HomeSite MapContact
Sex, Body & Health
Your Mind & Feelings
My Story
Healthy Eating
Natural Health
Keep Fit
Look It Up
Video & Games
Email Article   Print Article   Rate This Article   Related Articles 


A Marked Change:
A Girl's Guide to Tattoos

Before You Go Under the Needle
Other Things to Think About Before You Get a Tattoo
The Process
Tips for Safe Tattooing
Caring for Your Tattoo
Another Reason to Shun the Sun
Permanent Ink?
How Lasers Work

It seems like tattoos are getting more and more popular. Movie stars and rock singers have them, and most likely so do some of your friends. So it makes sense that you might be thinking about getting a tattoo.

But a tattoo is a very personal decision. You have to think about how it will affect your life. Just because stars have tattoos doesn't mean that everyone thinks they're okay. For example, your neighbor across the street may not feel as comfortable having you baby-sit her kids if she knows you have a tattoo. And a tattoo may make it harder for you to get your dream job later. It may not be fair, but it's true.

If you're dead set on a tattoo, spend some time thinking about where on your body you're going to get it. Your tastes change over the years, and there's no way to know if you'll still like the tattoo you got when you were 13 when you're 30, or even 18. So it's a good idea to choose a spot that can be covered—even in a bathing suit. That way, if you decide you hate having 'N Sync engraved on your butt, you can at least hide it from the rest of the world. Plus, having a tattoo that most people can't see won't interfere with getting a job or apartment you want.

The design of the tattoo is another important thing to think about. Again, you may really like Disney characters now, but will you feel the same way when you go to college? Think really long and hard before you get someone else's name tattooed on your body. back to top

Before You Go Under the Needle
Here are some things to ponder before you get a tattoo. Think about why you're considering one. If it's because you're bored, trying to fit in, or trying to get somebody's attention, it's probably not a good idea.

There are many other less permanent ways to express those feelings, like using a nonpermanent dye to make your hair a fun color. Or try out a tattoo by getting a temporary one with henna. Henna tattoos last for three or four weeks and then fade away.

Finally, never get a tattoo on a whim. A tattoo is a major, not to mention permanent, decision. Take a few days, or better yet, a few weeks, and think about your decision. back to top

Other Things to Think About Before You Get a Tattoo
  • The ink used for tattoos often causes allergic reactions.
  • Tattoos, like body piercing, carry the risk of infection. There's a chance you could get a serious disease like hepatitis or HIV. To lessen your risk of catching anything, make sure that only new needles are used—they should come out of a sealed package.
  • Did you know that you can't give blood for a year after you've gotten a tattoo?
  • Go dark. New lasers have made tattoo removal easier and less painful than it used to be. But not every tattoo can be removed, so think of your decision as permanent. Lasers are best at fading dark colors like blue and black. Green and yellow are very hard to remove.
  • If you're under 18, it may be illegal for you to get a tattoo without your parents' okay.
  • Check out the tattoo studio ahead of time. Make sure that it's clean, well-lit, and free of clutter. Dirty surfaces and general grunginess are bad signs.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable with the person doing the tattooing. back to top
The Process
Tattoos are done with an electric machine with a bar called the needle bar. Several needles are placed in tubes attached to the bar. The needles move up and down, putting ink into the second layer of the skin, called the dermis. The outline is done with one needle, and then several other needles fill in the design. The needles puncture your skin so there can be a lot of blood. Before tattooing, the tattoo artist should wash and shave (if necessary) the area to be tattooed, and clean it well with an antiseptic. back to top

Does Getting a Tattoo Hurt?
  • The short answer is yes.
  • How much depends on the amount of pain you can stand and on the area being tattooed. Generally, thin-skinned areas like the inside of your arm will hurt more than thick-skinned areas like your thighs.

Tips for Safe Tattooing
  • The tattoo artist should always wash his or her hands before working on a new customer, just as a health professional would before each new patient. The tattoo artist also should wear latex gloves while doing the tattoo.
  • Check that the needles used are new. Ask to see the tattoo artist take them out of the package.
  • Needles should be thrown away after they are used.
  • Reusable tools like the needle bar and tubes (not the needles themselves) should be sterilized in an autoclave. That's a machine that sterilizes tools using heat.
  • The tattoo artist should use new ink for each customer. Ask to see him or her mix fresh ink for you. After your tattoo, any leftover ink should be thrown out because it may be contaminated with blood. back to top
Caring for Your Tattoo
Tattoos take about 7 to 10 days to heal. Follow these tips to keep your tattoo from becoming infected:
  • Keep the tattoo covered with a bandage for 2 to 12 hours after getting it. Try not to touch it. Touching increases the chance of infection because germs from your hands can spread into the tattoo.
  • After you remove the bandage, wash the tattoo with an antibacterial soap like Dial and water to remove the blood. Rinse and pat dry with a clean, soft towel.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin® or Bacitracin® three times a day for five days. You can get these at the drugstore without a prescription. They help fight infection and keeps the scab soft.
  • Apply moisturizing lotion or petroleum jelly to the area for two weeks. Lotions without added color or perfumes will lessen the chance of irritation.
  • Avoid swimming and baths for the first few weeks. Soaking in water can ruin a tattoo. back to top
Another Reason to Shun the Sun
Did you know that sunlight (tanning beds, too) can also wreck tattoos? Stay out of the sun for four weeks after getting a tattoo. The sun can cause an allergic reaction that can ruin the tattoo. After that, always cover your tattoo with a sunblock that has an SPF of 30 or above. back to top

Permanent Ink?
Okay, so you got a tattoo and now you regret it. What's a marked girl to do? Save your money. Laser removal, the most successful and least painful way to fade or remove a tattoo, costs at least $1,200. And it takes many treatments to work.

Only trained medical professionals can do laser tattoo removal. If you decide to go this route, see a dermatologist who has done laser removal before. Just ask the receptionist at the doctor's office if the dermatologist is certified and trained in laser removal. back to top

How Lasers Work
Different kinds of lasers remove or fade different color inks. (By the way: Blue, black, and red inks fade the best. Orange and purple fade okay. Green and yellow are the hardest to get rid of.) The laser works by breaking down the ink in the tattoo. A laser pinpoints a specific color in a tattoo, and the energy from the laser breaks that color into lots of tiny pieces. So if you have a tattoo with several colors, more than one type of laser might be needed. The bits of tattoo get absorbed into your body. You may feel a little stinging as the laser passes over your skin. Some people say lasers feel like a rubber band snapping on your skin. Lasers may not work as well to remove certain colors from certain darker skin types. That's because the laser can't tell the difference between the color of the tattoo and the color of the skin. Darker skin types can get damaged because the laser removes the melanin along with the tattoo color, and the person is left with a patch of discolored skin. Be sure to ask the dermatologist about your skin color and how effective the laser will be at removing the tattoo.

Often lasers don't work at all to remove the tattoo. If they do work, the person is usually left with a permanent discoloration and change in the surface of their skin. In other words, once the tattoo is gone, the skin will not be perfectly normal. Many people have a negative image of the tattoo or a faint scar or outline (where the skin is a bit lighter) in the shape of the tattoo. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/10/2001
RELATED ARTICLES (back to the top)
Body Piercing: Not a Hole New Trend
You Glow, Girl: A Guide to Skin Care
Be a Savvy Shopper: A Guide to Buying Skin Care and Cosmetic Products