SAN FRANCISCO – The younger people are when they get a tattoo, the more likely they are to regret it later, according to a survey of 501 people in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
All the participants were aged 18 years or older and had at least one tattoo. Overall, 16.2% said they regretted at least one tattoo, but that number rose to more than a third (35%) among the 77 people who got their first tattoo when they were 17 years old or younger. Among the 257 people who waited until they were 18-20 years old, 13.6% regretted one or more of their tattoos.
The rest got their first tattoo when they were at least 21 years old; 11.4% had regrets.
About one in five Americans have a tattoo, with the number increasing to about a third or more in people 18-30 years old, according to Walter Liszewski, a medical student at Tulane University in New Orleans.
Previous studies have found a regret rate of 16%-44%. The association with age suggests that it might be wise, when possible, to counsel teenagers to hold off for a while, Mr. Liszewski said. There’s a chance they will listen to that message, too, if it comes from a dermatologist. In the survey, 93% of people thought that tattoo artists were the best source of information on tattoo complications and how to treat them, but dermatologists weren’t far behind, with about 80% of respondents saying that dermatologists also were a trusted source for reliable information about tattoos. “So don’t hesitate to engage with patients about tattoos, complications, and other questions they might have,” Mr. Liszewski said at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.
About 70% of the survey participants said they felt comfortable discussing such issues with primary care providers, and 40% said they felt comfortable discussing such issues with pharmacists.
Age requirements for tattoos vary widely from state to state, but some do allow individuals under 18 years of age to get a tattoo, even without parent permission.
In the first few days of 2015, the investigators asked passersby in the French Quarter’s Jackson Square if they had at least one tattoo, then offered the 18-question survey. They ran the project between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when people were less likely to be tipsy, Mr. Liszewski said. Respondents came from 38 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico; most were from the Southeast, including 39% from Louisiana. Just over half were women, and the majority were white.
“We were also concerned that 21.2% received a tattoo while intoxicated, and 17.6% had at least one tattoo” done at someplace other than a tattoo parlor, he said. That means that if “patients have a lot of tattoos and you are trying to make small talk, feel free to ask them where they’re getting their tattoos done,” he added.
If tattoos were received at a party, or in prison or someplace else, “you may want to consider counseling them on HIV and hepatitis C testing,” Mr. Liszewski noted.
Just over 3% of the participants reported having had an infected tattoo, and while it’s normal for tattoos to be itchy and a little bit painful for the first week or two, 22.6% of the respondents said they had a pruritic tattoo, and 3.8% said they’d had a painful one a month or more after it was done.
“Tattoo complications are not uncommon,” Mr. Liszewski said. Given how much tattooed people seem to trust dermatologists, “there is an opportunity for dermatologists to manage these complications,” he added.
Mr. Liszewski said he had no disclosures.