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Tattoo taboos: The do’s and don’ts of getting inked

What your dermatologist wants you to know

Dr. Philip Eaton with the Dermatology Group of the Carolinas shared his tips for customers considering tattoos.
• “We see tattoo patients often, usually with complications from the tattoo.”
• Please reconsider an image you may regret later. Know why you’re getting a particular tattoo. If it’s a spur-of-the-moment decision or you are keeping up with friends, it merits further thought. Eaton recalls a patient who had a tattoo of his son’s name, and the artist misspelled it. The patient changed the spelling of his son’s name.
• Be sure to use a reputable place with sterile conditions. Potential infections can range from minor ones to MRSA to hepatitis or HIV. Be sure you have a clean environment, clean conditions, and your skin is cleaned before the tattoo.
• Follow aftercare instructions diligently.
• Tattoo removal is painful and time-consuming as it involves multiple sessions with laser treatment. In most cases it costs more than the original tattoo. While some tattoo removal is satisfactory, others may leave a blurred image that is not attractive. “Tattoo removal is not at all like taking an eraser to the skin,” Eaton warns.
• Large areas of body art may make it difficult to identify troublesome moles, which can be a warning sign of skin cancer.
• Some people experience allergic reaction to dyes, especially red ink, which contains cinnabar. Those with allergy to cinnamon may react to the ink.


By Maggie Blackwell

When it comes to tattoo etiquette, no one knows the ropes better than your local neighborhood tattoo artist.

Jason Von Nicolas of Tattoo Inferno in Salisbury and David Lofton of  Wicked Addiction in China Grove shared the do’s and don’ts of tattoos.

Tattooing is serious business and the artists take great measures to be sure the area and equipment are sterile.

One of the first tattoo taboos is children. A tattoo shop is not the place for kids, Nicolas says. “Some parents will bring their children and let them run crazy, screaming and hollering. We’re trying to work here. It’s hard to concentrate when a baby is screaming, whether in my workspace or out in the lobby.”

Likewise frowned upon are crowds. “Sometimes customers, especially guys, will bring a crowd to watch him be brave and cool,” Lofton says. “We just don’t have the space, and if they’re noisy, they can run off other customers.”

“I could go on and on about no-shows,” Nicolas says. “They bother me the most because I’ve taken the time to prepare their artwork and set up for their tattoo. When they don’t show, I’ve lost clients who I told I was booked. It’s a loss of time and money I could have spent on someone who wanted the tattoo.”

Both artists agree that hygiene is a big deal. Tattooing is serious business and the artists take great measures to be sure the area and equipment are sterile. If you come in sweaty after a hard day of labor, they say, it makes contamination highly likely. Lofton has a pat answer for that. “If your hygiene is bad, I’m not going to be rude about it, but I will say, ‘Well, it looks like I’m booked; let’s make an appointment.’”

“Fad” tattoos are not artists’ favorites. “It pays the bills,” Nicolas says, “but there was a week when I said I just could not do one more star.” Fads come and go, the artists say, and range from small butterflies to eternity symbols to stars. While they likely have little meaning for the person getting the tattoo, they are also boring for the artists. They love a challenge! “The more difficult the image is, the more compelling it is for the artist,” Lofton says.

Unreal expectations seem to be a theme at tattoo shops. Customers will come in, Nicolas says, “and say, ‘I want a biomechanical sleeve tonight.’” Tattoo artists have to prepare, studying and developing the art. “I need to prepare,” he says.

Both artists agree they act as part artist, part counselor. When someone asks for a boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s name tattooed on his body, Lofton often asks, “Would you like to make a deposit on the cover-up tattoo?” Likewise Nicolas always asks them if they’re totally sure beforehand. “I let them know the pros and cons before they get it. I’d rather not, because they’ll be back in five years and ask me to cover it up. My tattoos are done to last. I make it as hard as possible to cover them up.”

Another case for counseling is the customer who has no tattoos and wants to start with a large statement piece, perhaps on his face. “I tell them it’s a career-ender; you need to seriously rethink this,” Nicolas says. “Why don’t you get some more subtle tattoos and ease into it? If you don’t know what you’re going to be doing with your life, it’s not a good idea.”

Sometimes customers think alcohol or drugs will help them to get up their nerve or prevent the tattoo from hurting. Both artists reschedule for customers who are clearly under the influence. “Besides,” Lofton says, “if you’re drunk you might choose a tattoo you wouldn’t want sober.” He mentions a customer who had been under the influence of alcohol without his knowledge. The guy came in the next day and said he had no memory of having gotten a tattoo.

Surprisingly, both artists have had requests to incorporate ashes of a loved one in their ink. They both refused. Any outside substance can contaminate the ink and cause an infection. Ash may have tiny bone fragments, too, which would cause problems.

Finally, for the home-crafters who give themselves tattoos, the artists have one word: DON’T. “Do-it-yourselfers come in with horrible tattoos, expecting us to fix them,” Nicolas says. “People get tattoo equipment on the internet and do it in their kitchen. I wish they would regulate who can buy it. Amazon, Ebay, they can buy all the equipment they want, and it might not be the best equipment. People come in with sketchy tattoos and expect us to fix it. I think they were trying to save money, but it’s cheaper to get it done right the first time.”

People who have no tattoos may wonder if it’s appropriate to comment on someone’s ink. “People like to be complimented on their work,” Nicolas says. “It is rude, however, to grab a stranger’s arm just to look at their tattoo. As long as they’re not invading my personal space, I’m fine.”

Some people are judgmental, Lofton says. “If you say, ‘Why would you do that?’ – you’re not going to get as positive a response.” But, he says, it’s not rude to ask. He suggests a phrase like, “I’m really curious about your art.”

“If you approach someone about a tattoo,” he says, “only do it if you have positive things to say.”


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