Tattooed Phlebotomists Talk Ink and Donation

Last Updated on August 13, 2021

by Claire DeRoin

Even at blood drives in our more conservative Midwestern towns, no one seems to mind that LifeServe team member Alex Kaiser has five tattoos.

“I have a sunflower, a cat, a heart, a bull skull, and a dinosaur. A whole bunch of weird things,” she laughed. “The only one you can really see in my sunflower because it’s on my forearm. A lot of donors say they really like it because it’s really colorful!”

The same goes for LifeServe team lead Ann Odell; also no stranger to tattoos. She has a colorful half sleeve featuring a butterfly, flowers, and the name of her children, plus three more tattoos elsewhere on her body. One unexpected benefit Ann found is that her tattoos make a good distraction for nervous donors.

“Donors ask where I got them, compliment the color. Sometimes they like to try to read what’s on my arm. They’re like ‘oh, what is that?’ I tell them and we have a full conversation about it,” Ann said. Before the donor knows it, the donation is over and they’re on their way to the snack area. Tattoo conversations have made donations fly by for more than a few first time or anxious blood donors.

With that firsthand experience and openness to chatting about their own ink, phlebotomists like Alex and Ann are quick to shut down myths regarding tattoos and blood donation.

“Some people have tattoos on their arms and think you can’t donate because you’ve got them in the area that we’re going to go through,” Ann said. “But you can!” She adds that the only issue that might arise from puncturing through a tattoo is potential scar tissue interfering with the ink.

The donors who try to say they’re afraid of needles? They aren’t buying it.

“It’s not as bad as getting a tattoo!” Alex said. “Tattoos take – however big it is – it could take a couple hours and donating only takes about ten minutes!”

For Ann, it’s all about the process. “It’s a different type of needle, that one’s going in thousands of times while this one’s just one poke.”

So how is it that tattooed blood donors can still donate? It all has to do with regulations and licensure. Getting a tattoo? If you’re visiting a professional, licensed shop, the artists and owners have gone through training and inspections to ensure the tattoos they’re performing are safe and clean.

“Tattoo shops have to have their license to give it to you, where they’re using sterile, clean equipment. It’s regulated through the FDA, and we’re regulated through them, too.” Ann explained. “As long as it was done professionally within certain states, they can donate the same day! Not recommended, but you can!”

The bottom line? Don’t stop donating because you got a tattoo, with one caveat:

“Tattoos and donating is completely fine as long as you’re getting your tattoos professionally done and not in somebody’s basement,” said Ann.

“Please get it in a licensed facility,” agreed Alex.