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Tattoo sedation: Is it safe, and will the growing trend take hold?

Multiple celebrities have gone under anesthesia to get large tattoos, but is it safe and feasible for most people?
Tattoo sedation: Is it safe, and will the growing trend take hold?
Posted at 2:49 PM, Sep 19, 2023

Sitting through the process of getting a tattoo — including the needles — is part of getting a tattoo. But what if there were a way to bypass the pain, and get from point A to point B while under anesthesia?

Earlier this year, reports of Tyga going under anesthesia for a back tattoo surfaced. Photos show multiple tattoo artists working on Tyga at once. And in September, reports surfaced of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott undergoing anesthesia for 11 hours to get a large leg tattoo.

It’s a fairly new concept. The question is  — is it safe?

SEE MORE: Dak Prescott sedated for 11 hours to get massive leg tattoo

“Anesthesia is really a lot more complicated than just flipping a switch like turning off a light,” said Dr. John Baer, DO, an anesthesiologist and chair of anesthesia at Swedish Medical Center in Colorado.

“But those who have the money, the fame, they will find the places they can get this safely done, but still there’s always that inherent risk,” Dr. Baer said. “Back in the 1940s it was about 1 in 1,000 people would die from anesthesia,” he explained. "Now that number is closer to 1 in 100,000."

For tattoo artists, it may be a new tool. But it does come with skepticism and concerns.

“If there’s some negative things that come about from this, it will reflect poorly upon us professionals who are trying to do it safely, moderately,” said Ben Shaw with the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. He has been tattooing for 23 years.

If anything goes wrong during the medically-induced coma, it could be a problem. Even after the anesthesia wears off and tattoos are done, a person’s body could react to the ink or physical trauma of the needles.

“If there isn't an appropriate medical staff that is around to take care of those types of situations, then that's something that can become an even bigger concern of ours,” said Mick O’Herien, the vice president at the Alliance of Professional Tattooists.

Each state has different tattoo licensing requirements — states like Arizona don't require a license for tattoo artists, while states like Minnesota have a $420 licensing fee that has to be renewed every 2 years. However, all states require a client to be 18 before receiving a tattoo.

As for anesthesiologists, a physician specializing in anesthesiology must complete medical school and then a four-year anesthesiology residency program. Almost 75%of physician anesthesiologists are board certified, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

So it’s important for clients to make sure they do their homework and ask the right questions.

“The questions will be, who is gonna be administering the medication? What kind of sedation are they providing? Are they licensed? Are they trained in this?,” Dr. Baer said.

What about the price tag? Not only are you under doctor supervision, but sometimes multiple tattoo artists may be working at once.

“I think somewhere around $40,000 is kind of the price tag on some of these processes, because it's not something that can be done in a regular tattoo studio,” Shaw said.

The cost alone means it may not be an option for everyone.

“It seems to be something right now that the wealthier demographic, the celebrities, are starting to participate in because of the high price point,” Shaw said.

Despite the cost, Dr. Baer does think this process could generate more interest.

“The whole picture is done, you don't have to come back multiple times, and I can see how somebody might see some value in that,” he said.

However, there are some societal aspects to this as well. Many tattoo enthusiasts are proud to sit through the process to get their artwork done.

“You have to go through it to get to it. You have to go through the pain to get the reward of a tattoo. So when you see someone who is heavily tattooed, you know they can withstand pain, they know how to commit to something,” Shaw said.

@scrippsnews Would you go under #anesthesia to get a tattoo? Multiple celebrities have been in the spotlight for doing so, so we had an anesthesiologist and #tattoo ♬ original sound - Scripps News

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