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Getting inked

What is a tattoo?

A permanent mark on the skin made by ink or pigment.

For thousands of years, people have been getting tattoos. For body adornment. As an expression of individuality. Or rebellion. Others were branded a criminal or slave with tattoos.

More young people are getting inked now, than ever before. I blame David Beckham. He's running out of arm space.

How is it done?

A tattooist inserts ink into the skin, using needles. Most often nowadays, they use an electric tattoo machine. This drives the needles into our skin about 80 to 150 times per second.

Is it painful?

Some people find it painful, others just irritating or uncomfortable. A common description is that it feels like a 'hot scratch'

Should I get a tattoo?

If you have to ask - the answer is no. Remember you have to live with this forever. No matter what you do, what you where or how your body changes.

Am I allowed to get a tattoo?

No one should give a tattoo to anyone under 16, without their parent's permission. Most tattooists will refuse to do it till you're over 18. Prepare to show ID.

Where should I get it done?

It is important to find a good, safe tattooist.
Three things to do:

  • Ask someone you know who has had a tattoo where they would recommend
  • Visit as many tattooists as you can. Ask to see a portfolio of their work and certificates of training and hygiene/first aid. Take someone along with you, if this makes it easier to ask.
  • Trust your instincts: does the place feel, look and smell clean? Can you trust the tattooist - are they open to questions, do they explain things well? If you're not sure - leave.

What are the risks?

Tattoos use needles under the skin. So the biggest risk is from unclean needles, which can spread nasty diseases like HIV and Hepatitis. Tattooists should use sterile equipment and fresh needles. Every time.
Some people are allergic to the pigment used to make the tattoo. This can take some time to develop, but the tattoo becomes uncomfortable and sore. It may be necessary to remove it.
Some tattoos are uncomfy in the sun or when they get hot.
Regret. This is the most frequent problem. About a third of people with tattoos regret having them.

Can't I get my tattoo removed?

This is possible, but expensive. And often painful. If you think you might change your mind, stick with temporary tattoos. Some are very realistic. We needn't have fairies and butterflies like we did as a kid.

Further help and advice

Written by Dr Melissa Sayer

Last updated 17th June 2007

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