By Linda Carroll

(Reuters Health) – Parents who’ve said “no” to teen tattoos need not feel alone. A new U.S. survey finds that 78 percent of parents wouldn’t even consider allowing their teenager to get inked.

The nationally-representative poll asked parents of kids between the ages of 13 and 18 for their attitudes about tattoos. Most, 75 percent, thought the earliest a teen should be allowed to have a tattoo was at age 18 or older, according to the results published by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

Those numbers include some parents who have tattoos themselves: 32 percent of those surveyed.

The subject had not yet come up in many households, with just 27 percent of parents of teens aged 16 to 18, and 11 percent of parents of kids aged 13 to 15 reporting that their child had asked about getting body art. Five percent of parents said their teen already had a tattoo.

“It’s important for parents to know what other parents are thinking,” said Dr. Gary Freed, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan and the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor and co-director of the National Poll on Children’s Health. “It is increasingly becoming a topic of conversation in homes across America.”

A Pew Research Center study found that some 38 percent of young people aged 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo.

Among Mott Poll participants, 1 in 10 parents said a tattoo would be “okay” as a reward or to mark a special occasion. Those parents were among the 22 percent who weren’t adamantly opposed to tattoos in teens, Freed said.

Freed thinks that parents whose children have insisted that everyone else is getting a tattoo will be encouraged by the new survey results.

Parents’ biggest worries involved the potential health effects of getting inked: 53 percent said that they were very concerned about infection or scarring, while 50 percent said they were very concerned about diseases such as hepatitis or HIV being transmitted to their teen through unsanitary needles.

That doesn’t mean parents were completely anti-tattoo. Nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, agreed that getting a tattoo is a form of self-expression similar to hair dying and clothing choices.

Nevertheless, they expressed concerns that tattoos might have social consequences. Half of parents surveyed were very concerned that an employer might judge or stereotype their teen unfavorably because of a tattoo, while 24 percent worried that a teen tattoo would reflect badly on the parents themselves. The biggest concern, however, was that teens might come to regret getting a tattoo later on.

Parents’ concerns about the potential for future regret are certainly justified, said Dr. Sarah Chamlin, a professor of pediatrics and dermatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

“Most tattoos cannot be completely removed,” said Chamlin, who was not involved with the new survey. “It is a permanent decision in many cases.”

Often there’s a hint of the tattoo left in the skin even after the body art is removed, Chamlin said. “Look at the movie stars who have tried to remove theirs and you can often still see the tattoo faintly.”

The risk for health effects is also real, Chamlin said. “There are a number of problems we’ve seen with tattoos,” she added. “There can be allergic reactions to skin dyes. An itchy rash at the site can show up years later. You can also get a skin infection and scarring.”

Complications such as transmission of blood-borne diseases are less likely “so long as the practitioners are safely using their equipment and keeping it clean,” Chamlin said.

To avoid those kinds of issues, Freed suggests caution in choosing a tattoo artist: “Make sure if you do get a tattoo that the tattoo artist wears gloves and that everything gets sterilized.”

SOURCE: Mott Poll Report, online August 20, 2018.