While there are plenty of reasons for getting a tattoo, there are more reasons not to get one. The most serious ones are medical, but there are also practical considerations.
Risk of Infection
Tattoos increase risk of contracting infections or STD’s. Once contracted, they can require months or years of treatment, and still may not be curable. The risk is minimized if you go to a fully registered and licensed tattoo parlor, but it is still possible to contract a serious infection from a "safe" location. Even at fully vetted tattoo parlors, inking needles may have seen multiple customers before coming near you.
Interference in Medical Diagnoses
Aside from the risk of contracting an illness, there is also the chance that you may come down with an unrelated medical condition that has as one of its symptoms discoloration or distortion of parts of the skin. A doctor would have an idea of how to help you just by looking at said blemishes – but what if your tattoo obscures them? Admittedly, most doctors will have other tests they can perform to obtain a diagnosis, but a clear view of the skin could narrow down the range of tests required from dozens to just one.
Risk of Death
It may sound melodramatic, but for people with serious medical conditions, tattoos can present a very real risk to health and life. People with heart conditions, epilepsy, diabetes, hemophilia, and allergies should not get tattoos. The list also includes those who have had organ transplants, anyone on blood thinners, and those who are pregnant or nursing. Both the conditions and the medications for them can affect the body’s ability to survive tattooing. It is not only the risk of infection from inking needles that should be considered. Sometimes the ink itself can lead to serious health complications by interfering with medications. In the case of pregnant or nursing women, the chances of passing infection or toxic chemicals from the tattoo to the baby are great.
A caveat: Although not normally considered a serious medical condition, acne should be thought of as one in the context of tattooing. Some prescription acne medications cause hypersensitivity of the skin. This will not usually cause death, but can lead to severe scarring on tattoos. Acne patients who want to be tattooed should wait at least six months after stopping the medication to reduce that risk.
Practical Reasons Not to Get a Tattoo
Employment and Military Enlistment
Tattoos can reduce your chances of getting hired for a job or being accepted into the armed forces. Visible tattoos would contradict the reputation for respectability and trustworthiness most companies strive for. Tattoos also run the risk of offending or discomfiting your potential colleagues. Even if you are accepted at a job, if the company needs to downsize, chances are you will be among the first in the line of fire. Employers have been known to cut the least savory-seeming employees ahead of any other consideration – and they are legally allowed to do so.
Those aspiring to join the military with visible tattoos, no matter how qualified, will be turned away until those tattoos are removed.
In many societies, tattoos are thought to signify low or dangerous character. Those with tattoos have been known to be mistaken for gang members by both "respectable" people and people who are really in gangs (the latter of which can be dangerously territorial). There is also the chance others might take the tattoo to represent loose morals. Especially for women, this can attract an unpleasant group of unwanted suitors.
You loved someone so much you put his (or her) name on your skin. Now you are no longer with that person and you want to forget all about them. Your tattoo proves your gang loyalty, but you got out of that life ages ago. Your awesome foreign-language tattoo doesn’t mean what you thought it meant; it’s actually something quite embarrassing about your personal habits. The design looked great on paper and is a mess on your body. You need to get rid of it fast!
And that leads to the best practical reason for not getting a tattoo: they are permanent.
There are tattoo removal services. However, these work only if you are not in a hurry and have plenty of money to spare. Removal services can cost several thousand dollars and take months to fully erase even small images. Some insurance companies will cover tattoo removal, but only for specific medical reasons ("the sight of his name on my arm makes me physically ill" is not a medical reason).
If you are thinking of getting a tattoo, keep in mind the risks to your future – physical, social, and financial – before going ahead with it.