Allergy Tattoos: Should Kids Wear Warning Labels to School?

SafetyTats stickers. Photo: SafetyTatsTemporary tattoos are not traditionally considered must-have back-to-school shopping items — but that could change. This year, some students with severe allergies are returning to class with their medical issues stamped on their skin for their own protection.

More on Shine: Ladylike Tattoos: Are They a Thing?

“Right now there's a huge awareness, whether because of going back to school or because of the recent incident in California,” SafetyTat founder and mother of three Michele Welsh told Yahoo! Shine. Welsh was referring to the recent tragic death of a 13-year-old girl with a peanut allergy at a Sacramento summer camp. “Unfortunately it sometimes takes something like that for people to say, 'Wow, it really can happen.'"

More on Yahoo!: Girl Dies After Allergic Reaction to Camp Treat

Welsh created her 5-year-old company—offering products that include temporary tattoos and long-lasting, write-on skin stickers—after using a ballpoint pen to nervously scrawl her cell phone number on her kids’ arms at a crowded amusement park, in case they got separated, and realizing it was maybe not the best way to go about it.

The moment made her think of other dangers lurking for kids, and how having an actual warning label on the body could be useful to other parents, too—like her sister-in-law, who is mom to a boy with a fatal peanut allergy. "He had spent so much time in the hospital as a toddler, that his mom had begun limiting his time outside the home because she was so fearful," Welsh said. When she created the tattoos and he wore one to a school trip, the response was immediate, alerting a food server who double checked the ingredient of his salad dressing only to discover it contained peanut oil. "His mom told me, 'It's almost like I'm there with him, reminding people,'" she added.
SafetyTats
Peanut Free Zone
is another company making temporary allergy-alert tattoos. Also, AllerMates makes wristbands, stickers and dog tags that alert caregivers to allergies.

On SafetyTat's Facebook page, a Florida mom noted, “Made sure my daughter had her safety tat on as she is with 110 camp kids headed to Sea World today!!”

Another wrote, “We recently used them for the first time during our trip to New York. Our son is a toddler and has a severe peanut allergy, so having my number on him and an alert for his allergy on him is important to me."

But not everyone is a fan of the tattoo. A recent Slate article on the phenomenon of children wearing warning labels raised the issue of bullying, questioning whether the added attention would make them targets of childhood cruelty. It was a concern echoed by American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology spokesperson, allergist Kevin McGrath. "A lot of kids do get bullied at school about their food allergies, so there is some concern about whether this might give more ammunition to kids," McGrath told Yahoo! Shine. Still, he said the tattoos "may just be another thing to make parents feel more confident when sending their children off to a party or picnic or class trip." He also recommends medical-alert bracelets and having a "game plan," such as an EpiPen, in case something does happen.

The Slate article also mused that, for the tattoos to be truly successful, the current designs would need a cooler makeover.

“The solution, we think, is to make allergy tattoos look more like real tattoos,” wrote L.V. Anderson. “The SafetyTat design…is easy-to-read and pragmatic, sure, but I don’t know any 7-year-olds who would clamor to plaster their bodies with it. If kids are going to voluntarily wear them, allergy tattoos should be bigger and far less tasteful than SafetyTat’s offerings. How about … a very arty strawberry dripping with blood for your neck? Or a cartoon of Mr. Peanut throttling somebody? The vulgar possibilities are endless.”

Welsh had heard that criticism. Joking aside, she told Yahoo! Shine, "These are mainly for younger children who can't communicate for themselves. But we do need to build some aesthetic back in there, and, for the older kids, something hipper would be great." As for the bullying concern, she noted, "If I had to choose fatal exposure over being harassed by kids, I would choose safety as my No. 1 concern."

Related:
Bullies Target Classmates with Deadly Allergies
Confessions of a 'Food Allergy Mom': I Feel Isolated