad to sign off on any tattoo on a minor.
But there are states where a 14-year-old can procure ink with parental permission. Yikes.
The good news if your teen is set on a tattoo is that the AAP report found that most tattooed people (86 percent) have never regretted it and 30 percent with tattoos say the body ink makes them feel sexier.
The bad news: Laser removal of tattoos can range from $49 to a whopping $300 per square inch. So there’s that.
“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,” said Dr. David Levine, a co-author of the AAP report.
So how to proceed if your teen is hankering for a tat? The AAP says it’s not a bad idea for them to chat with a pediatrician about the importance of hygiene in any tattoo situation.
More things to consider: Meds that inhibit immune response — such as steroids or Accutane for severe acne — can mess with the healing process of a tattoo. Those teens might need to hold off on any tattoos or piercings, as should anyone without up-to-date vaccinations — especially that pesky tetanus vaccine.
If you are on board with your teen’s tattoo, it’s a good idea to go along for the ride to make sure the artist is using disposable gloves, new sterile needles and unused ink in a fresh container for each client. (In other words, you still get an opportunity to embarrass your adolescent if they need your consent. Seems like a fair trade.)
More food for thought: Some jobs are off-limits to those with visible tattoos. One tattoo parlor owner in California, Brian Keith Thompson of Body Electric, warns teen clients against hand, neck or finger tattoos. “I’ll tell them ‘no, you’re 19, you should wait,'” he said. “Definitely stay away from the face. We call that the ‘job stopper;’ if you don’t want to get employed, tattoo your face.” Also if you want Grandpa’s heart to stop.
And with any tattoo or piercing, keep a close eye on it and follow post-ink/post-piercing care instructions to the letter. If there’s any redness or swelling or pain that won’t let up, get your teen to a doctor stat.