Whether it is a scripture, a Chinese character, Mom’s name or angel wings, getting a tattoo is a ritual for many college students.

Another popular practice on college campuses is donating blood. The association of tattoos with the risks of getting diseases transmitted by dirty needles often goes away once the tattoo artist puts on their gloves and opens a new needle package, but until about two years ago, blood banks were not so assured.

Prior to July 1, 2010, individuals who had received a tattoo within 12 months were not allowed to donate blood.

The statute was originally instituted because tattoo parlors were not universally regulated or inspected for sanitary practices such as assessing the sanitation of the equipment or spaces where blood is present, said Emily Gibson, Western Health Center director.

Now, individuals can donate blood as long as they received their tattoo from a licensed parlor. Those who go to unlicensed tattoo artists or parlors still have to wait a year, Gibson said.

Whether a person plans to give blood or not, there are still precautions they should take when getting a tattoo. When checking out tattoo parlors or artists in Bellingham, ask to see a copy of their Washington state license, the date of the license and check to see if there have been any inspections of the premises, Gibson said.

These precautions may seem invasive or petty, but they can save people from diseases that have a higher chance of being transferred at an unlicensed parlor. Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS can all be transferred by blood contact.

It is important to note that just because an establishment is licensed does not mean patrons will be 100 percent free from any sort of infection or diseases, but the license ensures that acquiring something from getting a tattoo is much lower, Gibson said. Infections including staph, strep cellulites, ink allergy and colloid scarring can all occur from getting a tattoo.

Tattoos are another way of self-expression, and donating blood is an opportunity save a life. To efficiently and effectively participate in both of these acts, it is important to take the responsible steps prior to being pricked with any needle.

The process of donating blood is simple and starts with registration, said David Larsen, director of communications at the Puget Sound Blood Center. The next step is the screening process, that takes about 10 to 15 minutes. This determines if you are eligible to give blood on that day.

A few reasons why someone may be deferred from donating blood are: having a common cold, pregnancy, chronic conditions or having received a tattoo or piercing from an unlicensed facility in the past year.

Individuals with these symptoms or circumstances can be deferred from donating blood for anywhere between two weeks and one year, Larsen said.

After the screening process, the donator’s blood is tested for hemoglobin and iron, making sure the blood is healthy.
Then it’s time to donate, Larsen said. The donator gets on a table, chooses whichever arm they want to donate from, the technician then inserts the needle, and the typical draw takes 10 to 15 minutes, Larsen said.

After they're done, they get a band-aid, juice and a cookie.

“The purpose of that partly is to restore blood sugar as well as liquid to your body,” Larsen said. “Since they take a pint – most people have about 10 pints of blood in their body – so they approximately take one-tenth of your blood supply.”

Even after screening a potential donor for any issues or symptoms that might effect the quality and usage of their blood, the blood donated is tested within 24 hours after donation, in order to detect anything that the donor might not have noticed, Larsen said.