Preparing for a tattoo or piercing

If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo or a body or facial piercing, you’re not alone. Many young people find tattoos and piercings a way to express their individuality and personal style.

It’s important that you know the laws as well as the health issues around tattoos and piercings before you get one. Reputable studios have minimum age limits (often 16) and will not pierce or tattoo you if you are underage. Be sure to check with your studio of choice about age restrictions before you make an appointment.

Piercing risks

While most oral (tongue, lip, cheek and gum) and genital piercings done in reputable, licensed studios will heal well, there are higher risks associated with these sensitive areas. While gum and tooth damage (including chips and cracks) are the most common consequences of oral piercings, there are other risks to consider as well. If a tongue piercing is improperly placed, it can lead to nerve damage, which can cause numbness or difficulty swallowing. Infections are also possible, and, in extreme cases, can lead to brain infections or even death.

Genital piercings can also lead to unwanted complications, including nerve damage that can cause erectile dysfunction and/or loss of sensation, increased risk of contracting STIs during unprotected sex, and serious bacterial infection.

It’s also important that the studio you visit obeys health and safety laws. Here are some things to keep in mind about tattoo and piercing safety:

  • Tattoos and piercings break the skin, which can leave you vulnerable to skin infections, STIs, and HIV.
  • Tattooing or piercing with unsterile equipment can put you at risk for viruses that are spread through blood, like Hepatitis C, B, or HIV.
  • Some people experience severe skin reactions to tattoo ink, especially red and yellow inks.
  • Some people experience allergic reactions to certain types of piercing jewellery.
  • Piercing can cause nerve damage, meaning that you may experience numbness or loss of feeling near the piercing.
  • Piercing can lead to permanent scarring or keloids, which are growths of scar tissue that rise up from the surface of the skin. Keloids may be skin-colored or shades of pink or purple.

"I'm not totally sure"

Because they’re permanent, tattoos are worth putting some real thought into. Tattoo removal can be a long, painful, and expensive process, and it isn’t always successful. If you feel rushed or pressured while you’re at the studio, or at any point become unsure, it’s OK to leave – even if you’ve already booked an appointment. Tattoos are an important decision, so it’s crucial that you are 100% sure before you commit.

If you have visible tattoos or piercings, they can attract attention from others and, in some cases, limit your chances of getting hired for jobs (for this reason, many tattoo studios will refuse to tattoo faces or hands). While tattoos and piercings are more common than ever, some people will judge you for having them, so think about how sensitive you might be to what they have to say.

How to tell if a studio is safe

Tattoo and piercing studios are monitored by municipal (citywide) public health units, but bad and unsafe studios are definitely out there. Here’s what to look for in a good studio:

  • The studio is clean.
  • You’ve heard good things about the place. You might think about going to a studio where a friend has had a good experience.
  • Make sure that the studio uses only new, sterilized needles and that they open all packaging in front of you.
  • Tattooists and piercers should always wear new latex or vinyl gloves when they work on you.
  • Shaving razors, which are sometimes used to trim body hair before a tattoo or piercing, should be used only once and then thrown away.
  • Piercing guns should never be used for body piercing. If the piercer wants to use a piercing gun anywhere other than your earlobes, LEAVE.
  • Look for a sharps container, which is used for disposing of needles and razors. Usually, this is a yellow bin with lettering that indicates it’s for biohazard waste.

Ask the right questions

A good tattoo and piercing studio will take the time to answer your questions. Definitely walk out of a studio where they don’t treat you with respect, or seem more interested in getting your money than giving you a good piercing or tattoo experience. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Can I see your portfolio?
  • How long have you been tattooing/piercing?
  • Has your studio received a spore test certificate? (Spore tests check that the equipment is sterilized.) If you don’t want to ask this question, look for it in the studio. It should be displayed somewhere visible, like on the wall, and it should be up to date.
  • What kind of jewellery do you use? All piercing jewellery should be high-quality medical-grade stainless steel or titanium.
  • Do you use new ink for every tattoo?
  • Do you have some aftercare instructions that I can take with me after my tattoo/piercing?
  • How much do you charge for tattoos/piercings?
  • How long will it take to heal? Do you have any plans, such as a camping trip or other vacation that might make it harder for you to take care of your new tattoo or piercing? If so, you might want to hold off.

"I don’t know what I want"

If you want a big or a customized tattoo, it’s a good idea to save up some money and wait to find the right image and artist. On a consultation, bring pictures to the tattoo studio, so you and the artist can come up with an original drawing; something that’s really yours. It can take a while to find a tattoo artist you’re comfortable with, but since you’re going to have your tattoo for a long time, it’s worth waiting for the right artist. An artist you are comfortable with will get your style and want to give you a great tattoo.


Talk to your piercer or tattooist beforehand if you’re worried about how much it will hurt. Piercings don’t usually hurt as much or for as long as tattoos. Tattoos hurt while they’re being done, as well as for a couple of days afterward. Some areas of the body are more sensitive to pain than others.


Piercings vary in cost, depending on the studio, the type of piercing you want, and the kind of jewellery used. The cost of a tattoo depends on where you have it done, how big or small it is, and whether the tattoo is custom (one of a kind) or flash (wall) art. Tattoos can range in price from less than $100 to many thousands of dollars.

Before a tattoo or piercing

Eating a good meal and drinking plenty of water before a tattoo or piercing will your body manage pain. Never get a tattoo or piercing when you’re drunk or high. Not only will you be more likely to regret your choice later, you will also bleed more, since alcohol thins your blood. Excessive bleeding during a tattoo makes it harder for the artist to work, and can also “push” inks out of your skin, which means your tattoo won’t be as sharp or bright as it would be if the work were done while you’re sober.

DIY piercing

Piercings should never be done at home, and they should never be done by anyone other than a professional. Professional piercers have special equipment, know where nerves are on the face and body, and know what to do in the case of infection. Home piercings run a higher risk for infection, nerve damage, keloids and other things that can cause temporary or permanent pain and damage.

Keep reading for how to take care of a new tattoo or piercing.

Last Reviewed September 2012 by the Kids Help Phone Counselling Team
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