Body Art Basics

A Few Things You May Want To Know Before You Go

A First Hand Account

I think I was about 21 years old when I went into the tattoo parlor and said, “Ink me”. Now I sport an apple tattoo on the back of my left shoulder. I have a red apple (just about true to size) outlined in black ink with a little green leaf on top, encircled by the phrase “An Apple A Day”, in black ink. I chose the back of my shoulder for a few reasons. One, I can easily hide it when I need to look professional. Two, I thought it was the sexiest place I could get it without being too “risqué”.

I can still I remember the reactions I got from people. The question everyone asked was if it hurt. Yes! Of course it hurts. But remember pain is relative. On a scale from 1 – 10, I would rate it at about a 7 (although I have heard your back, especially the lower back, is considerably more painful). The next thing people want to know is what hurts more, the outline or the coloring. Again this is purely subjective, but for me, it was the outline and most people I know who have tattoos agree with me. Maybe it’s because by the time they finish the outline, the surrounding area is numb. If I had to rate it separately, the outline is going to take you in the area of a 7 and the coloring may take you up to about a 5. I only know one person who has a tattoo on her back (it’s a very large tattoo that covers her entire back) and she said she cried through most of it. And the last thing they want to know is what it feels like. It didn’t feel like a bunch of needles poking in and out of my skin, at least the outline didn’t. The outline felt more like the tip of something very warm and very sharp, may be a thick needle or a pin, being dragged across your skin. It felt like they were etching something into my flesh by scraping up and down. The coloring felt considerably different to me (again, maybe my skin was numb). It felt like a smaller tip pinching me and poking in and out of my skin (more poke than pinch).

The worse part of the whole deal? Truly the healing was the worst part. Yes, healing was worse than the pain of the outline. Why? Because it itches like you would not believe. And not just for a day. No. More like a week; all day every day for about a week. And all you can do is moisturize it and pat it very lightly. You can’t imagine.

Eight years later, I am still considering getting another one, though. And it’s not the pain that is discouraging. It’s a question of location (where to put it) and whether or not I am willing to go through that healing process again.

So if you are considering some form of body art, whether it is tattoos or piercing, here’s some food for thought.

Tattoo & Body Piercing: It’s Nothing New

People like to get all up in arms about tattoos and body piercing (especially parents and relatives). But the fact is tattoos and body piercing date back thousands of years. There have been reports to suggest that these forms of body art may have been around as early as the caveman days. Frankly, its popularity in North America has continued to grow (at an increasingly rapid rate) especially over the past few years. It doesn’t carry the social stigma that it once did. Yeah, they are not commonly accepted in most “professional” arenas yet, but trust me, you are not likely to be the only one with a tattoo or piercing at work. And besides, there are a dozen ways to hide or cover them up. Moms have them, dads have them, the CEO of that Fortune 500 Company has one and even the teacher has one. Moreover, tattoos are really not as “Permanent” as they used to be anyway. It’s not the end of the world and no; it is not “one of the most important decisions of your life”.

Safety Is Key

That cannot be said enough. While deciding to get a tattoo is not “one of the most important decisions of your life,” ensuring that the tattoo parlor runs a sanitary operation could very well be. Remember that anything short of that could result in contamination and infections can range from tuberculoses to HIV. These artists sometimes use tools that come into direct contact with your blood stream. Don’t take it for granted that your safety is that important to them. Take the initiative to inspect the facility and ask questions.

Here’s some food for thought when you go to choose/inspect your tattoo parlor:

Ask for referrals. Try to find a few people who have gone to that establishment. Ask them questions. Take a look at the work they’ve had done.

Ask questions. Of course you will find that each experience is unique, but it will give you an idea of what to expect. For example, a relative of mine had her nipple pierced. On a scale of 1 to 10 she said it was definitely a 10. When I asked her why, she said heard that it heightened her sensitivity. This was seven years ago. Now, she readily admits that it did the job. But she says eventually, it wore off and she has taken it out. Maybe that is just her story. Maybe not. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

Make sure you are comfortable. Ask for a play-by-play explanation of the procedure. Make sure you are clear and comfortable with the explanation before they begin. You should be clear on what it is they are going to do and why, and how this procedure affects the body. If they cannot explain it to you in a way that you feel comfortable, or in a way that you understand, maybe you should reassess the establishment and/or the procedure.

You should know what tools are going to be used and what they are going to be used for. Take a look around. All needles need to be new. And what is the sterilization method for their other tools? Dipping, sitting, dousing in a tub of alcohol is not good enough. Autoclave is a popular method for sterilizing equipment. Autoclave is the process of using high-pressured air to clean the equipment. However keep in mind it does not sterilize the gun (used for piercing). As a matter of fact, it is widely agreed that there is no method that can be used to sterilize the gun.

Did he/she just put on a new pair of gloves? Better safe than sorry. Keep your eye on it. Are those new inkbottles? Is that a new/disposable tube of lubricant? If not, how do you really feel about double dipping?

If your questions are irritating them, upsetting them in any way or if they seem less than forthcoming with the information you want and/or need – find another place. If they won’t take the time to explain these issues concerning your safety, please do your self a favor and take your body and your money elsewhere.

Make sure you are clear on what you want. Make sure they can provide what you want just the way you want. Usually, you tell them what you want, they tell you what they can do, and an agreement is reached. Just make sure you have the same understanding. A stitch in time saves nine – so be clear.

For darker-skinned people, they usually are steered in the direction of green or black ink. But again, look around. Take a look at others and decide for yourself. It’s always good to get a look at someone’s work on another person when and if possible.

Just Remember

If you are getting a piercing, get a non-corrosive metal stud. Use 14K solid gold (not gold plated) or sterling silver.

Both procedures can put your health in serious jeopardy if sanitary conditions are not up to par. You go to get a belly piercing – great! The metal stud is new and it is 14K solid gold. He/She handles the stud, holding it by the thin metal bar and situates it in the equipment and then put on his/her gloves. How clean are their hands? How many times have we heard that the number one way germs are spread is through hand-to-hand contact? That stud is going into an open sore on your body. Set a standard in your mind and stick to it.

Your cleanliness is key too. Whichever procedure you have, you should receive instructions on how to care for yourself and for how long the special treatment regimen should be followed. Follow the instructions and don’t substitute. Times change, and we learn as we grow. Just a few months ago my daughter go her ears pierced again. They offered me a saline solution and an instruction sheet. The sheet instructed me not to use peroxide or alcohol. Now, I would have never used alcohol, but when I was growing up, we used peroxide. Apparently, it’s not a good thing to use (anymore) and the saline solution works better. My point – listen, read and follow the instructions you are given.

Keep in mind that any tattoo or piercing south of the face/neck area is subject to more moisture because of the clothes we will cover them up with. Moisture content plays a huge factor in bacteria build-up (and the further south you go, the more risk you have). Bacteria-build up around any open sore can lead to infections. It is especially important to do your best to keep the area clean, well ventilated, and dry (as dry as possible). It is just like any other sore that needs to heal. Some signs of infection are a warm redden area around the hole, yellow discharge, unusual tenderness around the area. If you think your tattoo or piercing is infected visit your doctor. Remember to leave the piercing in when you go to see your doctor or it may close and you would have to have it redone.

Tattoos are not as “permanent” as they use to be. There are creams, and surgical, and non-surgical removal options now. There are several creams on the market right now that claim to remove tattoos or significantly reduce the appearance of it. I’ve read doctor reports that support this method of removal. The biggest advantage of this method is it is the most economical method of tattoo removal on the market. Laser removal is another option though. This is another non-surgical procedure. The cells on the epidermis are removed in layers. This procedure usually only requires a local anesthetic and is done on an outpatient basis. The procedure can be costly as it usually entails several sessions (size does matter) to acquire the desired outcome. Surgical removal of a tattoo involves actually cutting and removing the tattooed skin. This procedure requires a general anesthetic. With that being said, there are other concerns to be considered relating to how your body may respond to the surgical procedure and the anesthesia. This option can be expensive and can include anything from scarring to skin grafting.

Dentists say what they see most from individuals who have tongue or lip rings are cracked teeth. They warn to take it easy until your mouth gets used to this foreign object, as the balls on these pieces are heavy. To avoid infection, first buy a new toothbrush. Be careful not to aggravate when you brush. Again, you are dealing with an open wound! Also, use an antiseptic mouthwash at least twice a day. Once it is completely healed, be careful to continue to keep the area clean of food particles. And be mindful of the kinds of food you eat. What would the spices in that Cajun rice do to the fresh hole in your lip or tongue right now?

All in all, there is nothing wrong with body art, whether in the form of piercing or in the form of a tattoo. It’s a form of self-expression and it’s beautiful. Just do your homework. And remember – Safety First!

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