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Learn about the considerations for talking to your teen about tattoos, including how to identify a trusted tattoo studio and the potential complications of tattooing.

Key points

  • Tattoos are permanent images drawn on the body using one or more needles attached to a tattoo machine to insert ink under the top layer of the skin.
  • There is no legal age minimum for getting a tattoo in Canada, but most tattoo studios will not tattoo teens under the age of 18 without parental consent.
  • If your teen wants to get a tattoo, speak with them about the importance of getting their tattoo(s) from a studio that has been inspected and approved by public health.
  • Complications from tattoos can include infection of the tattoo itself, blood infection, allergic reaction, scarring or overgrowths of scar tissue (keloids), and areas of inflammation (granulomas).
  • Tattoo removal is not guaranteed and can be difficult and expensive.

What are tattoos?

Tattoos are permanent images drawn on the body using one or more needles attached to a tattoo machine. The needles rapidly pierce the skin to insert ink under the top layer of the skin. Tattoos can be put anywhere on the skin, although some areas are more painful or prone to fading than others.

Why do teens get tattoos?

Teens get tattoos for a number of different reasons. For example, some teens may want a tattoo:

  • to express their identity or make a fashion statement
  • because their friends or people they look up to have tattoos
  • to mark a significant event in their life
  • to show that they are part of a specific group or support a cause that is important to them
  • as part of a cultural tradition or rite of passage

What is the minimum age for getting a tattoo?

There is no legal age minimum for getting a tattoo in Canada, but most tattoo studios will not tattoo teens under the age of 18 without parental consent.

You and your teen will likely be asked to show proof of identity and sign a form saying you understand the risks of getting a tattoo before your teen gets one.

What if my teen wants a tattoo?

If your teen tells you they want to get a tattoo, talk with them about what kind of tattoo they want and why, the risks of getting a tattoo and how to identify a safe tattoo studio.

Tips for a positive conversation with your teen

Try to find a time when you and your teen are relaxed, in a private place for a conversation and where there will be no interruptions. Ask your teen about what tattoo they want (e.g., the design, size, location) and why and listen to their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Whether you agree or disagree with their point of view, try to avoid imposing your own values or dismissing their feelings. Teens are more likely to be receptive if they feel heard and if you calmly share your own feelings and concerns.

If you do not want your teen to get a tattoo at this time, consider whether you can compromise. For example, they may be able to get a smaller tattoo or get the tattoo in a more discrete location. Or perhaps you can agree on a date to revisit the conversation in the future or an age or goal your teen must reach before getting a tattoo. This can help delay the tattoo until a time you consider more appropriate for your teen. It can also give your teen time to make sure they are certain about the tattoo and to do research about the tattooing process and the risks of tattoos.

What are the risks of tattoos?

Your teen should understand that tattoos are permanent and can be difficult and expensive to remove. Although many people have tattoos, tattoos can have an impact on the way people respond to your teen. This may matter to some people, and it may not matter to others.

Because tattooing needles break the skin, there are several complications that can occur from tattoos:

  • An infection at the site of the tattoo, which can cause pain, redness and swelling. While the skin is healing, dirt and bacteria can get under the skin. Your teen can avoid infections by keeping the tattoo site clean. If the site does become infected, your teen should contact their health-care provider. There are antibiotic medications that can help treat the area.
  • A blood infection such as HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. This is usually from contaminated tattooing equipment. You can help protect your teen by making sure their hepatitis B and tetanus vaccines are up to date.
  • Allergic reaction. Although rare, it is possible to be allergic to the pigments used in tattoo ink. It is also possible for a person to develop an allergic reaction to tattoos they have had for years.
  • Tattoos can cause scarring or overgrowths of scar tissue (keloids). If your teen knows that know that their body is prone to keloids, they should probably not get a tattoo.
  • Tattoos can cause areas of inflammation (granulomas), which are nodules that form around material that the body thinks is foreign (such as tattoo pigment).

How to identify a safe tattoo studio

Your teen should make sure that they get their tattoo(s) from a studio that has been inspected and approved by public health. A studio that is in good standing will have tattoo artists who:

  • wash their hands with soap and water, and wear new gloves, before starting the tattoo
  • clean the skin with an antiseptic such as 70% alcohol before the tattooing begins
  • use a single-use disposable razor if a part of the body needs to be shaved before tattooing
  • use single-use disposable stencils to transfer the tattoo design onto the skin
  • use single-use, clean and sterile needles
  • use only unused pigments and trays
  • do not add the ingredient para-phenylenediamine (PPD) or hair dye to their ink
  • cover the tattoo with a non-stick bandage when the tattoo is finished
  • dispose of razors and needles in the proper biomedical waste containers
  • explain the tattooing process in detail and provide instructions on how to properly care for the tattoo(s) at home
  • will deny your teen service if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Consider scheduling a consultation with the tattoo artist before your teen gets their tattoo. This will give you a chance to visit the studio, meet the artist and ask questions about the tattooing process.

How to care for a tattoo at home

If your teen gets a tattoo, they should follow the care instructions provided by the tattoo studio. In general, the tips below should be followed 24 hours after your teen has received their tattoo for the next two to four weeks:

  • Gently wash the tattoo area twice a day with antimicrobial soap and water. Pat dry.
  • Apply a layer of antibacterial ointment or petroleum jelly after each wash.
  • Try not to wear clothes that will stick to the tattoo.
  • Avoid swimming and the sun.
  • Take cool showers to avoid irritating the skin and fading the ink.
  • Do not pick, scratch or peel any scabs that form. These are normal and will go away on their own.
  • If your teen thinks their tattoo is infected or is not healing properly, they should see their health-care provider.

Once the tattoo has healed, it is important to continue moisturizing the area daily and wear sunscreen anytime it is exposed to the sun.

What if my teen wants to remove a tattoo?

If your teen no longer wishes to have a tattoo, they can have it removed by a laser, which zaps the ink pigments with concentrated light to break it up. This makes it easier for the body’s immune system to gradually remove the ink from its place in the skin. Although the procedure is called tattoo removal, it is very difficult to completely remove a tattoo, especially if the tattoo is large and complex. Tattoo removal is also expensive and often needs to be done over a number of sessions. It also comes with its own possible complications, such as potential scarring. Before getting a tattoo, it is important to keep the challenges of tattoo removal in mind.

Last updated: March 24th 2023