If you have a tattoo, you can only donate blood if you meet certain criteria. A good rule of thumb is that you may not be able to give blood if your tattoo is less than 3 months old.

This goes for piercings and all other nonmedical injections on your body, too.

Introducing ink, metal, or any other foreign material into your body affects your immune system and may expose you to harmful viruses. This can affect what’s in your bloodstream, especially if you got your tattoo somewhere that isn’t regulated or doesn’t follow safe practices.

If there’s a chance that your blood has been compromised, the donation center won’t be able to use it. Keep reading to learn about the eligibility criteria, where to find a donation center, and more.

Giving blood after recently getting a tattoo can be dangerous. Though uncommon, an unclean tattoo needle can carry a number of bloodborne viruses, such as:

People with new tattoos have traditionally been advised to wait a year before giving blood in order to reduce their risk of unknowingly transmitting these viruses.

However, in April 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated their recommendations and proposed a recommended deferral period of 3 months. If you’ve contracted a bloodborne illness, detectable antibodies will likely appear during this three-month period.

That said, you may be able to donate blood in under 3 months if you got your tattoo at a state-regulated tattoo shop. State-regulated shops are routinely monitored for safe and sterile tattooing practices, so the risk of infection is low.

Some states have opted out of regulation, so don’t hesitate to ask your preferred artist about their qualifications beforehand.

You should only work with licensed artists who tattoo out of state-regulated shops. Oftentimes, their certifications are prominently displayed on the shop walls.

Getting a tattoo at a tattoo shop that’s not state-regulated makes you ineligible to donate blood for 3 months.

States that don’t require tattoo shops to be regulated include:

  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Maryland
  • Nevada, although state laws are under development
  • New York, although state laws are under development
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

However, some cities or counties within these states may regulate their tattoo shops at the local level.

State-regulated tattoo shops are required to meet certain safety and health standards in order to avoid contaminating their customers’ blood with bloodborne conditions. These standards can’t be guaranteed in unregulated tattoo shops.

You often can’t donate blood for 3 months after getting a piercing, either.

Like tattoos, piercings can introduce foreign material and pathogens into your body. Hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV can be contracted through blood contaminated by a piercing.

There’s a catch to this rule, too.

Though many states regulate facilities that provide piercing services, there are specific rules regarding eligibility based on the equipment used.

If your piercing was performed with a single-use gun or needle at a state-regulated facility, you should be able to donate blood.

If the gun was reusable — or you’re not absolutely sure that it was single-use — you shouldn’t give any blood until 3 months have passed.

Conditions that affect your blood in some way may make you ineligible to donate blood.

Permanent ineligibility

Conditions that make you permanently ineligible to donate blood to the American Red Cross include:

Having many of these conditions may also make you permanently ineligible to donate to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Blood Bank.

Unlike the American Red Cross, the NIH Blood Bank can’t accept donations from people who’ve used bovine insulin to treat diabetes.

However, they do accept donations from some people who’ve had hepatitis. People who had the condition when they were ages 11 years old or younger are able to donate blood to the NIH Blood Bank.

Temporary ineligibility

According to the American Red Cross, other conditions that may make you ineligible to donate blood, if only temporarily, include:

  • Bleeding conditions. If you have a bleeding condition, you may be eligible to give blood as long as you don’t have any issues with blood clotting and you aren’t taking blood thinners.
  • Blood transfusion. If you’ve received a transfusion from a person in the United States, you’re eligible to donate after a 3-month waiting period.
  • Cancer. Your eligibility depends on the type of cancer you have. Talk with your doctor before donating blood.
  • Dental or oral surgery. You may be eligible 3 days after surgery.
  • Heart attack, heart surgery, or angina. You’re ineligible for at least 6 months after any of these events.
  • Heart murmur. If you have a history of heart murmur, you may be eligible as long as you receive treatment and are able to go at least 6 months without symptoms.
  • High or low blood pressure. You’re ineligible if your blood pressure reading is above 180/100 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or below 90/50 mm Hg.
  • Immunizations. Immunization rules vary. You may be eligible 4 weeks after vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), chickenpox, and shingles. You may be eligible 2 weeks after a COVID-19 vaccine, 21 days after a hepatitis B vaccine, and 8 weeks after a smallpox vaccine.
  • Infections. You may be eligible 10 days after ending an antibiotic injection treatment.
  • International travel. Travel to certain countries may make you temporarily ineligible. Talk with your doctor before donating blood.
  • Intravenous (IV) drug use. If you’ve used IV drugs without a prescription, you should wait 3 months before donating blood.
  • Malaria. You may be eligible 3 years after treatment for malaria or 3 months after traveling to a place where malaria is common.
  • Pregnancy. You’re ineligible during pregnancy but may be eligible 6 weeks after giving birth.
  • Syphilis and gonorrhea. You may be eligible 3 months after treatment for these sexually transmitted infections (STIs) ends.
  • Tuberculosis. You may be eligible once the tuberculosis infection is successfully treated.
  • Zika virus. You may be eligible 120 days after you last experienced symptoms of the Zika virus.

The minimum requirements for donating blood in the United States are that you must:

  • be at least 17 years old (or 16 years old, in some locations, if you have consent from a parent or guardian)
  • weigh at least 110 pounds (242 kilograms)
  • not be anemic
  • not have a body temperature over 99.5°F (37.5°C)
  • not be pregnant
  • not have gotten any tattoos or piercings from unregulated facilities in the past 3 months
  • not have any disqualifying medical conditions

Talk with your doctor if you have any doubts about your eligibility to give blood. You may also want to get tested for any conditions or infections if you’ve recently:

  • traveled
  • had sex without using a condom or other barrier method
  • used intravenous or injectable drugs without a prescription

Finding a donation center near you is as easy as searching on the internet. Organizations such as the American Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers have walk-in donation centers that you can visit almost any time.

Many blood banks and donation services, such as the American Red Cross and AABB, have traveling blood banks that visit schools, organizations, and other locations that are scheduled in advance.

The American Red Cross website also has pages to help you find blood drives as well as provide you with the resources to host your own. As a host, you need only:

  • provide a location for the American Red Cross to set up a mobile donation center
  • raise awareness about the drive and get donors from your institution or organization
  • coordinate donation schedules

Before donating

Before you donate blood, follow these tips to prepare your body:

  • Wait at least 8 weeks after your last donation to donate whole blood again.
  • Drink 16 ounces of water or juice.
  • Follow an iron-rich diet consisting of foods such as spinach, red meat, and beans.
  • Avoid a high fat meal right before donating.
  • Don’t take aspirin for at least 2 days before the donation if you plan to donate platelets, too.
  • Avoid high stress activities.

After donating

After you donate blood:

  • Have extra fluids (at least 32 ounces more than usual) for a full day after donating blood.
  • Avoid alcohol for the next 24 hours.
  • Keep the bandage on for a few hours.
  • Avoid working out or doing any strenuous physical activity until the next day.

Getting a tattoo or a piercing doesn’t make you ineligible to donate blood if you wait 3 months or follow the proper precautions to get a safe and sterile tattoo at a regulated facility.

Talk with your doctor if you think you have any other conditions that may make you ineligible to donate blood. They can answer any questions you may have and advise you on your next steps.