There are many reasons a person might decide to have a tattoo placed: It can be a statement of one’s individuality or independence, a symbol of affection for one’s partner or simply a body adornment.
However, unlike other consumer items, such as clothing or jewelry, it cannot be exchanged or returned if you change your mind later. Take this important information into consideration before getting a tattoo. Tattoo artists are, in general, unreliable sources on the pros and cons of tattoo placement. I have seen a number of patients who were unhappy with their tattoo experience. Perhaps the following suggestions will help avoid these pitfalls.
Tips on tattoos
• Start with a rub-on or temporary henna tattoo and wear it for several months. Are you in love with the colors, design and size? Does it clash with a classy black dress but look fabulous with a T-shirt and jeans? Would you feel self-conscious displaying your tattoo at your son or daughter’s wedding? Would you still appreciate the way it looks on your forearm if you had to wear a short-sleeved shirt to play golf with the big boss and his or her partners at the law firm?
• Avoid tattoo placement when you are inebriated.
• Avoid obtaining a tattoo because you and your friends are bored.
• Avoid getting a tattoo as a sign of eternal love – or at least do not get a large one. You may truly regret this later, as have many of my patients.
• Do not obtain a tattoo in the immediate aftermath of a personal crisis or major life change such as a death, job loss or breakup with a longtime partner.?If a change in your life is needed and that tattoo represents change, consider a new vacation destination, redo a room in your house or try a different hairstyle or color.
• Women not yet pregnant should give careful consideration to a tattoo placed on the breasts or abdomen. These body areas may develop significant stretch marks following childbirth, which can distort the appearance of the tattoo.
• It is impossible to predict how your skin will react. Potential risks include an allergic reaction to dyes, infection and scarring. A tattoo parlor should be clean, the needles sterilized and the tattoo artist should follow sanitary precautions to avoid spreading bacterial and viral infections. Certain body regions are more prone to scarring – be extremely cautious if your family has a tendency for excessive scarring.
Consider this: Up to 20 percent of people change their minds and want to have their tattoos removed. Do not assume you can reverse your decision with laser technology. Although the technology is continuing to improve, there are still risks to the procedure and there is no guarantee of perfect results.
Tattoo removal is expensive – it costs many times more than the tattoo itself. Depending on the tattoo, anywhere from six to 25 laser treatments may be needed for satisfactory removal and can run many thousands of dollars – a cost insurance companies will not cover.
Moreover, not every tattoo can be removed. Professional tattoos are more difficult to remove because multi- and vibrant-colored inks are placed deeper in the skin. There is no single laser system that can remove all colors – you may need three to five different lasers.
Tattoo removal leaves scarring, a change in skin texture and/or discolored skin. Permanent hypopigmentation or hyperpigmentation are possible side effects. Even with the best result, there is still often a slight “ghostlike” color remaining in the shape of the former tattoo.
Still certain a tattoo’s for you?
• Be up-to-date on your tetanus booster. You should have one every 10 years.
• You should complete the Hepatitis B vaccine series so that you are fully immunized.
• Have the tattoo done professionally – not by a friend with ink and sewing needles.
• Consult a dictionary to confirm that words are spelled correctly and accents properly placed.
• The chosen site for the tattoo should be free of moles, rashes and skin growths.
Do not tattoo over a mole. This will make it extremely difficult to monitor the mole for cancerous changes. If you do not like a mole, have it removed surgically instead.
• Do not tattoo personal information on your body such as your name, telephone number, address or Social Security number.
• Start with a small tattoo in an inconspicuous body area and see if you and the tattoo are compatible.
• The best colors for a first-time tattoo are blue or green – there’s always time to get that colorful, fire-breathing dragon wrapped around your torso.
• Limit your color palette to no more than two colors for the first tattoo. Be aware that tattoo artists mix many colors to make an unusual hue or to obtain an especially vibrant color – avoid them.
• Consider having the tattoo done using inks developed by a company called Freedom 2. The inks are incorporated into polymer-coated microbeads, which are more amenable to laser removal and require fewer treatments. A reputable tattoo parlor should carry such inks.
Patricia Wong, M.D., a dermatologist in private practice in Palo Alto, specializes in cosmetic and medical dermatology. For more information, call 473-3173 or visit www.patriciawongmd.com.