Tattoos have long been a form of art and self-expression. Many are enticed by the idea of getting inked as a form of body art, which reflects the bearer's personality.
Pigments are inserted into the top layer of the skin through needles, meticulously outlining and covering the entire area to achieve the perfect design. After a couple of hours of pain and slight bleeding, you're officially imprinted—with a renewed sense of self-identity, hopefully.
Even though this art form can be attained in one sitting, it is important to consider the bodily effects and possible risks, especially if done in haste, since it involves the human skin.
Easy on the epidermis
For Dr. Carrie Legaspi, President of Philippine Academy of Dermatologic Surgery Founation, Inc. and medical director of Total Skin Care Center, tattoos may cause allergic reactions to the sensitive skin.
"There might be delayed hypersensitivity or inflammation of the tattoos even after 48 hours after the application of the tattoo," she explains, adding that there may be redness, itching, burning swelling, scaling, broken skin, blisters, and scarring. Aside from these, other complications include infections such as pyoderma, syphilis, hepatitis, leprosy, warts, and allergic reactions resulting in dermatitis.
Temporary ink like henna may also bring the same symptoms, though not a vast majority of patients complain about such. Most reactions to tattoos are relatively minor and don't require medical attention. Applying aloe vera or specialty products can help relieve discomfort. More severe and uncomfortable sensations might be alleviated by Benadryl, or better yet, Legaspi advises going to a Philippine Dermatologic Society board-certified dermatologist.
Infection caused by a contaminated needle is more dangerous. Allergist Dr. Nanneth Tiu says it can lead to Tetanus, hepatitis, HIV, and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) complications. "It is important to advise the patients not to take the risks lightly."
Getting to know each other
While feeling pain is inevitable, you wouldn't want the hassle of getting complications after a session—which is why finding a safe shop and trusted tattoo artist is a must.
Ana Knicolai Mendoza, a freelance tattooist, stresses research and running a background check on the place and person before entrusting your skin to them: "It is very safe to get a tattoo in reputable shops. As long as the client follows the after-care instructions, there should be less or no problem at all."
She adds that there are groups of artists who attend DOH-accredited seminars for safety and sanitary precautions to foster a sound relationship between them and clients. As a tattooist for nine years now, Mendoza knows her fellow inkers' struggles with the craft, which most of the time is knowing which skin types are sensitive to ink.
But identifying skin types and inks to be used is rather easy compared to dealing with difficult clients. "Sometimes they act as if they know better than the artists, making our job difficult."
She is aware that a lot of myths and misconceptions are still attached to tattoiing, particularly stereotyping (ex-convicts, sinners, can't work abroad). But Mendoza doesn't see this as a hindrance, instead focusing on the abundance of resources to get to know credible local artists and shops. Her advice: "Always ask for a portfolio when choosing a tattoist. Check the parlor if it is clean. When in doubt, don't get inked."
The client and the artist being on the same page is vital to achieve the goal. She says, "First is the consultation. Once we have agreed on a design, we ask the client to sign a waiver. We sanitize the area, set up the station, and get to work." After putting things in order, Mendoza advises against "over-moisturizing the tattoo, and staying in the sun for too long" to avoid risks while it heals.
"No swimming for a month, and sweaty activities during and after the healing period. Don't pick at scabs, scratch, tap, and avoid touching the tattoo especially when it is fresh. Always make sure the tattoo is clean and dry. Wash with mild soap and treat it like a wound."
Fix the lasting impression
If there comes a time you want to remove the ink on your skin, it is possible. Since there are virtually endless tattoo designs out there, the number of sessions to remove each of them varies depending on type, color, depth, and density of the pigment.
"Tattoo removal has become a much more pleasant process thanks to the emergence of increasingly sophisticated laser technology," Dr. Legaspi says, adding Laser Tattoo Removal as the most effective way of getting rid of unwanted ink. The procedure uses laser technology to lighten, and eventually, make the tattoo disappear.
The laser precisely targets the pigment of the tattoo without damaging the surrounding skin. The treatment takes 30 minutes depending on the area to be treated. Legaspi advises first-timers to start small becauser it can be pricey.
Aside from doing extensive contemplation and research, she also recommends considering which part of the body to get a tattoo. "Think about possible employment and if having a visible tattoo would be a hindrance. Don't be too thrifty—we should always get what we pay for. Have a clear mind before going to the shop, and be mentally prepared to endure pain."