Tattoo You

What to do when you’re thinking of inking

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Jordan Hansel of Medford, an ER nurse, recommends using a licensed professional tattoo artist for health safety. Photography by Denise Baratta.

Forget what your grandmother said about tattoos being taboo. Body art is mainstream now. A Harris Poll published in February 2012 showed that one in five U.S. adults has at least one tattoo. That means if you don’t have one, you know someone who does – even if he or she keeps it well hidden.  

Do your homework

Tattoo artist Steve Anderson, owner of Custom Body Art in Medford, has been applying tattoos professionally since 1988. In the past few years, he’s seen the competition grow, but not from other licensed professionals like himself. “One of our biggest competitive factors is people doing it out of their houses that are totally inexperienced,” he observes, explaining that novices can buy equipment on the Internet and watch “how to” videos on YouTube. 

Anderson’s advice to people who want to get tattoos is to do their homework and visit several shops. First, ask the artist if he or she is licensed by the state of Oregon. Second, ask to see the sterilization equipment. (Anderson’s autoclave is tested monthly by an independent laboratory.) “An experienced artist isn’t afraid to show you his equipment,” Anderson says. The artist should also use pre-sterilized pigments and needles and wear a fresh pair of protective gloves. Third, look at the tattoo parlor itself to make sure it is clean. Fourth, look at the tattoo artist’s portfolio. “That speaks volumes,” Anderson notes. Finally, don’t be a bargain shopper when it comes to tattoos. “Don’t shop by price,” the artist warns. “Shop by quality.”

Getting inked

Once you’ve decided on the artist and the design, you’ll be ready to get tattooed. Getting “inked” is a misnomer since the color comes from cosmetic-grade pigments, but it’s still a popular term.

A multi-color 2-inch-by-2-inch tattoo takes about 30 minutes to an hour to apply. Larger tattoos will take multiple sittings. Anderson charges by the tattoo and by the hour, depending on the tattoo’s placement and design complexity, but his minimum charge is $60.

On a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the most painful, the tattoo artist says his clients, men and women ranging in age from 18 to their 70s, tell him the pain level is between five and six. But it depends on the placement. Some areas, such as the rib cage, are more sensitive than other areas of the body. A current popular trend is having text tattooed across the rib cage, especially for women. Anderson discourages it. “No one’s going to read it,” he believes. “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

 Tattoo regret

Sometimes those awesome tattoos you got in your 20s just don’t look right in later years. That’s how Steven Kahae of Talent feels. “If I could go back and not get any, I probably would have gone that route,” he says.

Kahae, of Hawaiian and Japanese descent, got his first tattoo at 18 – a Native American armband depicting three rows of beads with feathers hanging down. At 21, he had a Celtic cross applied to his other arm. Neither of these symbols relates to his native culture, and he finally got tired of the questions from curious friends and acquaintances. In his mid 30s, he looked into laser removal but found it to be too costly. He decided instead to have his tattoos modified into two “sleeves” that depict a Polynesian tribal design. Now, at 42, he’s almost done with his modifications. “I like them now,” he says. 

Kahae’s advice to people thinking of getting body art is to consider it carefully. “Think of how it will look in 10 years,” he advises. “It is a piece of art and you want it to look good.” He also believes 18 is too young to get a tattoo and that you should never get inked on an impulse. “Be completely sure of what you want before you do it,” he warns. “And get an artist who specializes in what you want.”

Erasing bad ink

If modification isn’t an option and that bad tat has to go, laser removal is the answer. Dr. Steve Lovich of Valley Plastic Surgery in Talent uses a PicoSure aesthetic laser by Cynosure Inc., the latest technology in lasers that provides better removal with fewer treatments. 

A credit-card sized tattoo takes two to three minutes per treatment with three to four treatments to resolution, the doctor explains. He had a patient who had received treatments on his tattoo from an older model laser. With one treatment from the PicoSure laser, Lovich notes, the patient got as much resolution as he got with eight treatments from the old-style laser. Larger tattoos will take longer treatments and more sessions. A “sleeve” tattoo, for example, would take about five treatments of about 14 minutes each. Lovich takes before and after photos at each session to show patients the progression of their tattoo removals.

Why are the doctor’s clients getting their tattoos removed? Many are looking for work and don’t want to be judged by visible tattoos, he explains. Others want to become police officers or want to join the military where tattoos are banned in certain places. Most of his clients range in age from 25 to 45 and currently the majority are women.

On a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the most painful, about 85 percent of Lovich’s patients say the pain level is between two and five. It also depends on the placement of the tattoo. If it is close to a bone, it is more uncomfortable for patients, the doctor notes.

The benefits of the PicoSure laser, Lovich explains, is that it is less painful and works quicker than previous aesthetic lasers used for tattoo removal. Less treatments means it’s less expensive, he says. At Valley Plastic Surgery, laser sessions cost between $300 and $700 per session. Complete tattoo removals can cost from $900 to $4,000, depending on the size of the tattoo. 

Laser removal will give you an out if you decide your tattoo was a mistake, but it will still take time and money. The professionals on both sides agree: Take your time in deciding if you really want a tattoo and can live with it for the rest of your life. Think before you ink.

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Safety precautions

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Here’s some safety advice from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Don’t attempt to tattoo yourself or allow an untrained friend to do the tattooing. Go to a reputable tattooing studio that employs only properly trained employees.
  • Make sure the tattoo artist washes his or her hands and wears a fresh pair of protective gloves for each procedure.
  • Make sure the tattoo artist removes the needle and tubes from sealed packages before your procedure begins. Any pigments, trays or containers should also be unused.
  • Make sure the tattoo artist uses a heat sterilization machine (autoclave) to sterilize all non-disposable equipment between customers. 

Know the risks

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are risks involved in getting a tattoo. They include:

  • Infection – Dirty needles can pass infections such as hepatitis and HIV from one person to another.
  • Allergies – Allergies to various ink pigments in both permanent and temporary tattoos have been reported and can cause problems.
  • Scarring – Unwanted scar tissue may form when getting or removing a tattoo.
  • Granulomas – These small knots or bumps may form around material that the body perceives as foreign such as particles of tattoo pigment.
  • MRI complications – People may have swelling or burning in an iron-oxide pigment tattoo when they have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This happens rarely and does not last long.



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