A tattoo is a permanent kind of body art. A design is made by puncturing the skin with needles and injecting ink, dyes, and pigments into the deep layer of the skin.
Tattoos used to be done manually — that is, the tattoo artist would puncture the skin with a needle and inject the ink by hand. Though this process is still used in some parts of the world, professional tattoo artists use tattoo machines. A tattoo machine powers the needles up and down as ink is deposited in the skin.
If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, you should understand that tattoos are permanent. Tattoo removal is difficult, expensive, and may not be completely remove the tattoo.
Before getting a tattoo, make sure you have had all your immunizations (especially hepatitis B and tetanus shots). If you have a medical problem such as heart disease, allergies, diabetes, skin problems like eczema or psoriasis, a weakened immune system, or a bleeding problem, talk to your doctor before getting a tattoo. Also, if you get keloids (an overgrowth of scar tissue) you should probably not get a tattoo.
Even though tattoos are generally accepted, having one may hurt your chances of getting a job or advancing your career. If you get a tattoo, career coaches recommend you get one that’s easy to cover with work clothes.
It’s very important to protect yourself against infection if you decide to get a tattoo. Make sure the tattoo studio is clean and safe, and that all equipment used is disposable (in the case of needles, ink, gloves) and sterilized (everything else). Call your state, county, or local health department to find out about your state’s laws on tattooing, ask for recommendations on licensed tattoo shops, or check for any complaints about a particular studio.
Most states don’t allow minors (people younger than 18 years) to get a tattoo without a parent’s permission, and some require that a parent be present during the tattooing. In some states, minors are not allowed to get tattoos.
Professional studios usually take pride in their cleanliness. Here are some things to ask about:
If the studio looks unclean, if anything looks out of the ordinary, or if you feel in any way uncomfortable, find a better place to get your tattoo.
Here’s what you can expect from a normal tattooing procedure:
Getting a tattoo hurts, but the level of pain can vary. It can feel like scratching, burning, stinging, or tingling. Some people feel sharp pains while others may describe the feeling as dull. The amount of pain you feel will depend on your pain threshold and other factors, including where on your body you’re getting the tattoo, the size and number of needles being used, and the artist’s style (some are quick and some work more slowly, some are more gentle than others).
If you decide to get a tattoo, chances are everything will go as planned. Some people have allergic reactions to the tattoo ink, causing itching, bumps, and rashes that might happen days, weeks, or longer after the tattoo was placed. Tattoos might make eczema, psoriasis, or other skin conditions flare up.
Serious problems can happen if you try to do a tattoo yourself, have a friend do it for you, or have it done in any unclean environment. Skin infections caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi can happen if the skin is not cleaned properly, or the ink or needles are contaminated. Sharing needles, ink, or other equipment without sterilization increases your chance of getting HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C.
Call your doctor right away if you have bleeding, increased pain, or any signs of infection.