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Consider health risks of tattoos

Rock stars, bikers, frat guys. You wouldn't think they'd have much in common, but one thing some of them do share is having had a name, picture or symbol permanently embossed on their skin one night in a drunken stupor.

But they aren't the only ones with a hankering for some ink.

Just the other day I came home from work to discover my roommate drawing on herself, happily announcing she wanted to get a tattoo and showing me the etching she had made on her ankle with a black ink pen.

It was just a test of what the real thing might look like, but she was serious about permanently engraving her zodiac sign onto her skin.

To be perfectly honest, I've thought about getting a tattoo - what it would be and where I would put it - but I never worked up the courage to actually have it done.

I guess I was always preoccupied by the permanency of the whole thing, the health risks and how it would look as I aged.

Whenever you're using needles, there's going to be a health risk.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate tattoo parlors or the inks they use, which could include the same industrial-grade pigments used in printer or car paint, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Some states have guidelines when it comes to tattoos, ranging from minimum age requirements to the outlawing of tattooing, like in Oklahoma.

In our state, you must be 18 years or older to get a tattoo. All tattoo parlors must have a license, and the Georgia Department of Human Resources and local boards of health have the right to regulate tattoo parlors for cleanliness and sterilization. In addition, tattooing near or on the eyes is against state law unless it is performed by a licensed physician.

This can take a little of the worry away, but there are other things to think about when considering a tattoo.

Unsterile tattoo equipment can transmit hepatitis B and C and well as other infectious diseases. There's the potential for an allergic reaction from the inks, which, in some cases, can result in rashes, hives and swelling of the area.

And what if you decide you've had it with using your body as a canvas?

The American Academy of Dermatology reports 24 percent of a group of 18- to 50-year-olds surveyed in 2004 reported regretting having their tattoos, and 17 percent considered having theirs removed.

Let's say you do look into having the thing removed. Just a few clicks through tattoo removal Internet sites shows the process can be expensive and often painful.

CNN reports one Atlanta doctor who charges more than $2,000 total for the multiple laser removal sessions needed to rid your skin of a medium-size tattoo.

While I've pretty much decided against my once-in-a-while thoughts of having that cross tattooed on my foot, I've got some convincing to do on my roommate.

Perhaps I can get her to stick to the semi-permanent ink of a Bic pen rather than the everlasting ink from a tattoo artist's stylus.

E-mail Melissa Wilson at melissa.wilson@gwinnettdailypost.com.