Can Medical Alert Tattoos Substitute for ID Bracelets?

Can Medical Alert Tattoos Substitute for ID Bracelets?

time icon 5 min read update icon Sept. 17, 2019


Medical alert tattooing is a form of medical identification which is used similarly to a medical ID bracelet. Its primary goal is to alert first responders to medical conditions or directives. Many seniors have turned to medical alert tattoos as alternatives to ID bracelets. Other seniors are conflicted as to whether the permanent mark on their skin is more beneficial than wearing the accessory.


A medical alert ID bracelet is easily recognizable and immediately alerts others to an allergy or medical condition. A permanent ink tattoo, on the other hand, is not yet the standard and may require others to closely examine it in order to determine the allergy or medical condition. Some controversy exists surrounding medical alert tattoos due to lack of regulation, standard placement, and awareness on the part of medical professionals.

Even so, many people opt for medical alert tattoos due to their convenience. Others choose not to, perhaps fearing that a tattoo may be unsightly. Although medical alert tattoos are still an uncommon sight, they prove to be more interesting for those who may refuse to wear, or who are embarrassed to wear, a traditional ID bracelet.

Medical Alert Tattoos in Lieu of ID Bracelets

1. Not ideal for every senior

Even though medical alert tattoos are effective, they may not be a good fit for every senior. Certain medical conditions, such as issues with bleeding or fragile skin, may present as a health hazard and prevent a senior from obtaining a medical alert tattoo. In some instances, seniors are allergic to the chemicals involved in getting tattoos.

Additionally, seniors who choose to get these tattoos should be sure to do thorough research and select only reputable tattoo facilities. Facilities should have posted certifications and should have also met the necessary health regulations. Previous customer reviews should also be taken into consideration.

2. Not as commonly recognized

Due to medical alert tattoos being unregulated and not an officially recognized procedure in the medical community, it may be awhile before they are more widespread. Emergency medical personnel are trained to search unresponsive patients for medical alert devices. Since medical alert tattooing is still somewhat uncommon, the tattoos are sometimes overlooked during medical emergencies. However, measures are being taken to increase awareness of the practice among the general public and medical community.

Medical alert tattoos are usually placed on the inner wrist because that’s usually the first place paramedics will check for a pulse. Keep in mind, though, that the tattoo may be somewhat difficult to identify seniors who already have extensive decorative tattooing.

3. Cannot be broken or lost

Many seniors become frustrated with their growing number of broken and lost medical alert bracelets, and the ensuing costs of replacing them. To minimize the possibilities of losing their bracelets, many seniors are forced to extra precautions as they go about their daily activities. When a bracelet is broken or lost, medical conditions cannot be identified during an emergency.

Medical alert tattoos are convenient, and their permanence can make people feel more reassured. However, unlike a medical alert bracelet, a tattoo cannot be removed, and seniors may inadvertently alert others of their medical conditions.

4. Looks more appealing

Despite the many safety benefits of wearing medical alert bracelets, many seniors commonly avoid them due to their “unattractive” appearance. Some claim that a medical alert bracelet ages them and that it doesn’t look as appealing as a medical alert tattoo. Many seniors are also attracted to the wide variety of designs and styles available for medical alert tattoos.

With medical alert tattoos slowly becoming more common, facilities are striving to ensure that the medical alert tattoo is recognizable, while also taking into account the customer's design and style preferences.

5. Health risks

The growing popularity of medical alert tattoos may cause some to think that tattoos aren’t risky; however, getting a tattoo does carry its risks. There is an increased possibility of incurring an infection or being exposed to contaminated needles, which could lead to hepatitis or HIV. The risk of infection and needle contamination is one great reason to choose a clean, reputable tattoo facility.

Finally, a tattoo may cause complications during an MRI, since pigments from the tattoo may interfere with the image quality.


As medical alert tattoos become more mainstream, recommendations and stricter regulations from medical organizations and medical professionals may follow. However, due to lack of regulation and an uncertainty as to whether the tattoo will be noticed during an emergency, many healthcare professionals suggest that patients still wear some type of medical alert jewelry or carry pertinent medical information on their persons. In addition, co-workers, friends and family members should be informed of a senior’s medical condition in the event the senior cannot communicate during an emergency.

Fortunately, medical alert bracelets are versatile and can be purchased in a wide variety of styles, enabling the wearer the ability to change their medical ID tags and pendants. Seniors may also be surprised to find that medical alert ID bracelets can also be mixed and matched to perfectly fit their own personal style.

T. Mashae Pearson - Senior Advisor

Shae is senior researcher with Grandfolk® providing in-depth product and service reviews to empower senior buying decisions.