Tattooists, Piercers & Customers: Know the Risks – for All

Aug 2022

A Billion Dollar Industry!

Tattoos, piercings, and scarification have been around for thousands of years and are seen by many as a way to express oneself. They may also be used culturally to show status. However, it is necessary to understand the health risks associated with these types of body modifications With the line-ups forming in this growing billion dollar industry, it’s even more important that artists recognize important health and safety procedures to mitigate risks to their customers, their businesses, and themselves. Tattoo artists are often heavily tattooed themselves, and exposed daily to body fluids, skin-to-skin contacts with customers, tattoo inks, solvents, allergens, and irritants.

Tattoo artists typically sit for long periods of time; sometimes at uncomfortable positions, which increases their risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as shoulder, back, hips and neck muscle pain. In addition to sitting still, holding a heavy, mechanized, vibrating machine for up to eight hours per session, tattoo artists use a needle that rapidly and repeatedly drives the needle in and out of the skin often 80 to 150 times per second.

With each puncture, the needle injects dyes and pigments into the dermis (inner) layer of the skin, which very often results in adverse effects for tattoo artists. High levels of vibration can damage the nerves, blood vessels, and capillaries in their hands because the oscillations are overstimulating for the body.

Lack of Regulation for Tattoo Ink Poses Health Risks:

In the U.S., tattoo inks and pigments are regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA); however, Canada’s legislation needs to be much, much stronger. A study conducted in Sweden involving Yolanda Hedberg, the research chair in corrosion science at Western University in London, Ontario, analyzed 73 tattoo ink samples collected from suppliers and online retailers, showed that many of the inks were fabricated in the U.S. and are available for purchase in Canada.

Ninety-three per cent of the samples violated European legislative standards, which require manufacturers to include vital information on the packaging. Much of that information: sterility, batch numbers, expiry instructions, contact information of the manufacturer was missing. Also, 20 of the 73 inks collected, were purchased from the same website, and published the same list of ingredients despite being different colours and solutions. The study compared what was actually in the tattoo ink to what was written on the flask, and tested the levels of impurities and heavy metals.

Europe is only beginning to develop regulations on ink, and Canada has no regulations on the inks and pigments. The inconsistency between ingredients and ingredient labels poses a threat to consumers. Skin reactions such as chronic contact eczema can occur up to 10 years after ink especially red ink, which contains sensitizers, has been injected under the skin. It’s impossible to remove dangerous chemicals, even with laser treatments.

While most tattoo pigments are regulated through their provincial ministry of health, many still contain trace amounts of metal salts which can be potentially carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans. Tattoos can also cause a variety of health issues, including allergic reactions and blood-borne infections such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and Tetanus.

The overall health threats to tattoo artists are very real, and growing in attention. Most often, tattoo artists are not salaried employees; they are independent contractors. If injury or illness occurs, they have little protection and less compensation.

Tattooists: Struggling With Industry Complications:

When a tattoo artist uses a handheld machine with an attached needle to puncture the skin. Every time this device makes a hole, it injects ink into the dermis — the second layer of skin below the epidermis.

Tattoos are a common form of self-expression, but they also damage the skin and can cause complications. Complications can include:

Tattoo ink can even interfere with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests. The long-term effects of tattoo ink and colorings remain unknown. Until recently, no government regulatory agency has closely examined the safety of tattoo ink. More than 50 colorings used in tattoos have been approved for use in cosmetics, but the risk of injecting them beneath the skin is unclear.

More dramatic body modification procedures are gaining popularity, including:

More dramatic body modification procedures include:

Tips for Safe Tattoos:

  • Get a tattoo from a reputable facility.
  • Choose another facility if there’s evidence of poor hygiene in the shop. Work surfaces, chairs, and non-disposable equipment must be properly cleaned and sterilized between customers.
  • Check to make sure your artist uses a fresh pair of gloves and washes their hands before starting the procedure.
  • Make sure you observe your artist removing needles from a new, sealed package. Needles and razors should never be reused.
  • The area of skin being tattooed should be swabbed with a disinfectant, such as rubbing alcohol, prior to tattooing.
  • Fresh tattoos should be covered with sterile gauze or a bandage. Follow the artist’s instructions for caring for newly tattooed skin.

Just the Facts:

Two in ten Canadians (22%) and Americans (21%) have at least one tattoo on their body, and the proportion of Canadians and Americans with multiple tattoos is approximately 11%.

In Canada, women (24%) are more likely than men (20%) to have a tattoo, as are those aged 18 to 34 (36%) when compared with Canadians aged 35 to 54 (24%) or 55+ (8%). Regionally, British Columbians (28%) are most likely to have a tattoo, followed by Quebecers (25%), Albertans (23%), Atlantic Canadians (21%), followed by residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (20%) and Ontario (19%).

The data reveals that while most North Americans who get a tattoo are happy with it, a significant proportion regrets the decision to get a tattoo. Among Canadians with at least one tattoo, 10% regret getting the tattoo, including 15% of tattooed young adults aged 18 to 34.

Location, Location, Location!

The majority of men get tattoos on the arms while women prefer them on the back; 41% of Canadians who have one or more tattoo(s) have them on their arms, while 33% have them on the back, 19% on their legs, 8% on the lower abdomen, 8% on the breasts, 3% on the buttocks and 1% on the face. Almost 28% of women have a tattoo on their legs, while 13% have one on their lower abdomen. Lastly, 70% of manual workers with a tattoo have it on their arms, while 20% of 18-24 years olds have it on their lower abdomens

Nearly two out of ten Canadians have a tattoo or have had body piercing done, and 18% of Canadians have a tattoo or have had some part of their body pierced. Out of these, 12% have a body piercing and 11% have a tattoo. Close to 5% have both a body piercing and a tattoo, and 31% of 18-34 year-olds have either one or the other. Also, 13% of men and 9% of women have a tattoo, as do 16% of manual workers, while 8% of men and 15% of women have had a body piercing.

Health Risks for Piercings – Body Specific!

While piercings may look cute or cool to some, it is important to know that they carry health risks, as well, especially if not treated properly. Some complications of piercings include increased risk of bacterial infection, allergic reactions, bleeding, hematoma formation, keloid formation, and cyst formation.

Oral piercings usually involve making a small hole on your tongue, uvula, lip, or cheek to wear jewelry. Infections are more common with oral piercings because the mouth contains a lot of bacteria that can cause the area to swell or become infected. It can also lead to damage to your gums, teeth (breakage, chipping, cracks), and fillings. Not only can your tongue swell making it harder to breathe, but also you have to be extra careful not to chip a tooth while you sleep, eat, or chew. Mouth piercings could also potentially lead to gum disease, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, uncontrolled bleeding, and long-term infection.

Genital piercings can cause pain during urination and sex. The risk of complications is higher if you have other medical conditions, such as:

Talk to a doctor before getting a piercing if you have any of these conditions.

Scarification is the process of branding, burning or cutting pictures, words or images into the skin. Practitioners often use methods that will enhance the formation of scars. This includes scraping off scabs or irritating wounds with materials such as citrus juice, toothpaste, or iodine. Some methods of scarification include cutting with a scalpel, laser branding, hot and cold branding (with liquid nitrogen), thermocautery, and electrocautery.

Traditionally, cultures will pack the wound with materials like clay or ash, which can cause hypertrophic scars. Hypertrophic scars are a result of excess deposits of collagen forming at the site of injury (i.e., cuts, burns, pimples). However, scarification doesn’t always go according to plan. Keloids (thick, raised scars) are a known complications and can form, especially in individuals with a family history of keloids.

Serious Health Risks – Bacterial Infections:

Modifying the body with piercings also carries a measure of risk, such as the risk of a bacterial infection. Some people may develop an abscess after getting a piercing; which is a pus-filled mass around the piercing. This is a serious side effect and if left untreated, there is risk of sepsis or blood poisoning.

Sepsis is a life threatening illness that occurs in response to infection. It can result in organ failure and death. Symptoms of blood poisoning include:

Infections are more common with oral and nasal piercings because these areas contain more bacteria. Other risks associated with body piercings include:

  • swelling around the piercing site
  • formation of a keloid around the piercing
  • bleeding caused by a damaged blood vessel

There are also location-specific risks with body piercings:

Tips for Safe Piercings:

  • A piercing gun should only be used on earlobes. To avoid crushing delicate tissues, your piercer should use a hollow needle on other body parts.
  • Piercers should wash their hands and put on a fresh pair of disposable surgical gloves.
  • Body piercings should be performed with a single-use needle, which is disposed of after each use.
  • Jewelry should be sterilized before being inserted through the body.
  • Piercing equipment and surfaces should be sanitized and wiped down after each customer.

SWG PL – Tattoo & Body Piercing/Beauty Operations Liability Insurance is offered Canada-wide as a combined E&O and CGL insurance coverage for Tattoo, Body Piercing, Permanent-Makeup Artists, as well as Beauty Salon Operations.

Coverage Highlights:

  • Limit up to $5,000,000 for CGL and $2,000,000 for E&O
  • Coverage for entire shop(s), individual artist(s), and/or Independent Contractors
  • Coverage available for tattooing or piercing of minors – with options to include piercing of ears, nose, navel, eyebrows, and tongue
  • Coverage for Dermal Anchoring, Surface Piercing, Ampallang and Apadravya
  • Competitive premiums
  • NIL deductible
  • Home based business when it’s in line with the law and government regulation
  • Commission to broker 15%

We Cover:

Includes but not limited to the list below. Contact us if you don’t see what you are looking for:

  • Tattoo (permanent or temporary including henna)
  • Body Piercing
  • Permanent makeup including Microblading
  • Pigment Lightening Removal (Saline or Laser/IPL)
  • Beauty Professionals
  • Laser Hair Removal, also includes removal of age spots, sun spots & liver spots
  • Claims Made Policy

For more information, visit our product page at:

Content is current as of the date of broadcast and is subject to change without notice.



Ipsos: 23.01.2012

Alllure Newsletter: The Secret, Chronic Pain of Tattoo Artists; December 2020

Teen Health Matters: Health Risks Associated with Tattoos, Piercings, and Scarification: 10.13.2017

CBC News: Lack of regulation for tattoo ink poses health risk, says Western University Teacher: 21.06.2021

Healthline: Getting Tattooed or Pierced: Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH: Written by Valencia Higuera and The Healthline Editorial Team: Updated on August 31, 2020