Am I eligible if I have a tattoo?
If you have a tattoo, you can only donate blood if you meet certain requirements. A good rule of thumb is that you may not be able to give blood if your tattoo is less than a year old.
This goes for piercings and all other non-medical 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.
You may not be able to donate if your ink is less than a year old
Giving blood after recently getting a tattoo can be dangerous. Though uncommon, an unclean tattoo needle can carry a number of bloodborne infections, such as:
If you’ve contracted a bloodborne illness, detectable antibodies will likely appear during this yearlong window.
That said, you may still be able to donate blood 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 potential artist about their qualifications. You should only work with licensed artists who tattoo out of state-regulated shops. Oftentimes, these certifications are prominently displayed on the shop walls.
You can’t donate immediately if your tattoo was done at an unregulated
Getting a tattoo at a tattoo shop that’s not state-regulated makes you ineligible to donate blood for a full year.
States and regions that don’t require tattoo shops to be regulated include:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- Washington D.C.
State-regulated tattoo shops are required to pass certain safety and health standards to avoid contaminating blood with bloodborne conditions. These standards can’t be guaranteed in states with unregulated tattoo shops.
You also can’t donate if you have any piercings that are less than a year
You often can’t donate blood for a full year after getting a piercing, too. Like tattoos, piercings can introduce foreign material and pathogens into your body. Hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV can be spread through blood contaminated by a piercing.
There’s a catch to this rule, too. Many states regulate facilities that provide piercing services.
If your piercing was done with a single-use gun or needle at a state-regulated facility, you should be able to donate blood. But if the gun was reusable — or you’re not absolutely sure that it was single-use — you shouldn’t give any blood until a year has passed.
What else makes me ineligible to donate blood?
Conditions that affect your blood in some way may make you ineligible to donate blood.
Conditions that make you permanently ineligible to donate blood include:
- hepatitis B and C
- chagas disease
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
- Ebola virus
- sickle cell disease
- using bovine insulin to treat diabetes
Other conditions that may make you ineligible to donate blood include:
- Bleeding conditions. You may be eligible with a bleeding condition as long as you don’t have any issues with blood clotting.
- Blood transfusion. You may be eligible 12 months after receiving a transfusion.
- Cancer. Your eligibility depends on the type of cancer. Talk to your doctor before donating blood.
- Dental or oral surgery. You may be eligible three days after surgery.
- High or low blood pressure. You’re ineligible if you get above a 180/100 reading or below a 90/50 reading.
- Heart attack, heart surgery, or angina. You’re ineligible for six months after any.
- Heart murmur. You may be eligible after six months of no symptoms of a heart murmur.
- 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 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 to your doctor before donating blood.
- Intravenous (IV) drug use. You’re not eligible if you’ve ever used IV drugs without a prescription.
- Malaria. You may be eligible three years after treatment for malaria or 12 months after traveling somewhere that malaria is common.
- Pregnancy. You’re ineligible during pregnancy, but may be eligible six weeks after giving birth.
- Sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and gonorrhea. You may be eligible one year after treatment for certain STIs ends.
- Tuberculosis. You may be eligible once the tuberculosis infection is successfully treated.
- Zika virus. You may be eligible 120 days after symptoms have ended.
What makes me eligible to donate blood?
The minimum requirements for donating blood are that you must:
- be at least 17 years old, 16 if you have consent from a parent or guardian
- weigh at least 110 pounds
- not be anemic
- not have a body temperature over 99.5°F (37.5°C)
- not be pregnant
- not have gotten any tattoos, piercings, or acupuncture treatments from unregulated facilities in the past year
- not have any disqualifying medical conditions
Talk to 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 unprotected sex, or used intravenous drugs.
How do I find a donation center?
Finding a donation center near you is as easy as searching on the internet or on a map website for centers near you. Organizations like the American Red Cross and Lifestream have walk-in donation centers that you can visit almost any time.
Many blood banks and donation services, such as the 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 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 you donate blood, follow these tips to prepare your body:
- Wait at least eight weeks after your last donation to donate whole blood again.
- Drink 16 ounces of water or juice.
- Follow an iron-rich diet consisting of spinach, red meat, beans, and other foods high in iron.
- Avoid a high fat meal right before donating.
- Don’t take aspirin for at least two days before the donation if you plan to donate platelets, too.
- Avoid high-stress activities before your donation.
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.
- Don’t take off the bandage for a few hours.
- Don’t work out or do any strenuous physical activity until the next day.
The bottom line
Getting a tattoo or a piercing doesn’t make you ineligible to donate blood if you wait a year or follow the proper precautions to get a safe and sterile tattoo at a regulated facility.
See 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.