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Thinking of getting inked? Here’s what you need to know.
By Callie Schweitzer, Graduate, University of Southern California
Getting a tattoo may seem like no big deal, but the reality is it has a big impact on your life—both present and future.
Stats on Tats
In a Student Health 101 survey of 1,141 college students, 19% said they have one or more tattoos, and 16% said they’re thinking of getting one. According to 2010 research from the Pew Research Center, 72% of adults with tattoos revealed they have them in non-visible places. To read more, CLICK HERE.
Why Get Inked?
And why not? Tattoos are a sign of individuality and can be symbolic of a particular memory or moment in time. Some people get tattoos in memory of a loved one. Some have designs that are an expression of creativity or a symbol or words with great personal meaning.
Katie Wheeler, a senior in high school in Minnesota, paid $150 to get two tattoos on her 18th birthday: an angel wing on each hip.
“They represent my freedom of turning 18 and flying away from the nest of home,” she says. “My parents have not seen them, and I do not plan on showing them. I got them for me, not for others to see constantly.”
Jaclyn Tusing, a sophomore at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, says she used to dream of becoming a tattoo artist and opening her own shop.
“I love art, and I consider tattoos to be no exception,” she says. “I believe tattoos to be a form of art that people can carry with them as they go through life, adding on to the canvas as their life changes.”
For many, tattoos are a form of self-expression. Victoria Baylis, a junior at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, notes, “My sister has a beautiful tattoo covering the top half of her back. It’s a tree with fall colors, falling leaves, and curving roots. She has a bachelor’s in biology and a minor in botany, so it represents her growing passion for nature.”
Think It Over
Deborah Feller, a psychotherapist based in New York, says college students are often driven to get tattoos because of peer pressure while others are doing it as a statement of identity. She advises students to think carefully about how they’ll feel later if they get a tattoo.
“Tattoos are permanent,” Feller says. “Mostly, anyone who is thinking about getting a tattoo should let the idea percolate for a while before acting on it.”
Dan Bloom, a senior at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, says that he thought about getting a tattoo many times, but he hasn’t taken the plunge.
“I feel as though the picture, animal, quote, or initials would have to be extremely significant in order to justify putting it on my body,” he says. “At this point in my life, I have nothing that fits that description that I feel needs to be put into ink.”
The Public Perception
How others view tattoos and the stigma that goes along with them is something students think about. In the Student Health 101 survey, one-third of students said that when they see someone with a tattoo, they wonder if they got any grief for it, and just over half wonder what made the person do it. Six out of ten say they know someone who has a tattoo and regrets getting it.
Tattoos change as your body changes, too, which means the color can fade and the shape can change as your skin changes.
When it comes to deciding where to get a tattoo, consider your future.
“Anytime a student with a visible tattoo is evaluated in school, on the job, or the world in general, their tattoos will mostly likely harm those evaluations,” says Dr. Robert Neuman, former associate dean of academic advising at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Many corporations have strict policies against visible tattoos. Why? Companies believe that tattoos don’t make a good impression on the public.”
Jason Navallo, a senior at Baruch College in New York City, says he has no interest in getting a tattoo.
“Most of my friends get tattoos because they think it’s the cool thing to do and they want to do something different,” he says. “But it’s permanent, and it’s expensive to get it removed. What if I were to change my mind somewhere down the road?”
Heather Daniels, a fifth-year student at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, says her future career is one of the reasons she’ll never get a tattoo.
“I am going to be a teacher, so I would have to make sure that I can cover up my tattoo easily,” she says. “When it comes to getting tattoos, I think that it is really important that you keep job opportunities in mind.”
If you do choose to get a tattoo, visit a few different tattoo parlors to ensure the safety and sanitation of the one you end up choosing. Inquire about the parlor’s procedure and their options for removal should you choose to get it removed.
Feller cautions against students choosing the cheapest option. “In a well-run tattoo parlor where infection control is practiced, there probably aren’t too many risks,” says Feller. “Of course, there are probably parlors and people doing tattoos on the cheap. Those places need to be avoided.”
Ask people you trust where they got their tattoos. Check if the facility is licensed and ask how they keep their equipment clean to prevent spreading diseases such as hepatitis. And, remember that some people may have an allergic reaction to the inks used.
The removal process can be painful, time-consuming, and expensive. Some laser procedures cost as much as $400 per session and won’t be covered by medical insurance.
Always keep in mind what a serious decision getting a tattoo is. Katie Rogers, a graduate student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, has a tattoo on the left side of her body that extends from her hip to her armpit. It took three sessions—a total of 13 hours—to complete and cost $860.
“It was something I’d been thinking about for a while,” she says. “I knew I wanted something that meant a lot to me, since it would be there the rest of my life. I also wanted it to be somewhere discreet that wouldn’t be seen unless I wanted it to be seen.”
CALLIE SCHWEITZER IS A RECENT GRADUATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA IN LOS ANGELES. SHE IS THE ASSISTANT TO THE PUBLISHER AT TALKING POINTS MEMO.
Find Out More
Click for more about tattoo and piercing safety from MedlinePlus.
Click for more Tattoo safety guidelines from Columbia University.
Click for "Think Before You Ink" from the U.S. FDA, with more on tattoo safety.
Tattoo Health and Safety Checklist
If you are considering a tattoo, the following actions can help ensure your health and safety.
Ask to see the autoclave. This tool sterilizes equipment used in the tattooing process. Ask about the results of the shop’s latest maintenance test.
Inquire about spore testing. A spore test is used to determine whether or not an autoclave is working properly. Tattoo facilities should should have these on file.
Make sure tattoo artists use single-use needles and razors. Also make certain that the artist washes his/her hands before and after putting on disposable gloves.
Look into follow-up care. A credible venue should offer instructions on caring for your new tattoo.
Know your tattoo artist. Don’t be hesitant to inquire about his/her level of experience. Is the inker licensed? Note that reputable tattoo artists will require age verification from customers.
Are they licensed? In most areas, an operating license is required to run a tattoo or piercing business, and the license must be up to date. Check with your provincial health department concerning the business.
Practice good hygiene yourself. Before, during, and after the procedure, keep yourself clean. Tattoos need to be kept clean or you risk infection or other complications.
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