A thing of beauty is a joy forever… and ever. Tattooing is a long-term way of decorating your body by introducing ink to the lower layers of your skin. It’s been used for centuries as a rite of passage, a way to express individuality or group identity and, of course, as the ultimate token of affection. We heart Mum.
Whether you’re being poked with an inky stick by a hilltop tribesman or you’re going under the gun in a modern studio, the theory behind tattooing is the same. The aim of a tattoo artist is to push a small amount of ink into the lower layer of your skin. While the upper layers of your skin (your epidermis) will shed, the lower layer (dermis) is static, which is why when the ink is forced down into the dermis the tattoo becomes permanent.
Once umm-ed and ahh-ed for a few months about which design to have and where to have it, the actual tattooing procedure can be anything from a quick 10 minute prick to hours of needlework split over a number of sessions. As a rule of thumb, if you're having something very detailed, very large, with many different colours or in a delicate area of the body, the tattooist will take longer to complete it. If you don't have a very high pain threshold and you're thinking of having a something large or complex done, you might want to ask for a series of shorter sessions to make it easier on you.
If you are having your tattoo on an intimate part of your body, many parlours have a private room to save you the wandering eyes of other customers.
Before everything else, the area of skin you have chosen must be sanitised and shaved – even if it’s not a hairy part of your body there will be tiny hairs that need removing. Then, your tattoo will be either hand-drawn onto your skin or a transfer will be drawn and applied using paper a bit similar to kids’ lick-n-stick tattoos.
Now you’re ready for the real action. Your tattoo artist might apply some lubricant lotion to make the tracing a bit smoother. The gun has a needle or set of needles, each with an ink channel. The head oscillates at about 60 times a second making it easy for the tattoo artist to draw by moving it across your skin.
First the outlines of the design are done, then any shading you need using different coloured inks. A small design can be done in as little as 15 minutes, whereas very large or intricate tattoos may have to be done in a few sittings of a couple of hours each.
After the design is finished, your tattoo artist will sanitise the skin again and put dressings on to keep it clean and safe. There was a time when clingfilm was used, but it’s now known that the soft plastic can be toxic, so proper medical dressings are used instead.
Healing time is different for everybody, but on average it takes about two weeks for the tattoo to completely heal. It’s best not to change or take off the dressings for 2 to 6 hours after treatment – so resist the temptation to start flaunting your cool, new tatt to your mates until it’s started to heal.
It's worth remembering that it's a surface wound, so swimming, soaking in the bath or sweating it out in a steam room are off limits. Your tatt will be covered in a scab - make sure that no matter how much it itches you don't give in to the urge to pick the scab, or your stunning design could end up all blotchy. It's also important to protect the area from the sun, so keep your tattoo covered up while it's still raw and once it's healed properly, don't forget to slap on the sunscreen.
It’s not recommended to drink alcohol or take Aspirin before you get a tattoo. Whether you’re having a large or small tattoo done, it’s a good idea to have something to eat beforehand to keep your blood sugar up.
And, although tattooing was originally thought to be permanent, there are new and effective ways to remove tattoos