Healthy living

Preparing yourself for body art

Body artists suggest that you consider these points before getting any body art:

  • If you are considering multiple tattoos or piercings, start with a small one to see how you manage the procedure and the after-care of your body art.
  • Be as healthy as possible. If you’re sick it will slow down the healing process and you’ll have greater risk of getting a local infection.
  • Avoid alcohol for at least 24 hours before and after a procedure. Alcohol in your bloodstream tends to increase bleeding during a procedure and can delay the healing process.

If you are getting a tattoo:

  • Speak to your body artist before the procedure if you have multiple allergies or sensitive skin. The tattoo studio may be able to offer you a patch test to see if you’re allergic to the inks before you go ahead with the full procedure.
  • Ask the studio to apply a stencil of the design if you are unsure where you want the tattoo or which style to get. This will allow you to ‘wear’ the tattoo and make decisions about it before you commit to the full procedure.

If you are getting a piercing:

  • Talk to your body artist about your jewellery choice. If you want to use your own jewellery for the piercing, take it to the studio the day before so it can be checked and sterilised. Jewellery you buy from places other than body piercing studios may not be sterile or a suitable quality or size.
Before your procedure

The body artist wants you to be comfortable and safe. At the same time they need to take care of their own interests and health, so there are a few things they will ask you to do. You will need to:

  • provide proof of your age
  • give them your relevant medical history, particularly any infectious skin diseases or other communicable diseases (diseases that can be passed to other people) you may have
  • tell them about any metal or chemical allergies you have
  • let them know if you have any problems with skin healing, especially keloid scarring (keloids are raised scars, more common in people with dark skin)
  • talk about the style of body art and where you want it placed
  • tell them whether you have had alcohol or other drugs that day. Most body artists will not work on people who are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Make it a comfortable experience

If you’re nervous about the procedure, there are some things you can do to feel more comfortable.

  • Take a friend with you for moral support.
  • On the day make sure that you have eaten something and have had enough fluid to drink so that you are not dehydrated.
  • Some procedures can be painful, but the pain can pass quickly if there are no complications. Breathing exercises can help you relax. Some people feel lightheaded or faint afterwards. This is due to a change in blood levels of adrenaline and the body’s natural painkillers.
  • If you know what to expect you can deal with it better. Also let the tattoo artist know how you’re feeling.
Potential health risks of body art

Whenever you consider any kind of body art you need to remember there is always a risk of infection. Even something as straightforward as ear piercing carries this risk.

Physical risks

There are a number of physical risks associated with body art. These can include:

  • scarring
  • rejection (where the body pushes a piercing out)
  • embedding (where skin grows over the piercing)
  • tearing
  • nerve damage
  • excessive bleeding.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that your body art may be permanent and you may regret it in the future.

Bacterial infections

There are also numerous bacterial infections that can be spread through poor hygiene standards or by you not following your aftercare instructions.

Such infection can damage the appearance of your body art and even become life threatening.

Blood-borne viruses

Blood-borne viruses (BBV) can be transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. It is important all equipment used for tattooing and body piercing is correctly sterilised to avoid exposure to other people’s blood and the transmission of BBVs, including:

Other potential risks

In addition to infection, some body art – depending on its type and location – carries other serious risks.

Mouth, lips and tongue piercings

Risks can include:

  • potential blocking of the airway or difficulty breathing due to swelling
  • difficulty speaking or chewing
  • possible oral surgery to retrieve lost or submerged objects within the tongue tissue
  • mouth irritation or damage to teeth and gums if the wrong jewellery is used
  • damage to nerves in the tongue, which can in turn lead to:
    • swelling
    • airway obstruction
    • increased amount of saliva
    • permanent numbness
    • loss of taste.

Tongue splitting

Risks can include:

  • speech impediment (disruption to normal speech)
  • numbness
  • loss of taste.

Eyebrow piercings

This can damage the nerves responsible for eyelid movement.

Nipple piercing

A risk associated with nipple piercing is the inability to breastfeed.

Piercings of the skin’s surface (neck, wrist or forearms) or beading (three dimensional body art)

There is a risk that the skin tension will put pressure on the jewellery, causing it to be rejected (pushed out) of the skin.

Choosing the right body artist

Most people go to established studios for their body art. These studios are required by law to work with high standards of infection control.

Do not consider letting friends or people who are not professionally registered body artists, or working outside established business premises, do your tattoo or piercing.

You should not get body art overseas, particularly in developing countries, as the risk of contracting diseases may be higher. There is also limited aftercare available.

How to choose your body artist

Consider thepoint below.

  • Cheap is not always good. Compare the prices you need to pay for good quality work.
  • Shop around – ask friends who have good work done what studios they recommend.
  • Find a studio where you feel comfortable and where staff are happy to answer your questions.
  • Select a studio that has an ‘aftercare service’ so you can have follow-up visits to check the work and get help for any problems.
  • When choosing a body artist don’t go by the art on the walls. Ask to see examples of the body artist’s personal work – if they can’t show you, find another studio.
  • Most studios have body artists who are members of the professional associations of their industry. These require that members meet professional standards of infection control and artwork.  Ask if your body artist belongs to a professional association.
  • Don’t be taken in by claims of studios being Department of Health approved, as this is a false claim. Studios need to be approved by local government, but this is more about standards for premises than about art technique or infection control standards.
What to expect from your body artist

To meet infection control standards and regulations your body artist should follw the below.

  • Know about current body art legislation and guidelines and be able to talk about it with you.
  • Have a clean and tidy, well-lit studio. The body artist should be clean and tidy too.
  • Wash their hands at the beginning and end of the procedure. They should also wash their hands if they take a break during the procedure, such as to answer the phone.
  • Clean and disinfect your skin thoroughly before starting the procedure.
  • Wear new disposable gloves throughout the procedure. Once the artist puts on gloves, they should touch nothing except your skin, the needle, the jewellery or the tattooing machine. A good body artist will change gloves many times during the course of a procedure.
  • Use sterile equipment. The artist should also be able to explain how equipment is sterilised and have a functioning autoclave on the premises.
  • Use new needles, razors and other equipment for skin penetration and throw them out immediately after use.
  • Transfer any tattooing inks into sterile containers and discard the inks following the procedure (they should not return them to stock).
  • Have everything that is used to penetrate your skin in sterile, sealed bags that are opened in front of you.
  • Only use preparation equipment, such as stencils and spatulas, once.
  • Put cleaning solutions, creams and anything else that is used on your skin onto single-use disposable containers.
  • Clean the work areas between clients.
  • Assure you that any jewellery used for body piercing is new. Recycled jewellery can have tiny scratches which can irritate a new piercing and cause infection.
Stud guns

Stud guns are available that are designed for ear lobes, noses and navels (belly buttons).  Do not let anyone pierce any other part of your body with a stud gun other than the area for which it has been designed. For example, don’t let anyone use an ear piercing gun on your nose, or vice versa. It should be written on the gun as to which area the gun is intended for.

Piercings to other body parts should be performed using sterile needles, which are single use only.

If you are getting pierced with a stud gun, ask if it uses a sterile, single use, cartridge and that the body artist meets the same requirements as for any other body piercing.

More information


  • Start with a small design or piercing before committing to larger, more obvious body art.
  • Talk to your body artist about any allergies, infectious diseases, or skin problems you may have.
  • Consider choosing a studio with an after-care service, so they can offer advice if any problems arise.
  • Make sure your body artist follows good health and hygiene practises.
  • Whenever you consider any kind of body art you need to remember there is always a risk of infection. 


Last reviewed: 22-07-2024
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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