Outlining the effects of body art

Sonia Zaacks, Executive Features Editor

While taking her earring out after an Orchesis rehearsal, senior Nicole Sasaki realized the backing was stuck inside her earlobe and sought help from her mother to retrieve the piece. Months later, she experienced another complication, this time with her double piercing. 

“I got the earring out and everything, but it was just, like, really swollen,” said Sasaki. “We went to the hospital just to check it out, and they were like, ‘A clump of bacteria just … formed in your ear.’”

Sasaki said she has been to the hospital twice for problems related to her piercings, mainly due to infections in the earlobe.

According to dermatologist Michael Fretzin, M.D., the most common problems that can arise from body piercings are infections, such as staph or bacterial infections. Piercings can also cause irregular scarring and deformity. 

“You should go to someone respectable to [get a piercing] so it’s done in a clean [and] sterile manner, and at that point [risk of infection] shouldn’t matter very much,” Fretzin said in a phone interview.

Some forms of body art, specifically tattoos and piercings, may lead to infections, bleeding and allergic reactions, according to physician Michael Bukhalo, M.D. in a phone interview. Since the most common metals used in piercings are nickel, gold and silver, it may be easier to identify the material someone is allergic to from piercings, whereas tattoo ink can contain many different metals. 

“[In tattoo ink], every color has different metals,” said Bukhalo. “For example, blue color usually comes from … cobalt, and if you’re allergic to cobalt, you’re going to have an allergic reaction.”

While Sasaki plans to get more piercings in the future, she said she will be more particular about the shops she chooses as well as taking care of the area to prevent infections.

According to Bukhalo, for those who want tattoos or piercings, researching the body artist and the techniques utilized in the procedures are important to ensure the best possible outcome.

Matt Pearl, tattoo artist at Timeless Tattoos Chicago, said in a phone interview that tattoos are a form of self-expression. The tattoo instruments used where he works are sterile and disposable, intended for one-time use. 

“I think tattoos are definitely a good way [to express oneself],” said Pearl. “The things you like when you are 18 are going to be different from the things you like when you’re 35. So you might not like those decisions later on, but you’re going to have them on your body forever.” 

According to Fretzin, while it is possible to remove a tattoo, the results are not usually perfect. The modern way to remove tattoos is through lasers, but certain colors cannot be removed easily.

“[Tattoos are] real painful to get rid of, and some colors don’t fully go away,” said Fretzin. “You may be able to get 80 percent gone, but the rest you just kind of have to live with.”