Love them or hate them, tattoos are an incredible wearable art form around us everyday. Until I came to this section of books here at the Fulton County Public Library I really didn’t know much about tattoos. I had always heard if you get one, you will have it forever. That isn’t necessarily true. I have learned a lot about tattoos from Tattoo – Pedia: Choose from over 1,000 of the Hottest Tattoo Designs for your New Ink! from the editors of

Tattoo - Pedia

This is not necessarily a book one needs to read word for word. It is meant to be a type of reference book, although reading through it is quite interesting. In addition to very in depth information, this book is also a picture book of  many of the most popular tattoo designs. Just like you might show a hair dresser a picture of a hair style or cut you want, you could use this book to show your tattooist a picture of the tattoo you have in mind. Another thing I liked about this book is that it has checklists and things to think about often with page references to read about particular topics.  One of the most obvious questions if you are considering getting a tattoo is to ask what kinds of things you should think about first. There is a convenient list of 10 questions along those lines:

Checklist of Top Ten Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting a Tattoo

  1. Are you okay with your tattoo becoming a permanent part of you?
  2. Are you confident that you want a tattoo for all the right reasons?
  3. Is getting a tattoo your idea, or is it someone else’s?
  4. Are you willing to do all the required research before meeting the needle?
  5. Are you okay with experiencing some level of pain?
  6. Do you understand that, even with the best conditions, there can be health risks involved?
  7. Are you ok with the idea of people not liking your tattoo – even openly criticizing you for it?
  8. Are you willing to take full responsibility for how your tattoo comes out?
  9. Do you understand that as your body changes over time, so likely will the appearance of the tattoo?
  10. Is there an alternative to gettting a tattoo that may be more in line with what you’re really after?

(p. 19)

I was particularly interested in the 9th question. I have heard in the past that tattoos can change with age, but I didn’t really know what could actually happen. Tattoos are put on the skin, the body’s largest organ. Skin can change in many ways. It can become damaged and reproduce itself (think of a sunburn healing). The skin can expand or retract as someone gains or loses weight. In aging bodies, wrinkles can appear in the skin due to sagging. All of these things can affect a tattoo. The body art will sag, stretch, retract, or peel somewhat with changes in the skin. One preventative measure is to be sure that you get a tattoo friendly design. This means that the tattooist is able to reproduce a design with the use of stencils. The stencils help ensure quality line work which will remain sharper over time than a design transferred from a drawing. Non-tattoo friendly designs may begin to blur and fade over time. Tattoo friendly art has been designed to accurately withstand the effects of time such as sun damage or stretched or pulled skin.

If you have done your research and decided that you do want to get a tattoo you will want to make sure that you are in good health. It isn’t recommended to get a tattoo if you are ill or have a cold. Likewise menstruating women should not get a tattoo during their period when their bodies may be more sensitive to pain. Pregnant women should not get a tattoo. Though minimal, there are some risks involved in the tattooing process.

The area to be tattooed needs to be in good shape free of any rashes, sunburn, or skin blemishes. Areas to be tattooed should not be shaved or have any type of cosmetics, lotions, or powders applied. The skin needs to be clean and as natural as possible. Any body piercings in the area to be tattooed should already be healed. Be sure you are as clean as possible since it’s not recommended that you swim or take a bath for two weeks after you get your tattoo. You will be able to shower but will need to be extremely mindful of the newly tattooed area.

When going to be tattooed, you will need to wear loose clothing which you aren’t afraid to get stained. The tattooing process can be messy since it involves using water, rubbing alcohol or other sanitizers, ink, ointments, and blood. Loose fitting clothing not likely to rub against the tattooed area is recommended. If your tattoos will be on your feet or ankles, you should wear the most comfortable shoes you have that allow access to those areas.

Despite the words to Jimmy Buffett’s song, Margaritaville

Don’t know the reason
Stayed here all season
Nothing to show but this brand new tattoo
But it’s a real beauty
A Mexican cutie
How it got here I haven’t a clue

it really is not a good idea to get a tattoo while intoxicated or even after a night of drinking. Aspirin should also be avoided before and during a tattoo session. Both alcohol and aspirin are blood thinners and could cause you to bleed more while being tattooed. More blood can make it difficult for the tattooist to see clearly and having to wipe up excessive blood can compromise stencils and irritate the area being worked on. Other drugs can also have an influence on the tattooing procedure. Before you get a tattoo talk to your doctor about the medications you take and what effect they might have during a tattoo session. Also, avoid all illegal drugs since some of their side effects are unknown.

Before you actually make it to your tattoo appointment, you should purchase everything you will need for afterwards to help your tattoo heal well. Your tattooist will be able to recommend the items you will need.  You may need bandages or particular types of ointments. If you are using ointments you should not share them with anyone because it is possible to transfer infections or disease by sharing them.

You should also be sure to eat well and be well hydrated (but not overly hydrated) before your tattoo appointment. Depending on the type of tattoo you have selected, you could be in the tattooist chair for hours. Tattoo artists charge by the hour and breaks for food or bathroom may be on the clock.

You should be well informed about the cost and any extra fees before your appointment for a tattoo and you should be prepared to pay as soon as your session is over. You may or may not be able to use a credit card for payment. Most places will take cash. If you decided to pay with plastic, bear in mind that it is customary to tip the tattoo artist in cash.

It is also a good idea to arrange for a patient friend to accompany you to your tattoo appointment. Your friend will be there for moral support but also to be extra eyes to watch what is happening with your tattoo application – especially if your tattoo will be in an area that you can’t see without a mirror. Some people get permission from the tattoo artist to have their friend take pictures or even videos of the experience. It is not recommended to have children accompany you since they may quickly become bored. Once you have been tattooed, follow the instructions of the tattooist  for after care. Extra precautions will be needed for at least two weeks.

What happens if you get a tattoo and decide that you no longer want it or like it? Seventeen percent of people with tattoos have considered having one removed. Five percent of tattooed people have tattoos covered with other designs. If you find you are no longer loving your body art, there are things that can be done (for a price).

If the problem you are having with your tattoo is that it just doesn’t look as good, you may want to have it rescued. A tattoo rescue is when the tattooist reworks and refreshes a tattoo instead of a complete cover up. There are tattooists who specialize in tattoo rescue. If you have been told by a tattooist that there is no hope for rescue and your only option is removal, get a second opinion before making your decision.

Another option for a tattoo you no longer love is to have it covered up with some other design. Cover ups should look like a brand new tattoo while obscuring the old tattoo. Covering over very dark tattoos or scarred areas prove more difficult to cover up. Sometimes the darker tattoos will “bleed through.” Scar tissue won’t be removed by a cover up. In these cases it’s best to work with a cover up specialist. Before engaging in a cover up, it’s a good idea to revisit the ten questions above for the beginning process of getting a tattoo. You will also need to understand that your design choices may be limited for cover ups. Bear in mind that just as a medical specialist costs more money than a general practitioner, so too tattoo specialists will cost more than the original tattooist – even if it’s the same person you used before. Both rescues and cover ups require very different skill sets and the process for both is longer. You will need to plan accordingly.

If you have decided you no longer want to have your tattoos, they can be removed although this will probably not be cheap. There also is no guarantee that the removal process will work for all people. Tattoos are designed to be permanent and they can be difficult to remove since they may permeate many layers of skin. In general older tattoos are easier to remove than newer ones. This is partly because some fading of tattoos is expected over time. The size of the tattoo to be removed may also play a role in how effective the removal process will be. Tattoo removal is not perfect or pain free.

The most common and effective tattoo removal methods are:

Laser Removal – This method is popular and thought to be the most effective removal process with around a 95% success rate. It is, however, very expensive. It may take 8 to 10 sessions at around $400  which can end up topping $3,000. Different lasers are used to remove specific colors. Some lasers may be able to remove more than one color. If you choose this method, you should confirm with your laser surgeon that he or she has all necessary lasers to remove the colors in your tattoo. To fully remove a tattoo using this method could take up to 6 months.

Dermabrasion and Excision – This method used to be the main tattoo removal strategy before laser removal. Dermabrasion is a sanding away of the image by using an abrasive tool. Excision literally cuts the tattoo out of the skin. The effectiveness of these methods is around 95 percent. They are no longer real popular since laser removal became available because they can be quite painful without numbing the area. Dermabrasion may leave ink behind. Excision will get rid of the tattoo totally, but may result in extreme scarring.

Cyrosurgery – This method is more common in the removal of warts, moles, skin tags, skin cancers, and other skin afflictions. Cyrosurgery basically freezes the area targeted with liquid nitrogen, carbon dioxide, argon, or propane. When tattoos are targeted skin cells will freeze into ice crystals which will tear them apart and therefore break apart ink particles. This method is effective for many tattoos and is more affordable than laser removal, but laser removal has a higher success rate.

Variot Tattoo Removal – This method has a 90% success rate and has been around since the 1800’s. In the original method a topical numbing cream consisting of  tannic acid, glycerin, and distilled water was used. When the solution was placed under the skin it would produce a thick scab that fell off (taking all or most of the tattoo with it) when healed. Considerable scarring occurred with this method. Tannic acid is now a known carcinogen so this procedure was upgraded in 2004 by removing the tannic acid and creating a new machine. You will now hear this general process referred to as the “Chemical Extraction Technique” and sometimes “Variot.” (Variot is the name of the man who invented the original procedure. ) The new procedure is much safer, cheaper,  and generally more gentle to the skin than laser removal though it’s not all that popular.

Tattoo Removal Creams – There is no evidence to prove that these creams actually work. Some believe that they may actually do more harm than good. These creams tend to contain skin bleaching chemicals; notably hydroquinone which has been banned in several countries, but not the US as of 2006. The FDA has suggested banning this chemical in the US, but to my knowledge it was never actually banned. Hydroquinone has been linked to cancer and various skin conditions. If you try a cream removal method, be sure this ingredient is not included.

Other books I checked out but won’t have time to discuss are:

Tattoo Johny

Go Big or Go Home

Do you have any tattoos? Have you ever considered getting a tattoo? Did you know that tattoos can be removed?