How Tattoos and Piercings Affect Your Ability to Donate Blood

Donating blood or plasma can save lives. And that's exactly why the process should be treated very delicately, and you and the donation center should take it very seriously that there are rules and criteria that determine whether you're a safe donor. Certain medications, medical conditions, and yes, even new tattoos and piercings can be red flags.

Keep scrolling to learn how and why a new tattoo or piercing, among other issues, might affect your eligibility to be a blood donor.

Can You Donate Blood If You Have Tattoos?

In general, tattoos won't preclude you from giving blood unless you got one done within the last year. According to the Red Cross, you are not eligible to donate blood for 12 months if you got a tattoo in any of the following states that do not regulate tattoo shops:

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

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

Can You Donate Blood If You Have a Piercing?

If you recently got a piercing, you need to be 100-percent sure 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.

Why Blood Banks Are Cautious

Although licensed tattoo and piercing services are relatively safe, 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 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; that's the reason for the waiting period.

What to Expect at the Screening

When you go to a blood bank, a staff member will ask you a series of questions to determine if you're eligible to donate. Be prepared to answer questions about your sexual history, current health status, medications, lifestyle, and more, including whether or not you've gotten a tattoo or piercing within the last 12 months.

According to the American Red Cross, here are other things that might prevent you from being able to donate:

  • Fever above 99.5 F
  • Certain antibiotics, since you may have an infection that could be transferable by blood
  • Certain medications or vaccines
  • Blood transfusions in the US in the last 12 months, or in France or the UK since 1980 (the latter is connected to mad cow disease)
  • Blood cancer, including leukemia and lymphoma
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
  • Ebola virus
  • Heart disease or heart-related symptoms within the last six months
  • Hemochromatosis, a hereditary condition in which the body has excess iron
  • Jaundice, as this is a potential symptom of hepatitis
  • Jail or prison time longer than three days, since you may have been exposed to hepatitis in the facility
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Organ transplants within the last 12 months
  • If you've traveled to or lived in a country where there's a high malaria risk
  • Pregnancy or if you've given birth in the last six months
  • Sexually transmitted diseases within the last 12 months
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Tuberculosis

If any of this seems overly cautious, consider how you'd feel if you were the recipient of the blood. If there's even a slight chance of contamination, it's better to be safe than sorry. And it should go without saying, but you should be 100-percent honest when answering every question, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

Once you're in the clear, you can find a blood drive via the American Red Cross.

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