Tattoos: Should You Consider It?

tattoosAngelina Jolie and 50 Cent. Britney Spears and David Beckham. Don’t forget Steve-O. What do those people have in common? Each sports at least one tattoo.

Tattoos–designs created by inserting ink under the skin–are a fashion trend among today’s rich and famous, as well as the poor and unknown. Approximately 39 million people in North America have a tattoo.

Perhaps you are thinking of getting one. Before you plunk down hard-earned cash to have a Celtic cross or a delicate butterfly emblazoned on your skin, consider the facts.

Just the Facts

Such as what? For starters, how old are you? Laws governing the minimum age for getting a tattoo vary widely. In many states, minors cannot get a tattoo. Other states require people younger than 18 to obtain permission from a parent or caregiver before going under the needle.

OK, let’s say you are 18 or you’ve managed to wear your parents down and they have agreed to the idea. What’s next? Think seriously about what the tattooist will do to you. To create a design, a tattoo artist injects colored dye into the dermis, the layer of skin about 1/8 of an inch below the surface. Most professional tattoo artists use an electrically powered instrument that pierces the skin at a rate of 50 to 3,000 times per minute.

Just one scratch with an infected needle can transmit serious bloodborne diseases, including hepatitis B (a chronic inflammation of the liver, caused by a virus) and tetanus (a potentially fatal bacterial infection), according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection is also possible. To date, however, the National Institutes of Health report no cases of contracting the HIV virus through a tattoo needle.

Some people have allergic reactions to the pigments in tattoo ink, which can lead to rashes and scarring. And beware: That design on your bicep is a puncture wound that could become seriously infected if you don’t take good care of it while it is healing.

Although getting a tattoo may seem like a wonderful way to express yourself, that feeling might not last. Pretend for a moment that sometime in the future, you decide your tattoo isn’t “all that” anymore, and you want to have it removed. Is that possible? The answer is a qualified yes.

Whether the image can be completely eradicated depends on how old and how big it is and the colors of the ink. Removal is also likely to cost you much more than you originally paid for the design–anywhere from $250 to $20,000 for a large tattoo.

Clean = Safe

If the risks don’t faze you, then you’re ready for the critical part of your tattoo research. No, it’s not choosing the design; it’s choosing the tattooist. “First and foremost, go to an established business that uses a sterilizer, single-service equipment, and an autoclave,” said Dennis Dwyer, executive director of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. What does that mean in English? Choose a tattoo shop that is clean and neat.

Ask the employees about their safety procedures. Precautions should include using individual portions of ink from sealed envelopes, wearing disposable gloves, and cleaning all their equipment in an autoclave, a machine that uses heat, steam, and pressure to kill all known pathogens.

If you have any doubts, walk out–and keep walking until you find a professional who will put your health and safety above all other considerations.

No Pain, No Gain

What does being tattooed feel like? Current Health asked Stephanie, a high school senior in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. A member of her school’s crew team, she had a pair of crossed oars tattooed on her lower back. “In the beginning, it felt like a bee sting,” Stephanie said. “After a while, the whole area just went numb. I remember feeling the artist wiping blood off my back.”

Yes, there is blood, and some pain. How much pain? That depends on your level of tolerance and the location of the tattoo. Areas such as ankles and hands tend to be more sensitive than the upper arm or chest.

Stephanie’s tattoo, which is one color (black), took about 45 minutes to complete. Dwyer advises planning to spend about one to one and a half hours getting jabbed for a small to medium-size tattoo. Afterward, keep the area clean and dry, avoid the sun, and see a doctor if the skin becomes red or swollen.

If done by a well-trained professional and kept out of the sun, your body art will look sharp for as long as 30 years. A poorly done image, on the other hand, may start to fade within the first year of application. And don’t go off your diet if your tattoo is on your stomach or your rear end. “Weight gain can stretch it out,” said Dwyer, “and scar tissue from the expansion can distort the image.

Permanent Marker

A final thought: In 1997, a Gallup Youth Survey reported that a whopping 77 percent of teenagers thought that tattoos make adults look less attractive.

Like it or not, one day you will be an adult, and your tattoo will still be there. Can you handle being on the losing end of the statistics?

Leave a comment


  1. Karl Grenier

     /  October 31, 2015

    I do not consider having a tattoo. I am happy with my skin and getting inked will only cover up my flesh. It is a beautiful thing but I do believe my skin is more beautiful.

  2. Mar Lessard

     /  November 6, 2015

    I have nothing against to those who love getting inked. I am just pissed to those who did not take time to think of pleasant designs.

  3. Lloyd Couture

     /  November 14, 2015

    I have an ex girlfriend who decided to have my name tattooed on her back when we were still together. We are no longer together but I am pretty sure she will get rid of it any way she can.


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