Tattoos 101: All You Need to Know About Getting Inked
Tattoos offer a way of adding art to our bodies and styling ourselves in a permanent way that allows us to express our identity. Sometimes the impetus to get a tattoo comes from a whim. Sometimes it’s driven by a powerful need to use our bodies to tell our story and commemorate things we care about.
Tattoos are a permanent decision, and for some, that’s the appeal. Others find the idea of a permanent marker of self-identity terrifying. Love them or hate them, studies show each year that more and more adults choose to get at least one tattoo.
Italy and Sweden rank the highest for tattoos at around 50 percent of adults, followed by the United States. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center done in 2010, about 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 have at least one tattoo. A 2015 Harris Poll found that three in ten Americans surveyed had at least one tattoo. One in four people globally currently sport at least one tattoo as of 2018.
If you’re someone who’s on the fence about getting a fresh tattoo, or simply want a deeper look into what it’s all about, this article will cover the history of tattooing, some of the most popular styles of contemporary tattooing, as well as what you can expect from the tattooing process.
A Brief History of Tattooing
Using tattoos to mark the body dates back thousands of years. Contemporary tattoo designs frequently fall under the personal and symbolic categories. However, archeologists theorize that historical tattoos were frequently used for therapeutic or medicinal purposes. These early tattoos were made by rubbing colored materials or pigments, most often soot, into intentional cuts or scrapes.
Our earliest evidence of tattoos is from the Iceman. Carbon dated back 5,200 years (around 3,000 B.C.), the Iceman was found at the Italian-Austrian border. He has tattooed dots and small crosses over his lower spine, as well as his knee and ankle joints. Archaeologists believe that these may have been intended as amulets to relieve joint pain.
Archaeologists have found many tattoos on the bodies of mummies from Ancient Egypt. These date to around 2000 B.C. Many of the tattooed Egyptian bodies are women, and the tattoos tend to be located on the abdomen and upper thighs. These can be explained as amulets that relieve pain and protect women throughout pregnancy and childbirth.
Tattoos have been passed down as parts of culture and tradition all over the world, from Native American and South American cultures, to North African, Islander, Early British, Japanese and Chinese Cultures. In some cultures, tattoos were a sign of honor. In others, they represented someone who was stigmatized.
The word tattoo itself is said to come from two origins:
- The Polynesian word ta, which refers to “strike something”
- The Tahitian word tatau, meaning to “mark something”
More recent tattooing styles have been practiced for centuries throughout Japan, China, New Zealand. and North Africa. Contemporary tattooing is currently having a large-scale revival in the west.
The Meaning Behind Tattoos
A tattoo’s meaning varies from person to person, and often from tattoo to tattoo for those who have more than one. Tattoos offer artistic expression and freedom, which can be personal or help to establish an individual in a long artistic, cultural, and narrative tradition.
Additionally 30 percent of people with tattoos say that they make them feel sexier or more attractive. Tattoos are also multifaceted due to their symbolism. This means that a tattoo chosen to make someone feel more attractive or rebellious gives a strong insight into that person, based on the design they chose.
Common meanings behind tattoos include:
- Aesthetic, wearable art for enjoyment, fashion, and beauty
- Commemorative symbols that tell a wearer’s story
- Emblems meant to honor someone or something the wearer loves
- Protective totems or amulets that remind us of our personal strengths
- Status symbols or markers of belonging to a group
- Emblems of religious belief
Branding and Logo Tattoos
Startup developers and individuals who put their heart and soul into a brand will usually find that it is their life work. Some individuals tattoo themselves with logos of their successes and their products to display dedication and commitment to their work.
Different Types of Tattoo Styles and Techniques
Knowing how to talk about tattoos is important to ensure you get exactly what you want when you go to the tattoo parlor. Someone who doesn’t know the terminology might be mislead by the artist in regards to how the design will look, or they might confuse themselves and the artist when explaining what they want. Looking into different styles is a great way to find inspiration for your tattoo and see what’s going on in the industry.
Traditional tattoos are what most people associate with the designs on the walls of the tattoo parlor. This style has bold lines, and a limited but bright color palette that emphasizes reds and blacks. It also uses well-known tattooing icons, such as roses, anchors, beautiful women, and bold-letter text. These tattoos have a timeless quality while also recalling the history of contemporary tattoos.
An adaptation of the traditional style, neo-traditional uses strongly defined lineart, strong borders, and a vibrant but limited color palette. Neo-traditional tattoos feature classic American themes and Native American images, along with floral designs and animals. These tend toward illustrative design and are heavily influenced by art nouveau and art deco patterns and shading.
Realism, photo-realism, and black-and-grey tattooing have recently made a splash in the body art world, allowing artists greater latitude for evoking diverse emotions and expressions through realistic shading. Most of the work being done is greyscale, though some artists are venturing into color realism. Themes include portraiture, realistic nature scenes, landscapes, and anatomical and biomechanical designs. Photorealism can also be applied to surrealistic, three-dimensional, and illustrative images as well.
Blackwork tattoos comprise a large umbrella of body art that uses only black ink. This is the pen and ink art style of the tattoo world. It can include and incorporate illustration and cartoon styles, geometric patterns, fine lines, minimalistic tattoos, abstract art, blackout and negative space, optical illusion, and other experimental designs.
The most artistically innovative tattoos are often done under the umbrella of blackwork, so it’s worth it to poke around at these artists’ profiles to see what they’re capable of. When looking for something custom or innovative, remember to remain open to suggestion during your consultation to get truly unique and inspirational pieces.
Some say that watercolor is the paint medium that most closely resembles tattooing and applying ink to the human skin. Since many tattoo artists also specialize in watercolor painting, it only makes sense that they would want to translate that aesthetic to body art.
These tattoos use a wide palette of colors, with translucency, gradients, and watercolor shading effects. Watercolor tattoos require a skilled tattoo artist, since designs that use translucent shading require more planning about where to ink and at what strength than opaque coloring. Colored ink also tends to fade more quickly than black ink, especially at the low concentrations that allow for the translucent effect.
Illustrative tattoos have diverse styles, from blackwork to watercolor. Illustrative works, however, always emphasize stylization, frequently showing off an artist’s particular skills and abilities. Illustrative tattoos can be inspired by etched or engraved works, geometric designs, stained glass designs, strong outlining, brushstroke, stippling and dot-work, pinstripe and pixelated styles, pop art, and sketching. Illustrative tattoos exhibit both a tattoo artist’s personal style and abilities, as well as the wearer’s creative taste.
Pattern and Tribal Tattoos
The tribal and patterned tattoos widely describe tattoos that are inspired by indigenous body art or standardized cultural patterns. These tattoos frequently cover a large surface area, using elaborate patterning. They tend to be all black, sometimes using red, yellow, or blue as accent colors. Common styles include Polynesian, Marquesan, Mayan, Haidan, Maoran, as well as Celtic, Norse and Scandinavian, Mandalas, and Native American designs.
New School Tattoos
New school tattoos are derived from adapting the American Traditional style, with its iconography and outlining, to contemporary emblems, including pop culture, animation, cartoons, caricatures, graffiti style, and Americana. This style saw its heyday in the 80s and 90s but has since waned. Nonetheless, cartoon and animation tattoos tend to spin off the New School style and are still going strong.
Japanese (Irezumi) Tattoos
Japanese tattooing styles developed during the Edo period (1603-1868). The tattoo motifs mimic the style of ukiyo-e or woodblock prints. These icons carry a lot of history, including recognizable creatures from Japanese folklore, particularly tigers, legendary heroes, and mythological monsters, such as dragons and phoenixes. These figures are embellished in colorful patterns with smoke, waves, and other natural textures.
Chicano Style Tattoos
Inspired by collaging icons from the Mexican Revolution, Los Angeles and Pachuco Culture, prison tattoos, Christian themes, and the Day of the Dead, Chicano art offers another unifying style to help wearers reach back into history. This style can be nostalgic, as it frequently centers on creating a talisman, both from representations of things the wearer loves, as well as images of what makes them feel strong. This is a blackwork style using fine lines and careful details.
Originating in Germany, Trash Polka tattoos offer a collage style of icons, symbols, geometric designs, paint splashes, sketchwork, silhouettes, printed materials, and photo-realism. These tattoos are recognizable due to their strong emphasis of bold black and red colors. They bring together surreal, abstract and realistic images, with an emphasis on overall shape and design.
Many custom tattoo artists prefer illustrative and image based tattoos over text. Nonetheless, meaningful words can create elements of a tattoo, or they can offer a strong tattoo all on their own, particularly if they’re paired with great composition. There are many excellent styles for showing off text tattoos, including calligraphic designs, ambigram tattoos, graffiti, and lettering.
Permanent makeup refers to a tattoo that applies permanent cosmetics to the face. Common applications for permanent makeup include:
- Giving the lips an integrated outline and rosy tint
- Eyeliner, which can be anything from a demi lid to a permanent cat’s eye, not including the waterline
- Filled in or whole tattooed eyebrows
These permanent cosmetics make the application of makeup quick and easy for those who apply makeup daily. It also gives your face a perfected look when just waking up. Some parlours can also cover scars or unwanted moles and help define the face’s natural symmetry.
- Glow in the Dark and UV Ink – Glow in the dark ink absorbs UV light during the day, creating a luminescent blue in the evening. This ink has been used to highlight features of pre-existing tattoos or for new tattoo styles. For your safety, it’s best to avoid “glow in the dark” ink which includes phosphorus. Instead, only use UV ink which is less likely to introduce carcinogens into your skin.
- Biosensitive and Smart Tattoo Ink – Biosensitive inks help individuals monitor health concerns by changing color. Athletes have worn biosensitive tattoos that change color when they’re dehydrated. Similarly, diabetics can have biosensitive tattoos that indicate they are experiencing a spike in blood sugar. These inks can be integrated into an artistic design. Such innovations are still developing and aren’t widely available; however, they likely indicate a larger trend toward integrating health monitoring into tattoos.
- 3D-Printed Living Cell Temporary Tattoos – Living cell tattoos offer the opportunity to print temporary sensors for the skin, using genetically-programmed living cells. This technique will likely become used for wearable sensors which may sense environmental chemicals, pollutants, and changes in pH or temperature. These tattoos are most often used as removable patches, and are not inked beneath the skin. However, they may lead to a future of sensor implants and even living computers in the far future.
The risks involved with innovative tattooing are unknown, since these are new designs and researchers have been unable to observe the long-term results. This means that innovative tattoos, such as UV ink, may carry risks that we don’t yet know.
How the Tattoo Process Works
Tattooing is the process of using a mechanized, ink-dipped needles, similar in some ways to a sewing machine needle, to swiftly puncture the skin. The machine is operated by a foot pedal, which gives the tattoo artist control over their work. The ink is suspended at the tip of the needles, often held between two or more points. When the needle pierces the skin, capillary action draws it down into the dermis.
The tattoo needle pricks the skin around 100 times each second. The process injects drops of ink about 1.5-2 mm deep, into the second layer of skin, also known as the dermis. This means the needle goes through the first layer, the epidermis, into the lower layer. This is because ink on the epidermis would be temporary, lasting about three weeks, since the top layer of skin is constantly shedding and renewing itself. In the dermis, the body stores the ink within macrophages, or the white blood cells, sent to heal the damage.
Nerves and blood vessels are also located in the dermis layer. When getting a tattoo and a day or two after, you can expect a small amount of bleeding. You should also expect a reasonable amount of pain from tattooing, since it is done without anesthetics. This blood will soon clot, and the skin tissue will swell as the body’s immune response rushes to heal the tattoo site.
On the biological side, the needles damage the skin, triggering the body’s healing response to send white blood cells which will attempt to absorb and clean out the foreign particles through the bloodstream. However, the chemical pigments of the tattoo ink are too large for the white blood cells to carry it away, so these macrophages store the ink.
Over time the tattoo takes on a more faded or blurred appearance. This was originally thought to happen when the tattoo ink moves to the deeper dermis. However, recent studies suggest that the fading is due to the successive turnover of the macrophages that hold the ink.
What’s In the Tattoo Ink
Most tattoo inks are made from a carrier and a colorant. The carrier refers to the fluid that transports the colorant. It may be based on the following safe carriers for tattoo pigments: glycerin, water, isopropyl alcohol, and witch hazel. If alcohol is used in the ink, it would allow more chemicals to enter the bloodstream while also promoting potentially carcinogenic ingredients. Nonetheless, ethyl alcohol has proven to be one of the safest carriers of tattoo pigments.
The colorant is normally composed of pigments. In the past, these pigments were made from mineral sources, such as carbon, iron oxide, and cinnabar. Over the past 20 years, ink manufacturers have moved more toward organic pigments, rather than mineral pigments.
More than 80 percent of colorants being used are carbon-based, and about 60 percent of these will use organic pigments. However, only about one-third of the types of tattoo ink on the market are actually approved for cosmetic use, while the other sixty percent were generally development for more industrial applications. These non-cosmetic inks are more likely to contain toxic irritants that lead to infection.
Additives may include surfactants, binding agents, fillers, and preservatives. Additives are intended to give the pigments a uniform look and suspension, as well as to keep the formula from growing bacteria and mold after opening.
A Quick Step-by-Step Inking Process Overview
1. Select a Tattoo Design or Style of Design
Many tattoo shops have pre-drawn pictures that you can work with. Word tattoos are also frequently done on a walk-in basis, and many tattoo shops have binders of fonts for you to choose from.
Beware! If you do decide to get a tattoo with words, check the spelling and grammar multiple times. Then check it again when the artist puts the stencil transfer on your skin. This will save you the embarrassment of wearing a permanent typo on your skin.
While pre-drawn and text tattoos may make the process quicker and easier, many people prefer to go the custom route. If you’re looking for an original design, it’s helpful to supply the artist with references that help them come up with a unique image that you like. Tattoo parlors will often do this in a consultation phase where the artist helps you bounce around ideas, styles, and suggestions.
Keep in mind that not all tattoo artists will be interested in doing original designs or working closely with clients over a long period of time. Look at online portfolios, talk to people in the parlors, and follow referrals to find the ones who are. You also want to make sure that the artist you find does the style you’re looking for.
Picking a Tattoo Artist
One of the best ways to start picking a custom tattoo artist is to look through their portfolio to see their repertoire of designs. This will give you a good sense of whether they specialize in the style you want.
Not all tattoo artists do the same kind and style of work, just as not all traditional artists make art with the same styles and techniques. While most tattoo artists, and particularly those who take walk-ins, will be trained in the basic designs associated with traditional tattooing, and tracing paper can add miles to an artist’s repertoire, it’s important to make sure that the tattoo you’re planning to get is in the range of the artist you’re planning to get it from.
If not, it’s a good idea to take the time and find an artist who does specialize in the style you’re looking for. Most tattoo artists will post their portfolio and designs online and through social media platforms such as Instagram, so this is a good place to start looking for inspiration as well as your ideal tattoo artist. Additionally, industry magazines and newsletters will help you find career tattoo artists who are on the rise.
When checking out an artist’s work, pay attention to aspects that will be in the tattoo you want to get. If you’re thinking about a fine-line tattoo, check out the line-work and make sure that it isn’t shakey or uneven. If you’re looking for a blackwork tattoo or tattoo with large blocks of color, make sure that their shading is not patchy.
Word of mouth and referral is one of the easiest ways to find a tattoo artist while also getting a customer’s impression and experience of them. It’s often common practice to ask someone whose tattoo you admire and ask them who their artist was. Consider also taking recommendations within the parlor that you pick. Many artists are happy to recommend other artists that they respect if they have a full schedule, or think they will have trouble with some aspect of your design.
Be aware of artists who do not work in a studio or tattoo from their home. Due to the decreased surveillance of home tattoo artists, they are more likely to reuse needles and work within a less sterile environment.
You should feel like you click with your artist and can trust them. Considering the lifelong commitment of having a tattoo, it’s not uncommon for individuals to travel and even to get on a plane to work with their favorite tattoo artists. Just make sure you have an appointment first!
2. Consider Tattoo Placement Carefully
Deciding on where to locate your tattoo can be almost as big a decision as what to get done. While many are comfortable with prominent body art that everyone can see, other prefer a more personal tattoo that they can hide with their clothing. Another thing to consider is your genetics, and possible future weight gain that might alter the shape and design of your tattoo.
Some designs will look best in certain spots. Larger tattoos with intricate details need more space on your skin and will not look as good if they’re condensed into a small space on your wrist or ankle. At the same time, a smaller design could use the wrist, ankle or shoulder as an anchor to frame it so it doesn’t get lost. Lines are also a consideration when it comes to placing a tattoo, since lines can change how the body shape looks, accentuating length in some cases, or make a space appear rounder.
Keep in mind your own pain threshold. If this is your first tattoo, it’s best to place it somewhere that isn’t very painful, so you can get a feel for the experience.
Good beginner spots include the outer part of the upper thigh, throat, top of finger, the shoulders, the forearms and outer arm, the back, buttocks, calves, and biceps.
For your first tattoo, it’s recommended that you not try out the most painful spots. These include the neck, ribs, stomach, back of hands, top of foot, and inner wrist. Also avoid those areas of the body with very thin and sensitive skin, including the nipples and genitals, inside of knees, armpits, and eye area.
Profession is something to consider as well, since it can be high maintenance and expensive to put makeup and concealer over your tattoos every day before work. Changing generations are becoming increasingly comfortable with visible tattoos in the workplace. About forty percent of young professionals and Gen Y, the largest generation in the workforce right now, has a tattoo. Seventy percent of them, however, have these tattoos hidden under their clothes.
3. Check Out the Tattoo Shop
Whether you’re having a consultation for your tattoo or not, it’s necessary to check out the space, and your artist will likely expect it.
Make sure that you feel safe in the space, that it’s clean, and that it has proper sterilization equipment, including an autoclave. You will know that needles have been removed from the autoclave because they will be in a sterile pouch, similar to medical equipment. The equipment will be bright silver and not appear stained. Needles should be disposed of in a sharps container with a biohazard sign on it.
Anything that can be disposable and replaced in between customers should be. This will likely include ointment, ink containers, and water. The ink should be in ink caps, which are tiny cups that only allow as much ink as you will be using each session. The artist should wear well-fitting disposable gloves.
In addition to the autoclave license, your artist should be licensed, and the establishment should appear clean and well-lit. An American Red Cross certification will tell you that the shop meets OSHA requirements. If the staff aren’t forthcoming about the measures they take to stay clean and keep their customers safe, then you will be better off finding somewhere else.
4. Get Your Tattoo
The artist will set up everything with the ink and appropriate needles. They will put on fresh gloves before preparing your skin. When it’s time to get the tattoo, the artist will usually make a stencil transfer of the tattoo that outlines it on your skin, unless you have agreed with them that they will do the work free hand. The transfer will outline the tattoo on your skin, allowing you to see it in place. This is your opportunity to okay the image and placement before it becomes a permanent feature.
Depending on the size, detail, complexity, color array, and placement of your design, inking can take anywhere from a few hours to multiple sessions. You might also prefer to pace out a large design in stages to help fit it into your budget, since large designs are costly to do all at once. The artist will generally begin with linework, then proceed to shading and coloring.
Tattooing is painful, and some people have a greater tolerance for it than others. Your artist will likely give you a protocol for how to signal that you need to take a break when the pain gets to be overwhelming. If not, then this is something to ask about. Remember the artist doesn’t want you to faint or have a bad experience, so if you need to rest just tell the tattoo artist.
5. Proper Tattoo Aftercare
Allow your tattoo to heal for at least 2-3 days. You should then be able to remove your bandage in a clean space with clean hands. Do not replace this bandage on the tattoo site, since it will have dried blood and ink that could lead to infection with long exposure. To prevent infection, wear clean, loose clothes over the tattoo for 1-2 weeks, and make sure to have clean sheets when you sleep.
After you remove the bandage for the first time, wash the tattoo with warm water and mild, fragrance-free soap. Rub gently in a circular motion to clean the tattoo. This will free it from any blood, ointment, and fluids that may remain from the tattooing process. Do not use washcloths, towels, sponges, or exfoliants to wash the tattoo at this point.
Allow tattoo to dry, then apply your healing ointment in a thin layer. While some shops may give or sell your a brand-name ointment, such as Tattoo Goo, you can always use Aquaphor on top of your tattoo. You will need to use the ointment for the first three days to a week. After that, you can switch to your normal, fragrance-free lotion.
Don’t be alarmed if your tattoo weeps. Weeping refers to the plasma and ink forming a thin, wet layer on the skin. You can dab at the weeping with a clean paper towel. Do not rub or wipe it roughly. It is normal to see some color rub off of the tattoo when this happens. This is excess ink and does not mean that you’re tattoo is being rubbed away.
After a few days, your tattoo will start to scab. These scabs will flake and fall off on their own. Don’t pick at them. If you’re feeling itchy, apply moisturizer and don’t scratch. It can take 2-4 weeks before the tattoo heals completely.
Caring for Multi-Session Tattoos
Multi-session tattooing is one way for an artist to take on a large piece that incorporates many details. Big tattoo goals, such as a full sleeve, full back, or other large intricate piece, tend to require multiple sessions for completion. These can take weeks, months, or in some rare cases years to finish.
The time frame depends on the individual’s budget, the level of detail required for the finished piece, and how quickly the body is able to heal between each session. The average time between sessions is about two to three weeks.
In this time, the artist is waiting for the tattooed skin to heal. Most artists won’t tattoo over skin that is still raw and painful from a previous session. Additionally, not allowing the tattoo from the previous session to heal fully may damage the outlines or slow the overall healing of the whole piece, creating a larger window of time that the skin is open to infection.
This means that tattoo care between sessions requires the same careful attention to healing and aftercare that you would do after a single-session tattoo. This includes removing the bandage, cleaning the tattoo, moisturizing frequently, and wearing loose clothing.
Many artists say that they can tell that a tattoo is ready for a new session when it is no longer painful or stings, when it appears fully healed, and when there is a glossy, shiny appearance to the way the ink sits into the skin.
What Are Tattoo Touch-Ups – and Who Should Consider Them?
In tattooing, the term touch-up refers to refining a completed tattoo after it has healed. Touch-ups are scheduled in the six months following a tattoo’s completion. The skin should settle into its normal color and condition before the touch-up, meaning that the skin should not be red or puffy from irritation.
This is a chance for the artist to see how your skin wears the tattoo, and to make any adjustments that will present the art at its very best. Touch-ups are normally free of change, since they fall under most artists’ guarantee, as long as they are scheduled within six months of getting the tattoo. Talk to your artist to get the full details of how they handle touch-ups.
During the touch-up, the tattoo artist will examine the healed work. They will then go through the piece to fine-tune the linework and shading so that the finished product looks its very best. You may notice that a touch-up is necessary where some color has disappeared during the healing process. Additionally, there may be areas of shading or line work that are more vulnerable to fading over time.
While you may fully love the appearance of your tattoo after healing, it’s still important for you to schedule an appointment with your tattoo artist so that they can look at it as well. The artist will likely notice things that you won’t know to look for, such as places where the ink is relatively unstable or places that they need to go back over to make a bolder line.
Long Term Tattoo Care
Tattoos, particularly large multi-session tattoos, are an investment. Not only do the costs quickly add up, but they are also a long-term part of your body and appearance. Like any investment, it’s best to protect the artwork with maintenance that allows you to care for the tattoo and get the most out of it as you age.
The aftercare immediately after getting a tattoo is the most important part of making sure that the overall appearance of your tattoo remains crisp and beautiful. Once a tattoo heals, the maintenance becomes simpler. If you have a normal skincare routine that includes cleaning and moisturizing with lotion, then you’re most of the way there already.
Other steps that you can take to maintain your tattoo for the long haul include:
- Using moisturizer or lotion to keep your skin from drying and to help remove dead skin cells that will make your tattoo appear dull or faded. Good moisturizer options will include natural vitamins, such as Vitamins C and E, as well as natural oils or butters, such as avocado oil, coconut oil, or shea butter.
- Using gentle soap to clean your skin. Stay away from soap that contains chemicals or will rob your skin of its natural oils i.e. natural skin care products are best.
- Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water to maintain your skin’s moisture layer. Drinking enough water will help your body stave off aging overall, and your tattooed skin will reap the benefits.
- Avoiding scratching the tattoo in ways that will damage the art. This means avoiding overly abrasive exfoliants or tight or scratchy clothing. This step is most important for the first six months to a year after getting the tattoo. After that point, the tattoo is less vulnerable to scratching and disfiguring.
- Protecting your tattoo from sun exposure. Cover the tattoo or use SPF sunscreen to keep the sun from fading your tattoo. Always make sure that it is covered up if you plan to visit a tanning booth.
- Keeping up your physical health. For the best appearance of the tattoo, it’s best to avoid large amounts of weight loss or weight gain that will shrink or stretch the tattoo. Physical activity and better blood circulation will help the overall health of your skin and positively impact the appearance of your tattoo. In the even of a drastic weight change, toning the muscle under the tattoo will help to renew its appearance and minimize the effect of loose or stretched skin.
If your tattoo begins to look dull, use gentle exfoliation to clear away any dead skin cells that might be covering the area. Remember to always moisturize after exfoliating.
Tattoos Will Inevitably Age
For many, the main concern with getting a tattoo is their permanence. Not only are you committed to wearing something on your skin for the rest of your days, but your tattoo also ages with your skin, gaining wrinkles and possibly expanding in certain places.
As the body and tattoos get older, the ink may become blurred and the pigments may migrate. The tattoo may also fade and distort with changes in body shape.
It’s important to accept that your tattoo will age with your body, and there’s little you can do to prevent this. The tattoos that age the best often have simple or bold designs, making them less likely to blur or fade as the body ages.
Those concerned about how their tattoos will age should avoid tattooing the following body parts:
- Bikini area
- Elbows, knees, and hands
- Breast tissue
- Lower back and buttocks
Aging tattoos can be reworked, a process where the tattoo artist will recolor an older tattoo or bolden the lines. Reworking a tattoo can also help to alter the size and shape of the tattoo when it has been distorted by aging skin or weight gain.
Even a straight-forward reworking should be preceded by an artist consultation. This is because reworking isn’t always a good idea for an aging tattoo, since it’s impossible to repair fine lines or outlines that have spread or blurred over time. Some of the best re-working requires redesigning the tattoo altogether. This might mean designing a black tattoo to go over a faded color tattoo, or using the framework of a previous tattoo to create a new design.
What You Need to Know Before Getting a Tattoo
Studies have found that the nanoparticles that make up tattoos may travel inside the body. In most cases this will be perfectly benign. However, in some cases, particles have migrated lower in the skin layer to to perturb the lymph nodes. Commercial tattoos are made of organic and inorganic pigments, which may contain impurities and toxic elements. In this case, it’s not enough to vet a parlor according to the sterility of its needles. Also look at the chemical makeup of its inks. One additive to watch out for is titanium dioxide (TiO2), which is common in colored inks.
Many of the inks used in tattooing are not developed for biological use. They may originally be made for car paint or commercial printing. Additionally, tattoo ink manufacturers are not required to reveal the exact ingredients or chemical composition of their inks. The FDA hasn’t actually approved any of the pigments in tattoos. Some inks contain carcinogens in both the heavy metal pigments and chemical preservatives. However, no direct link has been made between tattoo ink and cancer.
Major Risks Include:
- Allergic reactions – Red is the cause of almost half of chronic irritation from tattooing. Green, yellow, and blue color dyes may also cause allergic reactions and rashes. However, that doesn’t mean that all black inks are safe, either, as the above study found that one third of chronic irritation cases involved black ink. These reactions may not be immediate, sometimes occurring years after the application of the tattoo. Researchers are still working to understand whether the reactions are due to chemicals in the ink itself or preservatives and brighteners that might be added to the pigment.
- Skin infections – Just like a scrape or cut, the tattooing process causes skin damage that needs to be kept clean and be properly cared for. Unclean tattooing spaces and needles, ink that is contaminated with bacteria or mold, unclean skin, dirty bandages, or incorrect aftercare all increase the likelihood of skin infections from tattooing.
- Skin Problems – The skin near the tattoo may become inflamed, causing granuloma. Keloids, or an overgrowth of scar tissue that causes raised or bumpy skin, are another side effect of tattooing for some.
- Bloodborne Diseases – Tattooing equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized in between each and every session. Some equipment is disposable, while others will need to be sterilized. Needles and equipment that are contaminated with infected blood can make you vulnerable to bloodborne diseases, such as MRSA and hepatitis B and C. You must vet your tattoo parlor prior to getting the tattoo. Talk to them about their cleaning and sanitizing policies during consultation and only go to shops that are autoclave certified.
Regrets and Your Tattoo Removal Options
The majority of people with tattoos (about 85 percent) do not regret getting their tattoo. The most common regret is getting the name of a different person or past love. Statistics show that women are more likely to regret their tattoos than men. Permanent makeup is among the most regretted tattoo choices, since the skin sags and changes shape with old age. If you’re someone who does regret their tattoo, there are a few ways of removing or changing the tattoo, but none of them are easy.
Dealing with a tattoo regret depends on how much you want it gone. Many people alter tattoos that they regret with additional tattoo cover up. For instance, the name of an ex love can be covered up with a well-designed blackwork. And even faded colored tattoos can be livened up with a new design tattooed over the top.
Removing a tattoo, however, is more tricky. The contemporary tattooing industry frowns on the unsafe measures of burning it or cutting it off, since those actions can permanently disfigure the skin and have a high infection rate.
The most recommended and effective method is laser treatment. Laser treatment uses light beams the affect a single color at a time to break up the particles of the pigment. This makes them small enough that the white blood cells can carry the pigment away. Laser tattoo removal usually requires several sessions, depending on how large the tattoo is and how many colors need to be removed.
However, laser removal is imperfect. It takes a long time, and requires multiple expensive treatments. In some cases it can cause scarring. Additionally, it’s uncommon to be able to remove the entire tattoo, and many people still experience discoloration after multiple sessions. Black is the easiest color to remove, and laser removal claims the ability to remove 95 percent of black ink.
For many, body art is a way of taking ownership over one’s physical appearance. There are a lot of things we can’t choose about our appearance, many of which boil down to genetic factors that we can’t easily change. Tattoos in this case can offer a way of customizing the way we appear with artistic expression. While there are some risks involved, many people find that the benefits of body art outweigh those risks, and enjoy having their tattoos.