Adolescent Tattoos, Body Piercings and Body Modifications

Featured Expert:

Studies have shown that an estimated 10-23 percent of adolescents have tattoos and 27-42 percent had body piercings. Among high school students who don’t already have a tattoo, more than 50 percent said they are interested in getting one. Previous reports and data used to be focused on high risk youth but we have seen that body modification has become more of a mainstream trend. Jasmine Reese, M.D., director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, explains why this topic is so important for teens and their parents and what to consider when making decisions about body modification.

What are some of the things parents and teens should consider?

Although tattoos, body piercings and body modification is becoming much more popular among adolescents and young adults, it is important for families and teens to understand health risks that could be associated and what potential complications could exist. First, it is important for teens and their parents to make this decision together. Tattoos and body piercings are permanent and you want to be sure you are well informed before making such a big decision. Considering the sanitation and hygienic environment of the tattoo parlor you choose is also very important. For example, they should be using new, disposable gloves, new and sealed equipment and needles, and unused ink into a new container.

Are there complications and health risks associated with tattoos and body piercings?

Tattooing can be associated with transmission of some bacterial infections and viral infections including Hepatitis B, C and HIV. This is again why it is so important to consider the cleanliness of the tattoo parlor. There also have been some case reports of certain types of skin cancers. Although more research is needed in this area, it is important to consider not getting a tattoo placed over a skin nevi (a mole) that your doctor may want to monitor for changes over time. When thinking about removing a tattoo it is important to consider factors such as time, cost and number of treatments needed. It has been reported that an individual can need up to 47 treatments to show some significant removal of a tattoo. Other methods of removal may cause skin color changes, scarring or limited effectiveness.

For body piercings, one should consider the similar standards of cleanliness and hygiene but also think about location of the piercing and permanent stretching of the skin. For example, there is a high incidence of chipping a tooth after getting a tongue piercing. Removing all jewelry from body parts before playing contact sports is highly recommended to prevent other bodily injuries.

Will having a tattoo or body piercing affect future employment?

In the past, the various types of body modification were often associated with teens and young adults who were engaging in high risk behaviors including substance use, violence, sexual behavior and self-harming behaviors. More recent data has shown that this link is much less common. When comparing the perception and opinions of tattoos among older generation and younger generations, those individuals younger than the age of 50 tend to be more accepting or indifferent about tattoos in general.

Based on recent survey data, having a tattoo was one of the top 3 things that people felt was limiting their career potential and employment options. But we know that our youth and young adults of today will become our leaders and employers of tomorrow so we may continue to see a trend toward acceptability and this is really yet to be seen. Since there is still such variable opinion on this, it should be something to keep in mind when considering what tattoo you choose and where you choose to place it on your body.

What are some alternative options to consider?

If parents are still on the fence on whether or not they want to give their teen permission to get a tattoo, another option may be to get a temporary tattoo, or a henna. These will usually last for two to six weeks and will allow you to have the time to really decide if you wanted something more permanent. Henna tattoos are relatively safe but you should discuss this option with your pediatrician first, especially if you have any chronic medical illnesses.

Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

An adolescent woman smiling at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital
Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, offers adolescent and young adult specialty care for patients at all stages and support the transition from childhood to adulthood. Including specialized care for the physical, mental and social well-being of adolescents and young adults.

Request an Appointment

Find a Doctor
Find a Doctor