So, You Want to Get a Tattoo?
By Ammar Ahmed, M.D.
Over the past 20 years, body art in its many mediums has become a more acceptable part of mainstream culture. Whereas tattoos once were the hallmark of sailors or bikers, tattoos now are common among all ages of people, particularly college students. In fact, according to a report by the National Institutes of Health, 73 percent of people who have a tattoo got their first one
between the ages of 18 and 22.
Whether it’s a statement of personal expression or a memento from that unforgettable weekend, getting “inked” is a permanent commitment with more than just cosmetic risks. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you go under the needle.
Location, location, location. Just as important as the location on your body for your new art is the location of your tattoo studio. Thoroughly reviewing and comparing studios in your area is an essential first step in the tattoo process. Ask around and get feedback. Whether it’s Yelp or a studio review website, be sure to look for a clean and friendly atmosphere, as well as skilled artists. If you have concerns, it’s perfectly acceptable to call in and get a consultation. Ask them about the ink they use, their sanitation standards and to view their portfolios. A tattoo is a permanent commitment, so do your homework.
The risks and dangers. What kind of tattoo article would this be without listing the risks? Because the needle is injecting colorant under the epidermis of your skin, there are a few things to be aware of. Although rare, it’s important to know that there have been cases of HIV and Hepatitis C transmission during tattoo sessions from unclean needles. The more common side effects of tattoos are minor bacterial infections and allergic reactions in the skin that usually is presented as itchy red bumps. This is generally caused from the material used to create the ink. It’s also highly advised not to get a tattoo to cover up a mole, birth mark or scar. The reason why is because if you ever have an issue with the mole, birthmark or scar—and it’s covered up with a tattoo—it can be very difficult for a dermatologist to diagnose the problem.
Caring for your masterpiece. The key to a beautiful tattoo isn’t just the artist or design—it’s also how well you take care of your new art after the session. Because the needle penetrates the skin, it’s important to care for the area to prevent infection. The studio will finish the tattoo process by wrapping it up for protection with a medical bandage or a plastic film. Follow the recommendations of the parlor regarding how long the tattoo needs to be covered and resist the urge to open this bandaging during that time frame. Constantly reopening the covering can damage the skin and leave it prone to bacterial infection. It will take a couple of weeks for the skin to fully heal depending on the size of the tattoo. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask your artist about aftercare, as they are the experts.
Masterpiece turned mistake? With recent strides in dermatology, tattoo removal is possible and somewhat effective. Although laser removal technology has improved over the last decade, even the best lasers cannot remove 100 percent of the tattoo. Most of the time, removal takes multiple treatments. Also, tattoo removal is not covered by insurance and can be costly. Colorants that have been proven to work well with the laser removal process include black, red, blue and light blue. So keep that in mind when you get your loved one’s name emblazoned on your arm.
Dr. Ammar Ahmed is a dermatologist with the Seton Family of Doctors at Hays and assistant professor at the Dell Medical School.