From the Journals

Tattoo artist survey finds almost half agree to tattoo skin with lesions


The importance of educating tattoo artists on identifying and being careful around skin with melanocytic nevi and other lesions was highlighted by the results of a survey of tattoo artists, according to a study from the University of Pittsburgh.

“While most of those surveyed reported deliberately avoiding nevi, a similar proportion reported either tattooing over them or simply deferring to the client’s preference,” wrote Westley S. Mori and his associates in the department of dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “This is concerning because few clients specifically ask tattoo artists to avoid skin lesions,” they added.

They surveyed 42 tattoo artists in July and August 2016 regarding their encounters with clients with skin lesions and their personal knowledge or experiences they may have had with skin cancer. Of those surveyed, 23 (55%) said they had declined to tattoo skin with a rash or lesion (JAMA Dermatology. 2017;153[4]:328-30).When asked about their reasoning for declining a client’s request, 21 (50%) of respondents said they did so because of a poor cosmetic outcome, while the next highest answer, a concern of potential skin cancer, was only cited by 12 (29%).

Most (74%) said there was no official store policy about tattooing over moles or other skin lesions. When asked about their approaches to tattooing skin with moles or other lesions, many said they choose to tattoo around the lesion (41%), tattoo over the lesion (19%), or defer to the client’s preferences (24%). However, with regards to deferring to a client, 29 artists (69%) reported never being asked to avoid a lesion.

Investigators noted that 12 respondents reported that they had identified a possible cancerous lesion on a client, followed by the same number of respondents reporting having recommended that a client see a dermatologist.

Tattoo artists who had seen a dermatologist for a skin examination were significantly more likely to refuse to tattoo a client with a lesion (P = .01) and recommend that the client see a dermatologist (P less than .001) when they had a lesion. Based on this response, the authors said that they believed that educating both clients and tattoo artists may be the best way to get tattoo artists to engage clients. “Our study highlights an opportunity for dermatologists to educate tattoo artists about skin cancer, particularly melanoma, to help reduce the incidence of skin cancers hidden in tattoos and to encourage appropriate referral to dermatologists for suspicious lesions on clients,” they concluded.

“When you perform a total body skin examination, it’s a little difficult to kind of tease out if a lesion looks suspicious or not if it’s surrounded by ink,” Mr. Mori, a medical student at the university, said in an interview. “Tattoos are becoming more and more common, especially among younger people, and incidence of melanoma has increased in younger populations as well. ... It is very concerning that skin cancers could be hidden in tattoos.”

In fact, Mr. Mori pointed out, there are opportunities for dermatologists to reach out to the tattoo artist community and start the communication process. “Tattoo artists have national conferences where they get together and discuss the state of the industry, and that represents one opportunity where dermatologists could talk about the effects of skin cancer,” he said.

The study was funded by the University of Pittsburgh. The authors reported no relevant financial disclosures.

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