Women and Tattoos: Fashion, Meaning, and Implications for Health

J Midwifery Womens Health. 2019 Mar;64(2):154-169. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12932. Epub 2019 Feb 26.


Tattooing is a type of body modification that is both ancient and modern. Tattooing is rapidly increasing in popularity and prevalence, especially among younger people. Therefore, health care providers require knowledge about this form of artistic expression, including potential health implications and psychosocial significance. Tattooing is richly laden with cultural and personal meaning, but despite the increasingly mainstream status of this art form, individuals with tattoos may experience stigma, stereotyping, and discrimination in their personal and professional lives. The legal and regulatory aspects of tattoos have lagged behind the rapid growth of this art form, causing confusion and variation in practice. Particularly concerning is the multitude of largely unregulated tattoo inks marketed for human use but untested on humans. Common and uncommon side effects and complications of this procedure include hypersensitivity, infection, and regret. More women than men are now tattooed, and tattooing is associated with important implications for women's health care, including pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Because of the frequency of regret, many individuals wish to be rid of previously acquired body art. Therefore, health care providers also need to be conversant with tattoo removal: motivations, techniques, risks, and factors influencing success. Familiarity with the many dimensions of body art will facilitate safe, compassionate health care provision and will enhance the therapeutic relationship enjoyed by clinicians and the individuals they serve.

Keywords: body art; body modification; culture; human body; ink; midwifery; nontherapeutic; primary health care; social behavior; tattoo removal; tattooing.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Coloring Agents / adverse effects
  • Creativity
  • Dermatitis / etiology
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Infections / etiology
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Needles / adverse effects
  • Social Perception
  • Social Stigma
  • Tattooing / history*
  • Tattooing / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Tattooing / psychology*


  • Coloring Agents