Tag Archives: Dear Tattooist

Dear Tattooist: Painful Locations?

Greg asked:

Are there any places that tattoo artists consider the most painful places to be tattooed?

There are some areas of the body that are typically painful to most people: the ribcage, the belly, inner thighs, the groin. But since everyone is wired a little differently, what may be painful to one person may not be to the next person.

If you have questions about tattoos: tattoos in general, about getting a tattoo, about giving a tattoo, or anything else related to tattoos, just add a comment to my November 6, 2009 post, or send me the question via e-mail from my contact page. I will then dedicate an entire post to answering your question.

Until next time...
Erik

Dear Tattooist: How easy is it to remove a tattoo?

Urspo asked:

What always stops me is the notion it is permanent; i’ve seen 60yo and older and their tatoos look faded and awful.
How easy is it to remove a tatoo?

First a comment about the 60 year old individuals with tattoos that looked faded and awful: See my “What’s the best way to keep a tattoo fresh?” post for several explanations as to why this happens.

Now, on to the question: “How easy is it to remove a tattoo?” Not easy at all.

Tattoos are, by the science of the process, meant to be permanent.

That said, there are several methods that can be used to attempt to remove a tattoo. I have yet to read about or see a tattoo that was 100% removed, and there is usually either some skin discoloration or scarring as a result of the process.

Currently the most common method to remove a tattoo is Q-switching Laser Removal. Short pulses of intense light pass through the top layers of the skin to be selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment. This laser energy causes the tattoo pigment to fragment into smaller particles that are then removed by the body’s immune system over time. There are different kinds of lasers for different colors of ink (e.g. Ruby, Alexandrite, Nd:YAG, and Frequency-doubled Nd:YAG lasers). The process is typically both painful and expensive.

There are a few other methods of tattoo removal that have been used over time.

Intense Light Pulse Therapy works in the same way as laser removal, except a special gel is rubbed on the skin and a wand is used to emit intense light pulses.

Excision, where a dermatologic surgeon removes the tattoo with a scalpel and closes the wound with stitches.

Dermabrasion, where the skin is “sanded” to remove the surface and middle layers.

Salabrasion, where the skin is “sanded” with salt to remove the surface and middle layers.

Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA)/“Do-It-Yourself” Cream Removals, where chemicals are applied to the area repeatedly to chemically burn the surface and middle layers of skin.

Saline/Hydrogen Peroxide Tattooing, tattooing over the existing tattoo with either a saline or hydrogen peroxide solution. I had never heard of this method until I started researching for this post. All the information I can find on it says it tends to lighten/blurry a tattoo but will not remove it.

Dry Tattooing, tattooing over the existing tattoo with no solution in an effort to scab the area and pull the ink out of the skin.

Cover-up Tattooing, camouflaging the existing tattoo with a new tattoo. We do many cover-up tattoos here in the studio. For different reasons. Some tattoos are just bad and need to be corrected. Some clients aren’t happy with the tattoo choices they made in their past and want to hide it. Some clients want to enhance or enlarge their existing tattoo.

For more information, I refer you to the following overviews:
http://www.howstuffworks.com/tattoo-removal.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tattoo_removal

If you have questions about tattoos: tattoos in general, about getting a tattoo, about giving a tattoo, or anything else related to tattoos, just add a comment to my November 6, 2009 post, or send me the question via e-mail from my contact page. I will then dedicate an entire post to answering your question.

Until next time...
Erik

Dear Tattooist: What about mom? And Leviticus?

kyle asked:

dear tattooist.

a) will it hurt? i’m a complete pussy and don’t like pain.
b) what would your mom think – i mean, dirtying up your skin and all. don’t you know what leviticus says about it? scandalous.

馃檪

I’ll be focusing on “b” in this post. (I covered “a” here.)

First, do I really care what my mom would think? Sure I respect her as my mother. But I’m past the point of being overly concerned with what she thinks of me as to how I live my life. Besides, it’s probably more she’s afraid of what others would think about her since I’m this way. I’m my own adult, thank you very much. Well, I’m an adult most of the time. Come to think of it, I don’t think mom and I ever talked about the tattoos. With the way she flipped out when I took my brother to get his ears pierced when he was in high school, she’s probably have a stroke over my ink now.

Second, I’d have to be a practicing Judeo-Christian in some form or fashion to care about what Leviticus says concerning tattoos. And then what of other religious beliefs and cultural practices for the remainder of the world?

However, since I grew up in a “Christian” household, I’ll play the game. The Leviticus reference to which you refer is Leviticus 19:28.

讜砖专讟 诇谞驻砖 诇讗 转转谞讜 讘讘砖专讻诐 讜讻转讘转 拽注拽注 诇讗 转转谞讜 讘讻诐 讗谞讬 讬讛讜讛變

You don’t read Hebrew? What? Neither do I. One might immediately wonder about the relevance of anything written in a different language and how it relates to me. Especially something from several thousand years ago. That is a different discussion however.

The American King James Version translates this verse as: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor imprint any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”

From the research I’ve done, many Orthodox Jews state that the Biblical law prohibits all tattoos regardless of their reason. The original Hebrew words for this are 鈥渒etovet kaaka鈥, meaning “dug-out writing”. All the reference work I found online don’t seem to explain the “for the dead” junction, or what “dug-out writing” actually is.

A Google search of “Leviticus 19:28” and “Tattoo Leviticus” shows how NOT so simple the debate is over this verse within the Judeo-Christian community. Much like EVERY other aspect of both the Torah and the Bible. Again, I digress.

The key to this statement for me, in reading this verse in the context of the section, is the “for the dead” bit. Which could possibly mean no memorial tattoos. Which we do a large number of. Mostly on seemingly “religious” individuals judging by the subject matter that is usually tattooed.

Personally I think I’m more upset that God can’t stand the sight of handicapped people or dwarfs, and didn’t want them as priests. (See Leviticus 21:16-23.)

If you have questions about tattoos: tattoos in general, about getting a tattoo, about giving a tattoo, or anything else related to tattoos, just add a comment to my November 6, 2009 post, or send me the question via e-mail from my contact page. I will then dedicate an entire post to answering your question.

Until next time...
Erik

Dear Tattooist: How can I find a good tattoo artist?

Java asked:

How can I find a good tattoo artist? How will I know he or she is good? To me, “good” means someone who uses quality ink, needles, etc. Generally, excellence in the safety and quality of the process. I also want an artist who makes good art, spells words correctly in tattoos, etc. How can I be sure before getting a tattoo?

One would think for something that is a permanent alteration to your body, more people would ask this question. Most don’t seem to. I’m glad you have.

Do people you know have tattoos you like? Word-of-mouth is an excellent way to find a great tattooist. What studio and to what tattooist did they go? Did they have a good experience while at the studio?

If you see someone in public with tattoos that you like, politely ask who their tattooist is. Many people with tattoos are happy to promote their tattooist(s).

Most studios and tattooists should have websites with portfolios of their work and pictures of the studio, like my studio does. These will give you an idea of the studio and artist without having to go to each studio.

But please do physically visit different tattoo studios. Do you feel comfortable walking into that studio? Listen to your senses. Does it “look” clean, or is dark and dingy? Does it smell clean, or not-so-fresh? I know this sounds odd, but go visit the restroom. It’s appearance and condition is usually an accurate reflection of the establishment as a whole.

Obviously, the studio is not the same as each tattooist who works in it, but many facets mirror each other.

Ask about the sanitation and sterilization procedures the studio and tattooist follows. Are new sterile needles used with each client? Are all other tools that are involved in the tattooing process either sterilized or disposed of after each client? Non-disposable equipment should be sterilized with an autoclave (an apparatus that uses superheated steam under high pressure to sterilize instruments).

Are studios and tattooists regulated and licensed by your state’s Health Department? If so, you can contact the Health Department about infractions and complaints.

Tattooists should have a photo portfolio of their tattoo work. The portfolio will contain a biased sampling, as a tattooist is obviously only going to put good examples of their work in said portfolio. Also, it’s not possible to know that the tattooist actually did the work in said portfolio. I’ve actually heard of cases where a dishonest tattooist was using other tattooist’s pictures.

What is the style of tattoo you are wanting? Think of all the different styles of art by all the different artists over time. The same is true of tattooists. Not all tattooists tattoo all styles and subject matter. Are there examples of the style of tattoo you want in the tattooist’s portfolio?

What are your impressions of the tattooist? Does he or she “look” clean? Does he or she smell clean, or not-so-fresh? Do you feel comfortable with the tattooist?

How long has the tattooist been tattooing? What styles of tattoo do they enjoy doing? If a tattooist is annoyed because of, or does not have solid answers to any of your questions, that should tell you a few things about the compatibility between you and the tattooist.

You don’t have to be buddies with your tattooist, but you do have to communicate what you want and expect. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your tattooist, it’s not likely that you will get what you want.

There’s a book called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting a Tattoo. I hate, hate, hate the title! It’s a great resource, and I keep a copy at the studio. You can also Google for “getting my first tattoo“. There are plenty of good resources out there as well.

Hopefully this information will assist you in finding the tattooist that is right for you.

If you have questions about tattoos: tattoos in general, about getting a tattoo, about giving a tattoo, or anything else related to tattoos, just add a comment to my November 6, 2009 post, or send me the question via e-mail from my contact page. I will then dedicate an entire post to answering your question.

Until next time...
Erik

Dear Tattooist: What’s the best way to keep a tattoo fresh?

DeadRobot asked:

Dear Tattoisty

Sort of a remix on Urspo’s question:

I’ve heard from a few people that suns rays will deplete the colour of a tattoo. while one artist told me that chlorine from a pool will do it.

What’s the best way to keep a tattoo fresh?

Keep it in Tupperware. That way you can lock in the freshness.

Kidding.

I have been looking for scientific articles about this rather than just answering with conjecture, but all I have been able to find are a few articles here and there. All I have to present to you is what I have witnessed first-hand, been taught through my apprenticeship, learned about skin in biology classes, or corroborated from various sources on the Internet. Writing this post made me realize how much more I need to sit down with a dermatologist to learn more about the skin and how it heals.

First, some images so you can see where the tattoo ink is placed (or should be) in the skin.

Skin layers Skin layers

(For a brief overview of the layers of the skin, I recommend a reading of the Wikipedia article on Skin layers.)

See the area in the image that says “Battered Area”? The “Battered” part is important to remember. The skin is just that: Battered. Tenderized. Damaged.

The first 3 months of the tattoos life are the most important. It takes 2 to 4 weeks for the epidermis to shed and be replaced. The epidermal-dermal junction (aka the “basement membrane”) is reforming around 1 month, and is fully reformed around 2 to 3 months. The dermis is still repairing itself from the damage caused by the battering during the tattoo process and can take 6 months or more to fully heal.

(For a brief overview of the healing process of the skin, I recommend a casual reading of the Wikipedia article on wound healing.)

I said all that to say this: it takes a long time for your skin to heal after getting a tattoo!

Chlorine (and several other chemicals) could, in theory, affect the color of a tattoo that is still fresh and in the healing processes. But it should not fade a fully healed tattoo. As I said before, I have no hard science to back these statements up with. (Just Google “tattoo chlorine” and you will see most of the same “blah, blah, blah” information repeated over and over, but with no scientific backing.) For my clients, I recommend staying out of bodies of water for at least 4 weeks. Submersion in bodies of water can expose your new tattoo to elements that are harmful to the healing process: salt water (dries the skin and can lead to heavy scab formation), bacteria (risk on infection), various chemicals, etc.

By far the biggest risk to the freshness/brightness/life of any tattoo is UV radiation (direct sunlight, tanning lamps, etc.). Not exposing the tattoo to UV radiation will keep the tattoo “bright”. UV radiation penetrates the skin and this will cause the pigments in the dermis to break down over time.

Also, some tattoo inks are susceptible to UV radiation exposure—usually the magenta group of purples and violets, some yellows, and also many white pigments. These colors tend to change and mutate over time.

Since human bodies need some sunlight for some vitamin production, covering a fully healed tattoo with sunblock and following the duration-to-reapply instructions on said sunblock will help protect the tattoo.

There are other conditions that can affect the “freshness” of your tattoo as well:

Poor application of the tattoo by the tattooist. If the ink is inserted at the correct depth it will last much longer than a tattoo with ink that has been inserted too shallow (ink will “bleed out” through the still-healing basement membrane) or too deep (ink will be absorbed faster by the lymphatic system).

Poor quality ink affects the life of your tattoo. Not all tattoo inks are made with quality materials. In fact, tattoo ink is a highly unregulated market. “(B)ecause of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns, FDA traditionally has not exercised its regulatory authority over tattoo inks or the pigments used in them”. You should also know that “the FDA has not approved any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin. This applies to all tattoo pigments, including those used for ultraviolet (UV) and glow-in-the-dark tattoos. Many pigments used in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colors suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint.”

(See the FDA product information regarding Tattoos & Permanent Makeup and “Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?”)

Failing in the aftercare department. Once you leave the studio, the tattoo is ultimately your responsibility. If you pick at any scabbing, use steam rooms, submerge your tattoo, and/or expose it to UV radiation during the healing process your tattoo could prematurely fade. Follow the instructions your tattooist gives you for the healing of your tattoo!

Also, after the tattoo has fully healed, dry skin will cause the tattoo to look dull. To brighten the colors up, use lotion daily.

I hope this wasn’t information overload for you. And hopefully I actually answered your question.

Here’s a few articles on the Internet I submit for your perusal:
– eMedicine article on Tattoo Lasers which also has a good medical histology of the tattoo process;
– BME article on “Tattoo Ink – Where Does It All Go?”

If you have questions about tattoos: tattoos in general, about getting a tattoo, about giving a tattoo, or anything else related to tattoos, just add a comment to my November 6, 2009 post, or send me the question via e-mail from my contact page. I will then dedicate an entire post to answering your question.

Until next time...
Erik

Dear Tattooist: Will it hurt when you poke me?

kyle asked:

dear tattooist.

a) will it hurt? i’m a complete pussy and don’t like pain.
b) what would your mom think – i mean, dirtying up your skin and all. don’t you know what leviticus says about it? scandalous.

馃檪

I’ll be focusing on “a)” in this post.

Not to put to fine a point on it, but yes. However, “hurt” is relative. Sometimes after eating at P.F. Chang’s and then passing a 5 Couric crap hurts, right? (Google it…)

I posted on this a couple years ago, actually.

And like I said then, “Some people just lay there, while others moan and twitch and cry the whole time鈥 just like sex!”

Most people say that getting a tattoo is just “irritating”. Some people actually fall asleep while getting a tattoo. (I’ve had two people fall asleep while being inked, and it kind of freaked me out both times.) Some people cry like they’re having bamboo spikes shoved under their fingernails. The point is: everyone is different. Only you know what your “normal” pain threshold is.

From the technical side, I am aware that there are some tattooists out there who believe in digging hard and deep. Which sucks. And hurts. And is totally unnecessary. (I’ve been tattooed by an artist before that believed in that methodology. I know better now!) Talk with your tattooist during the procedure and let he or she know how they are doing. ESPECIALLY if it hurts more than you think it should!

If you have questions about tattoos: tattoos in general, about getting a tattoo, about giving a tattoo, or anything else related to tattoos, just add a comment to my November 6, 2009 post, or send me the question via e-mail from my contact page. I will then dedicate an entire post to answering your question.

Until next time...
Erik