By Dr. Jessica Sapp
Associate Professor, School of Health Sciences at American Public University
Tattoos have been around for thousands of years. What was once taboo has now become a mainstream mode of self-expression.
According to the New York survey service Harris Poll, almost three out of 10 adults (29%) have a tattoo and almost half (47%) of Millennials reported having a tattoo. With more people getting tattoos, there are increased risks to the public’s health.
But there are ways to reduce your health risks and get a tattoo safely. Before getting a tattoo, you need answers to these 10 questions.
Tattoo Questions for You
1. Do you want the tattoo forever? Tattoos are permanent body art, so they are intended to last a lifetime (excluding henna tattoos). If you decide to get a tattoo, you have to be certain you want it forever.
It’s not just about having a tattoo forever, but also the design you choose. Make sure you will want that same design in five, 10 or 50 years.
2. Do you have to cover it for work? Before getting a tattoo, you must consider your job. Some companies might not allow visible tattoos.
It’s important to consider your future career. You could be a student working in a restaurant where tattoos are acceptable, but if you are aspiring to be a top executive in a business, that tattoo may not be appropriate.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get a tattoo. It just means you have to think about where it is placed, so it can be covered with professional attire if that is required by your employer.
3. Are you getting a tattoo you want or a tattoo you can afford? Whether you are getting a tattoo you want or can afford is one of the most significant questions you should ask yourself.
It’s essential to first decide what you want. Remember, this tattoo is forever!
Tattoos are expensive. A good tattoo artist will range between $150-$250 per hour; some tattoo artists charge even more. If you know you want a tattoo that will take four hours, then you could spend between $600 and $1,000.
If you only have $200 in your budget, I recommend saving until you can pay for what you really want permanently on your body. If you settle on just any tattoo you can afford, there is a greater chance you will regret the decision. Larger tattoos are often done in several sessions, so you could break up the cost into multiple appointments.
4. Did you get a recommendation for a tattoo artist? Word of mouth is a powerful tool. Getting recommendations for tattoo artists can help in your search.
Seeing tattoos done by an artist is great advertisement. We get recommendations all the time about restaurants, movies and vacation destinations. With more people getting tattoos, more people are able to give recommendations and reviews of tattoo artists or tattoo studios.
Questions for the Tattoo Artist
5. Is the tattoo artist credible and licensed? Each state has tattoo licensing and regulations. Tattoo artists are not performing surgery. However, they do use needles, deal with blood, and must use sterilization and aseptic techniques.
A licensed tattoo artist should be able to demonstrate that he or she meets the minimum requirements to tattoo in your state or any other location where you are getting tattooed. States may require tattoo artists to have bloodborne pathogens, CPR and first aid training, and comply with specific standards of practice.
6. Does the tattoo artist follow sterilization techniques? Tattooing uses needles to puncture the skin repeatedly while inserting ink pigment into the dermis layer of the skin. Because needles are puncturing the skin, there are health risks associated with getting a tattoo, such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Transmission of Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible if poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing.” Sterilization and sanitation are mandatory for tattooing safety.
There are other factors to consider besides “Can the tattoo artist draw?” You want a tattoo artist that can draw and keep you safe!
7. Does the artist work in a tattoo establishment? You want to select a tattoo artist who tattoos in a reputable tattoo studio or establishment.
Avoid tattooists that tattoo at their home or place of residence; these people are known as “scratchers.” Some states won’t permit tattooing to be performed in a home.
My research shows that tattoo artists who tattooed at home did not support tattoo licensing. On the contrary, tattoo artists who performed tattooing in an establishment were supportive of licensing and tattoo studio owners were supportive of standards of practice.
8. Is the tattoo studio clean? Tattoo studio cleanliness is essential. If the studio is clean, it demonstrates that the artists and staff value their workspace for their customers. It is also a good start for sanitation. In businesses where cleanliness is critical, such as restaurants or hospitals, the first appearance really does matter.
9. Does the tattoo artist have a good work portfolio? Although there is more to selecting a tattoo artist than his or her artistic ability, it is still a vital part of the selection process. Your tattooist should be able to draw more than stick figures. He or she should be able to design what you want and also tattoo it well.
Tattoo artists commonly have a portfolio that illustrates their past work. You may want to select an artist who specializes in the tattoo style you want, such as traditional, black and grey, or portraits.
10. Are the tattoo artist and studio staff friendly? Whether the tattoo artist or staff are friendly is a gray area of importance. The tattooing industry is autonomous, so “customer service” doesn’t necessarily have the same principles as other industries like retail and hospitality.
You should be comfortable with your tattoo artist. You will be working with your tattoo artist and sitting with him or her for hours while you get the tattoo. You must decide what is acceptable to you.
For more information, register for the July 19 APUS webinar, What You Need to Know Before Getting a Tattoo.
About the Author
Dr. Jessica Sapp is an associate professor within the School of Health Sciences at APUS. She has over 12 years of experience in public health, working in various environments including government, hospitals, health insurance, community, international, corporate and academia. Jessica earned her D.P.H. in Health Policy and Management at Georgia Southern University and a M.P.H. in Health Promotion, Education and Behavior at the University of South Carolina. She also has a B.S. in Health Science Education from the University of Florida.
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