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Tattoos are one of the oldest forms of personal decoration. They've been used to identify people with various organisations, to make people look attractive or simply as a rite of passage. Even today all that stands, but they're now also used as a fashion accessory.
I always swore when I was younger I'd never get one, and my dear old nan thought people who had tattoos were thugs. That all changed in 1999 when I got a small Ankh tattooed above my right bicep. At the time it wasn't a vanity tattoo, but an attempt at de-sensitizing myself to needles. I'm a severe needlephobic (trypanophobic if you want the medical term) and at the time I was having a battery of blood tests done for an ongoing complaint. As vaso-vagal trypanophobia (the type I have) can be fatal I was advised to find some way to remove the fear as I really needed the tests done. Weird as it may sound I decided a tattoo was the way forward.
I had a chat with a friend of mine who designs tattoos (but has none herself) and she pointed me in the right direction and to a decent parlour to get one done. As I was getting one done for non-stylish reasons I decided to have something small done and chose the Ankh as it a symbol I like and also the place where it was because it could easily be covered up with a T-shirt. After I had it done, I realised it wasn't as traumatic as I thought it would be, it actually looked good and that I wanted more done.
The problem you have with tattoos is that once they're done, thats it. You can't wash them off. You have them for life. You have to live with them, and also the people close to you do as well. so here is some simple advice if you're thinking of getting a tattoo but you're not sure.
Make Sure YOU Want It ************************** This is the most important advice. As I've said, you're stuck with them for life. Yes, you can have them lasered away at a later date, but this is both *VERY* painful and expensive. Having them lasered away also leaves a scar which can look worse than the tattoo. Don't get one because your mates have one and you want to fit in, or because you want to prove a point. Make sure you want the tattoo. Think about it carefully and don't get it done on a whim or (and especially because of the risk of infection - more on this later) while on holiday when you're bevvied up.
Don't Get Something You May Regret ***************************************** One of my tattoos, a big tribal design on my shoulders, was done as part of a His & Hers wedding present that my ex-wife and I bought one another just after we got married. I chose her a small 3 inch circular design, she chose me a 24 inch wide by 9 inch deep design (she liked to see me suffer). I'm really glad we didn't get one anothers names etched into our skin because we're now divorced and I don't believe it's fair on current partners to have to see my ex's names all over me. Yes, by all means have the names of your kids on you, but trust me - try and avoid the name of your current partner. Cruel as it may sound you can fall out of love...
I also personally wouldn't get a football team tattooed on me, a national flag or anything that may make me a target for people who don't share my affinities with certain things and will go to extremes to point it out. Also try and avoid getting a design that shows your allegiance to something who may have a design change (or may just pack up altogether - band, nightclubs etc) at a later date. This is just my personal opinion on the matter though and you can feel free to get whatever want :-)
Speak To Your Partner About It ********************************** This may sound trivial, but your partner has to wake up to it every morning and although they should love you no matter what, some people can be really fickle about such things. A friend of mine had a tattoo done and his wife hated him for it and still does. If you're going to get one done then make sure your partner is cool about it and don't get it done as a surprise as it can backfire.
Think About Where You Want It ********************************** Some employers don't like tattoos, especially visible ones (try and get a job with Disney if you have a tattoo ANYWHERE on your body - they don't allow tattoos and make you sign a form stating you don't have any) so if you're employer is one of these that doesn't like tattoos then get it somewhere it's unlikely to be seen. It's possible that if you got one and were fired for it you could claim a violation of your human rights, but I wouldn't bet on it being successful.
Also, there are places that tattoos look stupid so think long and hard about where you want it, and can it be easily hidden if needs be?
Do A Henna Trial ******************* You can get henna tattoo kits for about a tenner from various places. If you're thinking of getting a tattoo and you're not sure get a henna tattoo kit and see how you get on with a henna tattoo for a few weeks. Some people do this and find that a tattoo isn't for them. The advantages of henna kits is that they're not permanent and you can also change design. The disadvantage is they're not permanent, need redoing every few days and if they come into contact with shampoo or shower gel they can smudge, It's worth it though if you're really unsure.
RESEARCH YOUR TATTOOIST *********************************** This is possibly the second most important rule below whether you really want one. Before you get a tattoo done ask about. If you have friends that have them then ask who they'd recommend to do the tattoo and then visit the place yourself. As a rule a tattooists should have a similar smell as a dentists (clean and sterile), they should have a clearly printed set of terms and conditions on display as well as a health and hygiene certificate. They should also be willing to show you the equipment they use (make sure they have an autoclave which is a device used to sterilise equipment after use), answer any questions and be patient which cannot be stressed enough if you're nervous as I was. They should also show you the needle before they pop it in the gun and should also show you them taking it out of a sealed sterilised packet. They should also have a sharps bin in the room where they do tattoos where they dispose of the used needles.
DO NOT use a tattooist who doesn't use disposable needles. The chances of infection from a tattooist who re-uses needles rises dramatically. Remember, there are a lot of infections that can be spread via blood not least of all hepatitis and HIV, so avoid any tattooist who doesn't use disposable needles.
They should also have a good aftercare policy. I only use tattooists who do free re-colours within a 3 to 6 month period (although I do have to pay a small fee the needle) and tattooists who are willing to answer any questions I have AFTER the tattoo is done. They will also advise you on how to care for the tattoo as it heals.
It DOES Hurt *************** Tattoos hurt. You're having a needle shot into you about 5 times a second and yes it will hurt. How much it hurts depends on your own personal pain threshold and where you have the tattoo done on your body (some places hurt more than others) and to a lesser extent how experienced the tattooist is. Most of the pain comes from the outline as your endorphins (the body's natural opiate and painkiller) hasn;t kicked in, but within about 5 minutes the pain should drop signigicantly. When the colouring is happening you do get the odd twinges of pain as a new area is started on, but the endorphins are flowing by then and after the initial twinge all you should feel is a slight pressure with a cold feeling.
Two things I must stress. Make sure you've had breakfast. When I was having the His and Hers tattoo done I hadnt eaten all day and my body went into shock whih meant the wifey was sent off to get me a bottle of lucozade and a chocolate bar to level me out. If you haven't eaten and you're having a large tattoo done then you will start shaking.
The endorphins will only last so long as well. After a while their effect wears off and in large tattoos this is where is starts to hurt. If this happens then try and bare with it. You can usually get 75%-80% of the way through and if it does start to kick in then do something to take your mind off it. Talk to the tattooist, meditate (what I did when the pain kicked in on the biggy), think about nice sunny beaches - anything that distracts you. You'll be surprised though - your body has weird and wonderful ways to take your mind off it a lot of the time. If it;s really hurting don't be afraid to go "ow ow ow" under your breath or even mentally curse at the tattooist.
Also find a tattooist who is willing to let you have a break maybe halfway through a large tattoo or possibly even do it in two sessions. Yes, it does drag it out, but at the end of the day YOU are the one who has to go through it and experience it and you;re the most important person in this.
Don't tense up either. The more you tense up - which is only natural - the more it hurts as it's harder for the needle to penetrate. Just relax and although it's not pleasant at the time, just let it happen.
As Douglas Adam's once wrote : DON'T PANIC!!! The needle they use is huge, but only a couple of millimetres penetrate the skin.
If you want to know what a tattoo feels like I think the best way I can describe it is like a cat scratching over the same place, Yes it hurts, but it's not unbarable.
Look After It ************* After the worse is over, remove the dressing about an hour to two hours later. If you're finding it hard to remove then use a damp flannel to wet the area around it (but not ON it) to loosen up any dried blood and then remove the dressing. Only wet the actual tattoo in extreme cases where it hurts way too much to remove the dressing.
For the first 12-24 hours you may experience a slight burning sensation. This is normal and is caused by the body's natural response to whats just happened. If it gets too much just drop a a paracetamol and it should calm it down. If it itches (which it will do from around day 2 to 7 take an antihistamine (hayfever tablets are good) to calm it down slightly.
Try to avoid sleeping on the area where the tattoo has been done as well for a few nights (at least until the scab has formed) because as well as hurting, it also damages the end result.
Use an antiseptic anti-inflamatory (read as pile cream like anusol or Prep H) two or three times a day as this also calms down the itching - although it might nip a bit the first few times you use it - and also helps keep it clean as well as aiding the healing process.
From day 3 onwards if you notice any weeping then get it looked at. There shouldn't be any weeping from the tattoo and if there is it's possible you have an infection.
Also don't pick or scratch at the scab as it itches. Yes, I know it's hard to resist the temptation, but let the scab come away naturally. If you pick or scratch at it then it can cause fading and will mean a recolour.
Enjoy It ********* You've earned it :-).
So, would I recommend tattoos? Yes, but only if YOU want one. I've said it a few times in this op and I'll say it again - only get one because you want one because they're with you for life. Also, as mentioned in the disadvantages, they do blur over time (talking 15-20 years), but when that happens you can either get them re-outlined if they're not to big or turned into something else. They're wonderful though and if you get one wear it with pride.
By the way, I've now got 4 tattoos, my nan is thinking of getting one at the age of 78 and I'm still petrified of needles!!!
Great review, really helpful. I'm looking for the perfect tattoo at the minute but nothing seems quite right yet!
Callykay 03.08.2007 17:48
Excellent sound advice - everything you say is spot on. I love tattoos & have 2 small ones myself but I'd say always have one where it can be hidden from view if need be
indigo78 28.03.2007 17:14
Really informative review. Ii've only ever had one small tattoo done on the right side of my lower back. I always wanted to get one done on my stomach before i got pregnant with my first child but i'm glad i didn't now. I love tattoo's and if i had the money spare i 'd get another done.