How Tattoos and Piercings Affect Your Ability to Donate Blood

Updated 04/29/19
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Donating blood platelets and plasma has always been a noble effort to help those experiencing medical conditions that require transfusions. Occasionally, though, circumstances such as weather, illness outbreaks, transportation problems, and the like prevent would-be donors from getting to a donor clinic. Still, other reasons people aren't able to donate arise from issues among the individuals themselves: certain medications, medical conditions, and yes, new tattoos and piercings. If you get inked or pierced, your ability to donate blood might be affected, at least for a while.

Determining Your Eligibility: Tattoos

In general, tattoos won't preclude you from giving blood unless you got a new one within the last year. You won't get the go-ahead to donate blood at a Red Cross facility for 12 months if you live in a state that does not regulate tattoo facilities. As of March 2018, these include:

  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

If you received your tattoo in any other state, you should be able to donate as long as your tattoo artist used sterile needles and fresh ink (not reused). Laws are always changing, however; blood banks occasionally update their regulations, as well. For those reasons, it's a good idea to discuss your situation first with someone at the facility where you plan to donate.

Determining Your Eligibility: Piercings

If you recently got a new piercing, you need to know that the instruments your piercer used were sterile and disposable (one-time use only). If you have any doubt, you must wait a full year before giving blood. This is because non-sterile equipment and practices can transmit hepatitis, which you can pass along in your blood donation.

What Happens at the Blood Bank

When you go to a blood bank to give plasma, a staff member will ask you a series of questions to determine if you are eligible to donate. You'll be asked about conditions, circumstances, lifestyle choices, and more that can predispose you to certain diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, and other common bloodborne ailments. Be prepared to answer questions about your sexual history, current health status, medications, and more, including whether or not you have gotten a tattoo or piercing within the last 12 months.

Although tattooing and piercing are much safer than some medical professionals tend to indicate, there is still always a chance of getting and carrying a disease unknowingly—especially hepatitis. This disease, in particular, has been the concern of many heated arguments and stringent regulations. If you happened to contract a disease from a tattoo or piercing, it should show up in a blood screening after 12 months, which is the reason for the waiting period. This may seem overly cautious to you, but consider how you'd feel if you were on the receiving end of the blood.

If there's even a slight chance of contamination, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Ethical Considerations

If you're among the many folks who enjoy self-expression in body art such as tattoos and piercings, and if giving blood is an important activity for you, you have a very important decision to make. For you, the sacrifice of giving blood entails more than just giving up some of the red stuff; it might even mean that you put off a tattoo or piercing for a while if your local blood bank is experiencing a shortage and you'd like to help. On the other hand, you're not selfish to decide in favor of body art, as long as you don't forget that helping others will always provide you with even more satisfaction.

There is a middle ground: If you can't give your blood, give your time, money, and love instead through volunteer work.

The only bad decision here is lying about your tattoo or piercing history. Remember: Someone's life may depend on your honesty.

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