Tattoos

Young men's version of this guide
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tattooBody art has been a form of self-expression for centuries. For some it may be a fashion statement, and for others, a tattoo may have religious, cultural or personal meaning. Whatever the reason, deciding to get a tattoo is a big decision that will leave permanent markings on your body.

What you should consider before getting a tattoo:

Are there any reasons not to get a tattoo?

You shouldn’t get a tattoo on a whim or on a dare. It’s important to know why you’re making this life-changing decision. This may seem obvious, but some teens get tattoos because of peer pressure, rather than truly wanting one. If your friends are pressuring you, step back and consider what you really want. If it turns out you don’t actually want a tattoo, your real friends will understand. It’s your body, and no one else’s.

Can I get a tattoo without permission from my parent or guardian?

This depends on where you live. At this time, there’s no federal law in the United States that sets the age when a person can get a tattoo. Even though each state can make their own rules, in most states, when a minor reaches the age of 18, they’re considered legally an adult and can make their own decision about getting a tattoo. A few states require a note from a parent or guardian if the teen is under 18 years old. In other states, the parent or guardian must sign a consent form and be present while the teen gets tattooed.

Are tattoos really permanent?

Permanent tattoos are forever, so “think before you ink.” Real tattoos don’t come off with soap and water or rubbing alcohol like temporary tattoos. There are a couple of methods that remove permanent tattoos, but they are costly and painful.

Does it hurt to get a tattoo? Are there places on my body that will hurt more?

During the tattoo process, ink is injected into the dermal layer (the second layer of skin) with a needle bar that punctures the skin between 50-3000 times per minute. One or many needles can be attached to the needle bar which moves up and down like a sewing machine needle injecting the pigment into the skin. More needles are used to fill in color. As you might imagine, this is not a painless process. The amount of pain someone feels depends both on the person and where the tattoo is being placed. Some people have a high tolerance for pain and don’t mind the discomfort. If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo on a part of your body that doesn’t have much fat, such as your ankle or collarbone, you should be aware that it will likely be more sensitive than other parts of your body that have more fat tissue, such as your arm or leg.

How can I tell if the tattoo artist is qualified?

If you are thinking about getting a tattoo, go to the studio and talk with the tattoo artist. Feel free to ask questions. You should find out about all of the details and exactly what’s going to happen to your body (step by step). You should know that there’s no standardized training for tattoo artists. Many tattoo artists learn by teaching themselves or by watching others, and some states don’t require a license. If your state does require that tattoo artists be licensed, make sure you can see their license/certificates on the wall. It should be up-to-date. Also, you should be comfortable with asking about their training. Lastly, take a look at the artist’s work. Do you like it? Do the tattoos they do seem like something you’d want on your body?

How can I tell if the tattoo studio is safe?

The studio should look clean and organized. Make sure that every piece of equipment that will touch your body is sterilized. This means that the artist must open a completely sealed package to get to the instruments that he/she will use; including needles, ointment, and ink. You should watch the artist open the sealed instruments. The artist must also wear sterile gloves during the procedure. Remember, even if you get a tattoo from a popular place and the tattoo artist does everything right, it still has risks such as infection and scarring.

How much do tattoos cost?

Quality tattoos by professional artists aren’t cheap. The cost of a tattoo depends on the location, size, color, how fancy the design is, and the skills and reputation of the artist, but individual tattoo studios can set their own prices. A small tattoo will usually range anywhere from $80-$100 dollars. Larger tattoos can cost up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Some studios charge by the hour. If you decide to get a tattoo, you should find out how much it will cost before you get one. You should also consider other costs, such as: a tip for the tattoo artist (usually 15-20%, but optional), ointments or lotions suggested by the tattoo artist for after care, touch ups (if you need additional work because you didn’t take proper care of your tattoo during the healing process), and cost of removal (should you decide you no longer want your tattoo). You’ll likely be asked to put down a deposit for the tattoo, so factor that into the cost as well.

How long does it take to get a tattoo?

The time it takes to get a tattoo varies depending on the size and design, and who is doing it. Complicated designs take longer than simple ones. Large tattoos and/or colorful tattoos can take several hours or several sessions over a few days, depending on how much detail is involved, and will take longer if the tattoo artist doesn’t have a lot of experience.

How many tattoos are too many?

That’s up to you – only you can decide how many is too many. Keep in mind though, that you might be unfairly judged by others, especially if your tattoo(s) are visible.

If I gain or lose weight will the tattoo look different?

Significant weight gain or weight loss in a short amount of time could make your tattoo look very different. However, slow weight loss or gain over a long period of time should have little or no effect on your tattoo. Pregnancy is another story. If you have a tattoo on your belly, it will likely stretch and look different as your belly expands.

What are the risks of getting a tattoo?

The major risks are:

  • Allergic reactions such as itchy rashes can be caused from the dye (especially red dyes)
  • Bacterial or viral infections can occur, but usually only if the equipment isn’t properly sterilized or if the tattoo artist doesn’t use sterile techniques.
  • Granulomas (bumps) or keloid scars (overgrowth of dense tissue that usually grows beyond the site of the skin injury or tattoo can develop)
  • Blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tuberculosis, tetanus, and HIV can be contracted if the equipment is contaminated with an infected person’s blood and hasn’t been sterilized properly
  • Tattoos can be a problem if you need an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Although rare, ink from a tattoo can sometimes warm up during an MRI and cause burning, swelling, or both. For example, if you need an MRI of your leg and you have a tattoo on your calf, there could be a problem (there’s no problem if you are having an MRI of a body part that doesn’t have a tattoo). The ink from a tattoo can also affect the quality of the image.
  • Difficult to moniter skin changes – If a tattoo is placed near a skin lesion or mole, it could be difficult to monitor any changes as it will likely blend into the tattoo. Additionally, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified certain chemicals in tattoo ink as carcinogenic or something that could potentially cause cancer.
  • Low self-esteem – Some people who get tattoo(s) are unfairly judged by others. It’s not easy to get negative gibes from others and this could possibly affect how you feel about yourself.

How long does it usually take for a tattoo to heal?

Your tattoo artist should be able to answer this question. On average, it usually takes about 2-3 weeks before you can go swimming, take a bath, or soak in a hot tub. Healing time depends on how well you take care of your tattoo and the skin around it, and the location, but in general, complete healing usually takes 6 months.

What You Should Expect After Getting a Tattoo:

Is it easy for my tattoo to get infected?

It’s only easy if the tattoo artist did not use sterilized equipment and proper techniques or you don’t take good care of your tattoo while it’s healing. For example, leave your bandage alone until you are told you can take it off (usually within 3-5 hrs.). After you take the bandage off, wash the area with warm water and a mild liquid anti-bacterial soap. Use your hands to wash it instead of a washcloth, as it may cause irritation. Gently pat your skin dry with a clean paper towel. Allow your skin to air dry completely for about 5-10 minutes then apply an anti-bacterial ointment (your tattoo artist will suggest one). Repeat the washing, drying, and applying the ointment on the area about every 3-4 times a day for about four days. After this, you can apply moisturizing lotion to any dry areas. Showering is fine, but stay away from pools, tubs, lakes, and anywhere that your tattoo would be under water, for about 2-3 weeks. Scabbing is normal. DO NOT pick or scratch at the scabs, because this can lead to infection. As long as you follow the aftercare instructions, your skin should heal just fine. If you don’t have a rash, you will most likely be told that you can use fragrance-free or dye-free lotion to keep your skin soft.

What should I do if my tattoo gets infected?

Check your tattoo for any signs of infection while it’s healing. If your tattoo is on a part of your body that you can’t see, have someone else check the area for signs of redness, rash, tenderness, swelling or discharge (pus) coming from the tattoo. If you have any of these signs, call your health care provider (HCP) right away – not the tattoo artist. You likely have an infection and need to take an antibiotic. Follow your HCP’s instructions carefully. If you don’t get the infection treated, it could spread, causing possible blood poisoning and more complications.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions: Only products (such as ink) that are made specifically for body art should be used and NOT drawing ink. If ink must be diluted, bottled or filtered water should be used, not tap water. The tattoo artist should use excellent hand hygiene and disposable gloves.

What if I don’t like the way my tattoo looks?

There are only a few options if you don’t like your tattoo. You can get it removed, but this can be pricey and extremely painful. Covering it up with makeup is another option, but it doesn’t really fix the problem. You can also go back to the tattoo studio and ask the artist to fix it, or change the image into something else. This will definitely not be free, though. It’s very important that you are positive that you like your tattoo design before you get it since this image will most likely be on your body for the rest of your life.

Are there ways I can cover up my tattoo?

There are a couple of brands of makeup that specialize in tattoo cover-up. The products can range in price from about $10-$50+ and usually come in kits with concealers and powders.

What if I want to get my tattoo removed? Is this expensive?

Yes. The cost can vary depending on the size of the tattoo you want to remove, and the method. If you realize that getting a tattoo was a mistake and you are willing to spend the money, there are ways to get your tattoo permanently removed. A health care provider (not a tattoo artist) performs the removal. The most common method to remove a tattoo is by laser. You’ll need to go for 1-10 sessions, which can cost between $250-$850 per visit. Even then, you may still be able to see some of the tattoo. It’s also possible to get blisters and end up with scarring from the removal process.

Always talk to your health care provider before removing a tattoo. Removal should be done by a dermatologist (skin doctor) who specializes in removing tattoos. Do NOT use do-it-yourself tattoo removal creams or any other products that are sold online. They are not approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), and may cause severe skin reactions.

How can I get my tattoo removed permanently?

Laser removal – This is the most common method to remove tattoos and the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the equipment. Pulses of highly concentrated light are used to break up the ink into tiny pieces. The ink is eventually removed by the body. This is a reliable and effective method but it is costly and usually involves a lot of sessions, which can take up to several months. Surgery to “cut out” a small tattoo and then stitch the skin back together and dermabrasion (sanding off the tattoo) are rarely done because of the high risk of scarring. Do NOT use over-the-counter or online “do-it-yourself” tattoo removal kits. These products are not regulated by the FDA so there is no quality control. The chemicals in these products contain acid and can cause severe skin reactions and scarring.

Remember that all removal methods are painful and can leave a permanent scar. If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, take your time and get all the facts, and talk with your parent(s) or guardian(s) as well as people who have had a tattoo.

To find a qualified health care provider who has experience with removing tattoos, check out the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery.