Thinking about getting a tattoo? It’s essential to get your ink done safely. Whether you’re new to tattoos or a seasoned pro, understanding the connection between tattoos and hepatitis C (hep C) can go a long way in keeping you safe.

Hep C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus, also known as HCV. It can cause serious health problems, like liver damage or liver cancer. While some people only experience hep C as a short-term infection, more than half of people with HCV develop a long-term, chronic infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When you get a tattoo, tiny needles puncture the skin. Since you can contract HCV through contact with blood, one of the most common ways people can pass on the virus is by sharing needles. That’s why safe tattooing practices can protect people from contracting or passing on HCV.

If you’re getting ink done, here’s what you need to know.

Your tattoo parlor should be squeaky clean, with sterilized equipment and new needles for each customer. Plus, the tattoo artist should be decked out in personal protective equipment (aka, PPE). Still, there’s a chance of contracting HCV from getting a tattoo.

Improper or nonprofessional protocols performed by tattoo artists, like reusing needles or not sterilizing equipment, can increase the chance of contracting HCV by as much as 2 or 3 times.

Tattoo artists should always wear gloves and use separate containers of tattoo ink for each client. If they are dipping a needle into a big container used for other clients, head straight for the door.

In addition to bloodborne infections like hep C, tattoos come with risks like any other procedure. Developing an infection is one of the top risks associated with getting ink done. Infections can appear as rashes, redness or discoloration, bumps, or in more serious forms like high fever, shaking, chills, or sweats.

You might need antibiotics to cure an infection, and the most severe forms can even result in hospitalization or surgery. Other risks include developing scar tissue around the tattoo, allergies to tattoo ink, and swelling.

According to the CDC, research doesn’t currently show that hep C spreads at licensed, commercial spots. But do some serious research on your tattoo artist or establishment.

Check reviews to see if the individual or tattoo parlor has ever received complaints or experienced health-related problems in the past, and check with your local or state health department to see if the artist or tattoo parlor has the proper licenses.

When getting a tattoo, double-check that your tattoo artist wears surgical-grade PPE, including gloves and a mask, and uses sterilized equipment and new needles for your artwork. You’ll also want to check that your tattoo ink will be poured into separate small containers and not used out of a shared jar.

You can still get a tattoo if you have hep C, but it’s important to be upfront with your tattoo artist. Some artists might turn down the work to prevent potentially passing the infection on, while others might ask you to wait until you complete treatment for hep C. You can also find a tattoo artist trained in tattooing people with hep C.

Some people have a higher chance of contracting HCV, including people with an HIV infection, individuals who received transfusions or organ transplants, and folks who work in healthcare, emergency medical, or public safety fields.

You can pass on hep C through:

  • shared injection equipment and personal items
  • birth (6 percent of infants born to mothers with the infection will get hep C)
  • healthcare exposures
  • sex without a condom or other barrier method
  • unregulated tattoos or body piercings
  • blood transfusions and organ transplants

You can prevent hep C with some lifestyle changes. First, be sure to never share personal items, like razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes, or other products that have potentially come in contact with blood, even trace amounts.

Having sex with a condom or other barrier method can also help prevent the spread of hep C through sexual intercourse. Lastly, the reason we’re all here: Getting tattoos from reputable, safe establishments and tattoo artists can help prevent the spread of hep C.

While tattoos come with health risks, there are steps you and your tattoo artist can take to help keep hep C from spreading.

If you’re living with hep C, you can still get a tattoo (as long as you’re open and upfront with your tattoo artist) safely and healthily. There’s no surefire way to prevent all tattoo risks, but you can still reduce those risks.