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Donating Blood with Tattoos: Can I Really Do Both?

Sam sitting on a bench.

Back in 2011, I got my first tattoo. A small piece on the outside of my right ankle that represents my relationship with my anxiety disorder, the love that I have for my late grandfather and a daily reminder to never quit. Fast forward eight years, and my love of tattoos has not waned in the slightest. I now have nearly 20 tattoos ranging from a large flying lemur to a small piece of pizza.

My tattoos are a visible reflection of who I am to the outside world, however what people can’t see is that I am also a committed blood donor. It’s difficult to work for an organization like the American Red Cross and not want to roll up your sleeves and help save lives. Luckily for me, my tattoo habit doesn’t keep me from donating blood.

Many people don’t know that you can still donate blood after you get a tattoo if the tattoo was applied by a state-regulated entity using sterile needles and ink that is not reused.

In fact, I got a tattoo last year in Washington State, where tattoo shops are regulated, so I was eligible to donate blood. After getting inked, I went to a blood donation center to give for the first time.

Sam standing in the blood center after her blood donation.

I was excited to tell my family and friends that I finally donated blood. However, I received a few surprising responses.

“You can’t donate blood. You have tattoos.”

“You just got a tattoo a few months ago, can you donate blood after that?”

Even after I explained the rules associated with having tattoos and donating blood, some people refused to believe me.

After experiencing those interactions, I decided that I wanted to do something to help de-stigmatize people with tattoos donating blood. So, I scheduled an appointment to get a new tattoo in Virginia, another state with regulated tattoo shops, and then scheduled another blood donation appointment a few days later.

I prepared for my tattoo the same way I did with all my previous tattoo appointments. I made sure to eat a big breakfast, grabbed some hard candies to snack on during the appointment and arrived promptly on time to meet with my artist, Troy. He showed me the design, prepped and placed the stencils, and then got started.

I planned to ask Troy questions about tattoos and donating blood but became too distracted by the pain to chat. However, based on conversations with previous artists, donating blood isn’t a topic that often comes up during appointments or consultations.

A few hours later I left the tattoo shop with some fresh ink, it’s literally the bees knees, and a smile on my face.

Fast forward five days and I made my way to my blood donation appointment.

The appointment started just like any other. I checked in, filled out my RapidPass® and waited to get taken back to an examination room.

Once in the room, my phlebotomist went through my health survey with me.  My fresh tattoo did come up, but once she confirmed that the tattoo shop I visited was regulated, she took me back and my donation went off without a hitch.

Sam standing with her phlebotomist during a blood donation.

Tattoos are a great form of self and artistic-expression and donating blood is a great way to give back to your community and help save lives. Lucky for me and my fellow tattoo enthusiasts, there is little keeping us from doing both.

Sam with her latest tattoo.

Make a Difference

Schedule a blood donation appointment to help save lives by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, using the Blood Donor App or Amazon’s Alexa by saying, “Alexa, find a blood drive.” To speed up the donation process like I did, complete a RapidPass® online health history questionnaire at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass on mobile devices and through the Red Cross Blood Donor App.