Body art tips: safety first, second, always

By Kylee Dawson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Approximately 40 million Americans - 15 percent of the population - were reported to have tattoos, National Geographic News stated in April 2000. That percentage has risen 1 percent since 2003.

In March 2002, Esquire magazine estimated that 1-in-8 Americans have tattoos. In the same year, the American Society of Dermatological Surgery stated that 50 percent of the 10 million Americans who get a tattoo eventually want it removed.

Before you take the plunge, though, here are a few tips to keep in mind. (Bear in mind, this advice can apply to piercers too.)

Vaccinations Though there has not been a single documented case of AIDS transmission in a U.S. tattoo studio, it does not mean there aren't other things you can catch from dirty needles. Hepatitis B or C are pretty nasty, so be sure to ask if the artist about to poke you has been vaccinated.

Sterilization Do not let anyone come near you with a needle until you've seen the autoclave - this is basically a pressure cooker-like device used to sterilize medical instruments.

Cleanliness Once the sterilized needles and other tools are good to go, make sure you get properly cleaned with germicidal soap on the designated area. However, if you're getting a tongue ring, ask for mouthwash, because surely that soap tastes awful.

Gloves To guard against infection, make sure the artist uses standard properly fitting surgical gloves at all times while piercing or tattooing you.

Containment If the artist is using ink, ointment, alcohol or any other items, make sure they are not returned to a universal container. That's just nasty!

Proper disposal Look for a sharps container. It's basically one of those little red containers with the label "hazardous waste" and the biohazard symbol, just like the ones doctors dispose of needles in once they've given you a shot. If the artist does not place needles in the autoclave, he or she should dispose of the needles in this container.

Be picky Sure, everyone wants to save money, but picking a quality artist will make all the difference in the final product. So check out numerous shops before you make a decision.

Be very picky Always check an artist's portfolio to examine samples of their finished work. There's nothing worse than getting a crappy tattoo - except the realization that you're stuck with it for the rest of your life. Any tattoos that appear bumpy or not very smooth mean the artist is probably very heavy-handed, which means he or she does shoddy work.

Relax Besides staying calm and collected, make sure you are comfortable with the person performing the procedure. Also, remember to breathe, don't tense up your muscles and try to relax until it's over.

What are the risks?

Because different skin and body types react differently to physical trauma, it is difficult to say who is more susceptible to some of the negative consequences of a tattoo or piercing gone bad. So, here's a heads-up on just a few of the many risks of getting tattoos and piercings.

Ink allergies Several contributing factors, including weather conditions, skin types and body chemistry, play a role in how your body will react to a tattoo. But the problem with ink allergies is the fact that you won't know if you are allergic to the tattoo ink until after you've gotten the tattoo. However, irritation may not develop immediately and could take days, weeks or even years to occur. More severe reactions could include blistering, skin lesions and persistent infections. Ye be warned.

What to do: Should you develop itchiness or pain, it might not necessarily be an infection. Try using a topical ointment, or for a more serious case, see a doctor immediately to get a prescription drug. But if the irritation is not cured by such means, tattoo removal just might be in order.

True, tattoos are pretty much permanent unless surgically removed, but piercings can always be taken out practically any time and allowed to heal up. However, sometimes the healing process doesn't go as planned and you're left with an ugly, painful reminder.

Scars and keloids When a piercing does not heal properly, it remains open to infection, which can either develop into a scar or keloid, which is basically a scar that can continue to grow, itch and hurt. To avoid both, regularly wash the piercing with alcohol for the designated period determined by the piercer. Also, only wear a pure metal, like gold, silver or platinum, which will also decrease chances of allowing a cheaper material irritate the healing piercing.