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Body Art Facts and Fiction

Expressing yourself through your body can be fun, but some of that fun is permanent. It is important to think about


your motivation, options, choices, and the consequences of body art. Talk to people, seek out information.

Never make decisions quickly!

It is exciting to exert control over what people see when they look at you, but you cannot always control how people will respond. Some people will have negative responses, and you have to decide if the risks are worth the fun. Try to imagine yourself 10 or 20 years from now. What will you be doing at that time? You might be a free-spir

ited student now, and a web of vines on your wrist might look lovely. However, what might you do for a living 20 years from now? Could you work in a conservative field in which you are required to cover up your tattoo with long sleeves every day?

The palette of possibilities for how we express ourselves with our bodies is huge: clothes, make-up, pierci

ng, tattooing, and most extreme, surgery. Some of these changes are temporary, others are permanent. There are health risks associated with some things, too. Obviously, these will be considerations when you think about body art (Drill, McDonald and Odes, 1999).

The following information is about tattooing and piercing.


Tattooing has been around since at least the 5th century. Tattooing is accomplished by injecting ink into sma

ll, deep holes made in the skin. Most tattoo artists use an electrically powered, vertical, vibrating instrument to inject the tattoo pigment. The instrument injects pigment at 50 to 30,000 times per minute into the second layer of sk

in (the dermis), at a depth of 1/64 to 1/16 of an inch. A single needle outlines the tattoo and the design is then filled in with five to seven needles in a needle bar.

Caring for Your Tattoo

Tattoo site care is similar to skin care used for a burn. The area should be kept clean and moisturized until the tattoo has healed.

  • Keep the tattoo covered overnight (for at least 12 hours). Do not touch the new tattoo.
  • Remove the bandage by first wetting the gauze in the shower. Wash the tattoo with antibacterial soap, rinse thoroughly, and pat dry with a soft towel. DO NOT use alcohol or peroxide, as they will dry out the tattoo. With clean hands apply a light coat of antibiotic ointment at least three times a day. Rub it into the tatt oo like lotion. The scab should stay soft and not get hard or crack. Do not apply Vaseline or petroleum jelly.
  • If there is some scabbing and itching, do not pick or scratch!
  • Within seven to 10 days, your tattoo should stop feeling tender and you can stop applying the antibiotic ointment.
  • For another two weeks, apply a gentle lotion that has no perfumes or additives.
  • Avoid direct sunlight for four weeks. A strong waterproof sun screen (at least 30 SPF) is recommended forever.
  • Always wear a bandage over a tattoo in a tanning bed.
  • Soaking in a hot tub, swimming or taking hot baths can ruin a tattoo while it is still healing.

Tattoo Removal

There are several methods for tattoo removal, all of which can be very expensive and may cause permanent skin discoloration. How well they work depends on the size and location of the tattoo as well as the person’s healing process, how the tattoo was applied, the colors of the pigment, and how long it has been on the skin. Removal methods include:

Laser. Considered one of the best methods for tattoo removal, and produces the least amount of scarring (Virtual Hospital, 1999). If necessary, a cream to numb the skin is applied and then pulses of light from the laser are

directed onto the tattoo to break up the tattoo pigment. Then, over several weeks’ time, the body’s scavenger cells remove the treated pigmented areas. Usually requires several treatments to completely remove the tattoo.

Excision (Surgery). Best for a small tattoo and includes minimal bleeding. Excision involves an injection of a local anesthetic to numb the area, after which the tattoo is removed surgically. The edges of the skin are then brought together and sutured.
Dermabrasion (“Sanding”). This method includes spraying the tattoo with a solution that freezes the area. The tattoo is then “sanded” with an abrasive instrument that causes the skin to peel. Some bleeding is likely and requires immediate dressing.

What About Temporary Tattoos?

Temporary tattoos can be either decals or designs painted on the skin using a colored pigment, usually henna. The painted-on designs are often called “mehndi.”

Decal-type tattoos are sponged on with water and usually wear off within a few days. Most contain FDA-approved colors, but there are some that contain coloring chemicals that are not approved by the FDA. The FDA has received some reports of allergic reactions to the coloring ingredients in temporary tattoos. Be sure to read the label on any temporary tattoo product you buy, to make sure that it contains ingredients that are approved by the FDA for cosmetic use.

Mehndi involves the application of a henna-based paste directly to the skin. Although pure henna stains the skin a brown or reddish-brown color, some mehndi products include additional additives to produce different colors. Not all of these color additives are approved for cosmetic use by the FDA. Be sure to read the label of any product you buy or allow to be used on your skin.

Which ingredients are safe?

The FDA has the authority to regulate color additives in cosmetics. The manufacturer and distributor of the product is responsible for determining the safety of the ingredients in the product. If the safety of an ingredient is not proven, the product label must state : “Warning: The safety of this product has not been determined.”

The FDA web site on cosmetic labeling has current information about labeling laws, regulation and testing of ingredients, and approved and certified color additives.

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