Think Before You Ink
Madison, Wisconsin – It may seem like everywhere you look, you see someone with a tattoo. Maybe even you have one. Roughly 14 percent of Americans have at least one, and it may surprise you that more 26 to 40 year-olds have one than the 18 to 25 crowd. And the reasons for getting one are as unique as the wearer.
While many tattoos have a personal meaning, a recent survey showed that having one also makes people feel a little more rebellious (29 percent) or sexy (31 percent). But another stat that has been on the rise recently is the number of individuals who are having their tattoo removed. So what do you need to think about before you ink?
First, what actually happens when you get one.
The reason the tattoo is permanent is because the ink is actually placed in the dermis – the layer of tissue just below the skin. In order to get the ink there, a tattoo artist generally uses a motorized needle to puncture the skin. The needle contains ink and essentially pokes the skin, depositing the ink droplets into the dermis.
If it sounds like it can be risky, it can be, but Dr. Apple Bodemer, a UW Health dermatologist, stresses the risks are rare as long as you go to a reputable studio.
“In Wisconsin, you want to make sure both the studio and the artists are certified by the Wisconsin Department of Health,” she explains. “Regulations differ between states and countries, so it is important to ask about safety procedures before you go ahead with a tattoo.”
What to Look For
Dr. Bodemer explains that because the process involves needles and blood, there is a risk of infection, including HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis and MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus). To minimize that risk, make sure the studio where you are getting the tattoo is clean and sterile. The artist should wear gloves and the needles should be single use.
And be aware that other side effects can occur. Dr. Bodemer explains that granulomas – inflamed tissue – can be caused by a reaction to the ink. Keloids can develop, which are overgrown scars that can be itchy and painful. And some people can have an allergic reaction to the ink.
“An allergic reaction to the ink can occur immediately, or it may take years to develop. It tends to occur more often with red and yellow, but can happen with any color,” she says.
Another side effect, is that the tattoo can interfere with medical imaging. The metal in tattoo ink can actually get hot in an MRI machine, making the procedure painful.
A Temporary Alternative
If you’re not ready for a permanent tattoo, or you’re attracted to the intricate designs of henna tattoos, Dr. Bodemer notes that those can be a good option, but it’s important to know what henna is being used.
“Brown henna is more commonly used, and while it can cause allergic reactions, the risk is pretty low,” she comments.
Black henna, on the other hand, can be made from para-phenylenediamine (PPD). This compound is very allergenic causing severe allergic reactions in approximately 13 to 15 percent of the individuals who are exposed to it. The reactions can result in permanent scaring and commonly lead to a lifelong chemical sensitivity. This chemical is found in many hair dyes and also cross-reacts with local anesthetics as well as some medications.
Think Twice Before Getting Inked
And what about that tattoo regret?
It’s estimated that around 17 percent of people with tattoos feels some regret, and 11 percent are getting or have gotten a tattoo removed. To no one’s surprise, tattoos that contain names, song lyrics or poems are generally more likely to lead to later regret.
If you do change your mind, there are different options available. One is to cover up the tattoo with another one, as actor Johnny Depp famously did with his once-girlfriend’s name, “Winona Forever.” (It now reads, “Wino Forever.”) But if that isn’t the best solution for you, you can look into tattoo removal.
Tattoo removal is expensive, painful and takes a lot of time – six to 10 sessions that are roughly six to eight weeks apart.
“It could take a year or more from the start to the end of the removal process,” Dr. Bodemer comments.
She explains that during the removal, a laser is used to blast the tattoo ink into smaller pieces so that your macrophages – part of your immune system responsible for removing foreign material – can clear up the smaller particles of ink.
There are potential side effects, including scarring and/or changes in skin pigmentation, and it can be even more expensive than the original tattoo.
“A small tattoo may start around $45, while removal of a small tattoo may run $150 to $400 a session,” she adds.
It’s also important to note that some tattoos cannot be removed completely – script in particular is difficult – and at best, the tattoo may only fade. Generally speaking, blacks and dark blues are the easiest colors to remove, while oranges, yellows, any pastel color or mixture of colors tend to be more difficult.
Dr. Bodemer recommends thinking of a tattoo as a permanent part of your body that will change as your body changes. “If skin stretches or sags, the tattoo will be distorted. This goes for any weight gain, including that of pregnancy, as well as natural decrease of tissue tone that goes along with aging.”
“The best way to avoid regretting your decision to get a tattoo, and minimize any risks, is to take your time and think your decision through,” she adds.
Date Published: 03/22/2016