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What You Need to Know Before Getting a Tattoo

Tattoos are not a new invention, many cultures have a long history of using tattoos in their religious and symbolic practices, or purely for aesthetic reasons. Tattoos were reintroduced into popular Western culture in the 20th century. Artists such as Lyle Tuttle, Cliff Raven, and Don Nolan were some of the people who influenced the re-emergence of tattoos.

Insights and Considerations for Getting a Tattoo.

Tattoos have become mainstream and are worn by many, but there is still some debate on when a young person is ready to get a tattoo. A possible rule of thumb could be—once you feel have gotten to know yourself well enough to be confident in your decision you are ready to make that decision.

The decision to get a tattoo—a mark that will stay with you permanently—is significant. Tattoos can be different things to different people at different times. A tattoo can be a signifier of who you are at a certain stage in your life, an homage to a special moment or to an important accomplishment, or simply a beautiful design you that pleases you. There are people who view tattoos as purely aesthetic and use them as a means to decorate their bodies. For others, sterner beliefs come into play—a tattoo that has religious or cultural significance can only be worn under certain circumstances. Many people wonder if they will later regret.


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There is what is referred to as a temporary tattoo, but this is a marketing term and isn't actually a type of tattoo. These are actually long-lasting stickers, or dyes that colour your skin, such as henna. They do not permanently mark the skin but wear off in a matter of days or weeks. While they are not considered tattoos, they can be useful for understanding what it would look and feel like to have a tattoo. You can use temporary versions to help you design on the real thing.

A brief history of tattoos

Tattoos have been around for a long time, found throughout history in many different cultures. Each culture uses them in its own way in accordance with traditions and beliefs. Tattoos were often seen as symbols of belonging—they marked certain accomplishments, the transition into womanhood or manhood, successes in war, religious beliefs, prayers, and even medicinal or spiritual protection. Each culture has its own tattoo traditions and symbols, making their tattoos meaningful to their people in a way they weren’t for outsiders. For the Maori people of New Zealand, tattoos were a rite of passage that usually began in adolescence. Many sailors were given an anchor tattoo once they had crossed the Atlantic Ocean or if they were Merchant Mariners.

Tattoos have also been used as a form of marking or branding. Adherents of certain religions mark their bodies with the symbol of their faith. Branding can also have a darker purpose—branding criminals or slaves. These practices can and have been misused in the past. One of the most recent examples of this is the prisoners of the holocaust having a serial number tattooed on their arms. Once the war ended, there were those who removed the mark to forget and others who reclaimed the tattoo and wore it proudly to remind people of the horrors of the past so that they shall not be repeated.

Today in the western world, tattoos are mostly thought of as statements of individuality, a means of expression, although there are also many people who choose to carry on the tattooing traditions of their culture of origin.

Don’t rush into it

While there is nothing wrong with wanting a tattoo or getting one for that matter. It isn’t a decision that should be made in a hurry. Take your time. Tattoos aren’t fashion, they are permanent. Getting a tattoo because everyone else is getting one like that can lead to you being stuck with an outdated tattoo that you don’t feel much attachment to.

The person you are when you are 15 will not be the same person you are when you are 25, or 35, or 45. Let ideas of what you want settle into your understanding of who you are. Many people think of their tattoos of symbols of who they are when they make the choice. Wearing it is a part of their journey of development. Whether or not they like the tattoo later on is less important.

Don’t let another person force you into getting a tattoo. And don’t let another person keep you from getting a tattoo. This is your decision alone.

Not only will your taste in ink change with time, so will your body. You don’t need to be a certain shape or size in order to get a tattoo. Simply keep a healthy mindset about change (this is a good idea in general). Bodies change over time—with age, pregnancy, change of lifestyle, injury, etc. If you have a tattoo on your stomach, pregnancy will cause the proportions of the tattoo to change, but it will likely return to its previous state, as your body transforms after birth.

And just like you, tattoos change with time—the colour fades, the pattern becomes less distinct. If you want your tattoo to keep its original colour and form, it will need a touch up every few years. If you don't mind the wear, then no touch up is needed.

Essential Preparation for Your First Tattoo Experience

Preparing yourself for your first tattoo

If you have decided to get a tattoo, there are a few things you might want to consider when choosing where the tattoo will be on your body and where you will be getting it done.

Tattoos come in many styles, so do some research and find a style you like. Once you’ve picked a style, look for an artist that is skilled in that particular style or tattoo. Each tattoo artist will have a different interpretation to what you want, their own preferences and understanding of what looks best will be an additional factor. Choose an artist whose work you admire. This way you can be sure that the tattoo will be to your liking.

When it comes to choosing YOUR tattoo—get creative! As mentioned above, tattoos are not a fashion statement; choosing a tattoo right out of a book or a Pinterest photo will mean that it is more likely to go out of fashion. Look for what inspires you personally, then collaborate with your tattoo artist. If you have a relatively clear idea of the design you want, your tattoo artist can help you refine that idea. They will have valuable insight that can help you perfect your design and bring it to life.

Consider the shape of your body—it is the canvas the tattoo artist will be working with. This doesn’t mean you have to strictly follow the lines of your body or change your design. Rather, consider how your tattoo will look when you are sitting and standing and moving when you choose where it will go.


Placement is another important factor to consider. Think of visibility—do you want your tattoos to be visible at all times, or do you want to be able to cover them up for certain occasions? Your face and hands are rarely covered. While the world is becoming more accustomed to tattoos and there are fewer restrictions in most workplaces, you must consider how your tattoo might impact how you interact with family and teachers, employers and customers.

Placement is also an aesthetic choice. Do some research and find images of tattoos in the places you are considering. Does it look the way you envisioned it? Is there something you would want to change? Do you want to be able to see your tattoo without the help of a mirror?

Certain areas of the body are more sensitive than others. The degree of pain you feel while being tattooed will partially depend on placement. Of course, individual pain tolerance defers as well. Measuring pain is not an exact science, but information from multiple tattoo artists has been compiled to create a general pain chart.

The most painful places to get tattoos are on your armpits, rib cage, ankles and shins, nipples and breasts, groin, elbows or kneecaps, behind the knees, hips, neck and spine, head, face, and ears, lips, hands, fingers, feet, and toes, stomach, inner biceps.

The least painful places are:

  • Upper outer thigh
  • Forearm
  • Outer shoulders
  • Outer biceps
  • Calves
  • Upper and lower back

Lastly, make sure you go to a professional tattoo artist to get your tattoo, this will minimise the risk of botched tattoo and of getting an infection. A professional will be sure to follow the protocols for disinfecting needles and other equipment. You can ask that they explain the process to you. They will also be able to inform you about proper aftercare, so that your skin heals well, and the tattoo isn’t affected by scarring.

The real dangers

Permanent tattoos have also been associated with health risks—infectious diseases, including hepatitis and HIV, skin problems, and a risk of cancer. Doctors and dermatologists recommend that you think carefully before getting a tattoo.

How to deal with bad tattoos

Everyone makes mistakes, some make them with tattoos. If you have a tattoo that you wish you didn’t have, there are ways to remedy the situation.

In many countries you need a guardian’s permission to get a tattoo if you are underaged. If you are a minor, make sure your parent or guardian is on board, so that your careful planning won’t go to waste.

Laser removal

Although tattoos are considered permanent, people have been finding ways of removing them since the beginning of tattoos. In the past removing a tattoo used to involve skin surgery or the use of certain acids, but now there is a completely non-invasive way of doing this using q-switched lasers. The success of removal depends on a variety of factors, including ink colour, skin colour, and the depth at which the ink was applied. The easiest ink to remove is black ink, but pigments such as yellow and green are still very difficult to remove completely.

Tattoo cover-up

Another common practice is to cover a tattoo that has lost or changed its meaning with another. If done skilfully, your tattoo can be taken to a new level of meaning that brings you joy. Be sure to go to a skilled professional and talk through your new design in detail so you end up with the result that you want.

Choices of expression

The idea of permanently marking your skin can be both exciting and daunting. Placing too much significance on having the perfect tattoo can be hindering. The choice of whether or not to get a tattoo needs to be made by you and you alone. You can turn to experienced people to help you make an educated decision, but what the tattoo means will always be down to you. A choice made on a whim could be one you are content with forever, but even with all the research in the world you can still end up regretting a tattoo. We can never know what the future will bring.  We make many permanent decisions, but we don't usually wear them on our skin. Life is for living. And sometimes it’s more beautiful and meaningful with tattoos.

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