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Tattoos Continued

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

The most common risk of getting a permanent tattoo is subsequent dissatisfaction with the tattoo itself, whether this dissatisfaction occurs immediately afterward, or much later in life. Sometimes, youth do not like how the tattoo artist created the tattoo, or it doesn't look like what they expected it to. Or, what once seemed like a perfect sized tattoo, now seems huge now that it's on the skin. Some youth love their tattoo when they first get it, but when their interests, beliefs, relationships, style, or tastes change, they no longer think the tattoo is attractive. Sometimes people like the tattoo itself but later regret the placement of a certain tattoo, especially when they have to cover tattoos to qualify for certain jobs, or when they cannot wear an elegant, backless evening dress because of the huge tattooed insignia running across their backs. Another risk is that a tattoo can change in appearance in response to changes in the skin's tone, condition, and age. For example, pregnancy, weight gain, and weight loss, can stretch skin, causing it to sag. Moreover, the normal aging process can cause tattoos to look drastically different as skin naturally becomes more inelastic during aging. If a person wants to get rid of a tattoo later in life, it can be costly to cover it up with a different tattoo or to remove it as discussed earlier.

sad teen girlThe most serious risk associated with tattoos is the possibility of physical complications, some quite severe. A small portion of the population may have an allergic reaction to the ink, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to life-threatening. Some youth have other highly uncomfortable physical reactions to the tattoo such as pain, itching, or problems healing. Furthermore, if a tattoo artist does not follow proper hygienic standards, a person can contract an infection, including Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), or Hepatitis.

Many youth do not realize that tattoos are very costly. Tattoos are a sizable financial investment, especially if they're large or in color. As well, talented, reputable artists will charge more for their work and some teens may be tempted to choose less reputable artists in order to save money, but this choice may increase the risk of dissatisfaction and health complications. After weighing the risks and benefits many youth will decide to get a tattoo. Although parents may be unhappy with their youths' decision, parents should remain involved to help youth to limit their risks. Parents can help youth to carefully evaluate the tattoo design, size, and placement location to limit the likelihood of dissatisfaction, now or in the future. Once that's decided, youth should carefully choose a tattoo artist and parlor. The quality of the tattoo, and the safety of the procedure, depends upon this important decision. Youth should never get a tattoo from a friend who tattoos the basement with homemade tattooing equipment or any other "underground" tattoo artist. While these tattoo artists can charge cheaper rates, they are typically operating outside the law and therefore outside safety standards and regulations. It's much less likely that they will follow hygienic procedures that are essential to preventing infections and the inks that are used may not be government approved.

After selecting several reputable artists and salons, youth should visit these tattoo parlors and ask if they may observe the artists at work (Realize, this may require the consent of the client receiving the tattoo as well.). Artists should wash their hands and disinfect their work space between every client. Artists should use fresh medical gloves and fresh needles from a sealed package for every client, and if their gloves come in contact with any object afterwards (phones, money, etc.), they should remove their gloves and replace them with a fresh pair before resuming their work. They should also properly dispose their needles in red "sharps" containers that protect people from accidental needle sticks from used needles.

Once an adolescent decides what tattoo design they want and who will perform the work, they should talk candidly and openly with the tattoo artist about what they want so that the artist and client fully understand each other. If the artist advises against a particular placement location or color, this advice should be carefully considered because tattoo artists are familiar with how skin moves and stretches and how a two dimensional design will look once it becomes three dimensional. Reputable tattoo artists have a vested interest in making sure their work is visually pleasing and satisfies their clients. These steps will ensure the actual tattoo is as close as possible to what the client envisioned.

Once the tattoo work is completed, the tattoo artist will carefully explain the correct way to care for the tattoo afterward so that it heals properly and looks nice. Ordinarily this includes specific instructions about how to clean, cover, and moisturize the fresh tattoo until it has completely healed. If teens have received a tattoo in a location where it will be difficult for them to properly care for the tattoo as it heals (such as their backs), parents may need to be willing to perform these tasks. Also, teens will need to carefully protect the fresh tattoo from irritants such as sun exposure and cosmetics. It is very important that youth strictly follow the aftercare instructions. Youth should also be on the lookout for any signs of infections or allergic reactions such as intense pain, redness, inflammation, rash, or drainage. If youth or parents notice any of these signs, they should get to a doctor as soon as possible to treat the infection or negative reaction.