Prevalence of body art (body piercing and tattooing) in university undergraduates and incidence of medical complications

Mayo Clin Proc. 2002 Jan;77(1):29-34. doi: 10.4065/77.1.29.


Objectives: To survey the prevalence of body art (body piercing and tattooing) in university undergraduate students and to determine the incidence of medical complications from these procedures.

Subjects and methods: Between February and May 2001, students were offered the opportunity to complete an anonymous, voluntary survey at the beginning of class or organizational meetings. The survey instrument requested information concerning body piercing and tattooing (current or removed) by body site, age, sex, height, weight, body mass index, undergraduate class, athletic status, and the occurrence of medical complications.

Results: Four hundred fifty-four (94.4%) of 481 students completed the survey (14.7% of total campus enrollment). The prevalence of body piercing was 51%, and that of tattooing was 23%. The chi2 analysis showed female students were more likely to be pierced than males (P=.002); there was no significant difference in the prevalence of tattooing by sex. Male athletes were more likely to be tattooed than male nonathletes (P=.02). No relationships were shown between piercing/tattooing and age or measures of body somatotype. The incidence of medical complications of piercing was 17%, and these complications included bleeding, tissue trauma, and bacterial infections. Pierced navels were particularly prone to infection. There were no reported medical complications from tattooing. Eighteen percent of piercings (58/315) and 4% of tattoos (6/149) had been removed.

Conclusions: Body art is prevalent among undergraduate university students, and there is a significant incidence of medical complications among students with piercing. Male athletes were significantly more likely to be tattooed than male nonathletes.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cosmetic Techniques / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hemorrhage / epidemiology
  • Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infections / epidemiology
  • Infections / etiology
  • Male
  • New York / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Punctures / adverse effects*
  • Risk Factors
  • Students / psychology
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tattooing / adverse effects*
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology