Harvard Health Letter

Tattoos: Leaving their mark

Getting one is pretty safe these days, but what if you have second thoughts and want a tattoo removed? Even today's pinpoint lasers may not get rid of it entirely.

People have been getting tattoos for millennia, but only recently has tattooing entered the American mainstream. In a 2004 telephone survey of Americans ages 18 to 50, a quarter of those interviewed said they had a tattoo. Now it's probably more.

With acceptance has come safety, although there's still a chance of infection, so it's important that equipment be sterilized and that tattooists wash their hands and wear gloves. In 2004 and 2005, 44 people were infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) by unlicensed tattooists, some of whom fashioned guitar string into needles and used ink from printer cartridges for dye.

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