Five Questions You Need to Ask Yourself before Getting a Tattoo

I have always been fascinated with tattoos. For me, any type of permanent body art will always make a cool statement, the type  that doesn’t require you to talk at all.  In ancient times, tattoos (and some have even reached the level of human scarification) have served as a sign of social status. High ranking officials in tribes show might and superiority by the number of tattoos they have in their bodies. To some, tattoos have been used as identification. In the Nazi regime, tattoos were used to identify prisoners in the concentration camps.

Tattoo in progress
Tattoo in progress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To some cultures, tattoos have become a sign of social deviance and criminality. In Osaka, Japan, just a few weeks ago, getting tattoos have been prohibited due to its strong connections to the Japanese Organized crime (yakuza). Osaka employees who have them are encouraged to have them removed or at least covered up.

Today, to most people, tattooing is practiced as a mark of one’s passage thru life, as self expression or simply as a way to beautify the body.

I have always wanted a tattoo but am too chickened out to get one. I guess I will only have that picture of an  angel’s wings saved on my mobile phone and not etched on my back. While I love looking at designs of tattoos, the process of “inking” terrifies me. To get a tattoo, you have to change the pigment of your skin, depending on the design you’ve chosen. Imagine one or several (the number of needles would depend on the size and shading desired) needles piercing your skin repeatedly for the pigment to reach the dermis of your skin. Ouch. Not to mention the possible swelling.

Before you decide to get inked, here’s a few things you might want to consider:

“Are you tolerant of pain?”

Today, the most common tool used in tattooing is the electric tattoo machine, which inserts ink into the skin via a single needle or a group of needles that are soldered onto a bar, attached to an oscillating unit. It rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin, usually 80 to 150 times a second. The pain would depend on the fat located on the area being done, how close to bone the area is, how close and how many nerve endings are on that body part. The closer to the bone, the more likely that it will be painful. Areas near joints have more nerve endings. The most painful areas where to have a tattoo done are; genitals or near it, spine, lips, foot, chest/ribcage, behind the ears, eyelids,eyebrows, elbows and inside the wrists.

Most tattoo artist will refuse to work on you with anesthetics, because anesthesia tends to harden the skin and makes it difficult for the ink to penetrate. So, if you think you can handle pain without any numbing agents, then the pain won’t be a problem for you.

 “Do you plan to donate blood within the next 12 months?”

American Red Cross advises to wait at least 12 months before you can donate blood. In some states where tattoo facilities are regulated, it may take less than 12 months but you’ll have to discuss your situation with a health historian at the time of the donation.

“Are you susceptible to skin allergies, skin infections and keloids?” 

A massive keloid scar that formed on a tattoo.

Are you allergic to dyes and are you prone to skin infection such as rashes, swelling, redness or itching? Has anyone in your family or have you developed any keloids before? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you’re most likely to have the same complications after the tattoo application.

A wide range of dyes and pigments can be used in tattoos and some states in the US require tattoo clinics to inform the patient of the ingredients of the dye. Inorganic materials like titanium oxide, iron oxides,, carbon black, azo dyes, acridine, quinoline, phthalocyanine and naphthol derivatives, dyes made from ash and other mixtures are commonly used. Check with your doctor if you are allergic to any.

Keloids are scars that never know when to stop. Anything that traumatizes the skin can lead to scarring, and if you have relatives who have developed keloids, then there’s chance that you might also develop it. Some people who have  their tattoos done by artists who have the “light touch” have not developed keloids though.

Some allergies and the keloid formation may actually take years before they manifest.

“Do you know of any reputable tattoo studio where you can have the tattoo done?”

A properly equipped studio should be sanitized, equipped with biohazard containers for objects that have come into contact with blood or bodily fluids, containers for old needles, and an autoclave for sterilizing tools. The needles are for single used and must be unpacked in front of the customers before the actual application. Certain states in California also require studios by law to have a sink in the work area supplied with both hot and cold water.

Tattoo artists in certain states (like Hawaii and Oregon) are required to take and pass a test of their  knowledge of health and safety precautions.

“Do you have a medical condition that requires you to go thru magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)?”

Some dyes and pigments used in tattooing have been found to have trace metals that interact with the magnetic fields produced in an MRI procedure. These interactions, although very rare, can lead to first or second degree burns and may cause distortions in the image.  Mythbusters, a TV show from Discovery channel, tested the hypothesis and have found a slight interaction between commonly used tattoo inks and MRI and  stronger interaction when the inks contain high levels of iron oxide.

If you do decide to get one, ensure that you have the proper aftercare. Ask your artist about after-applications guidelines, like if you need to have the tattoo wrapped, ask how to keep it clean and how to avoid getting infection.

Wings that will never be mine. (photo credit from

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