First Blood 209 - The Strong Arm of the Law

Published: 05 March, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 209, March, 2012

The first in a new series of short articles for those starting out on their quest.

Despite it being written in stone for all to see, there occasionally appears to be some confusion regarding the age you are legally allowed to get tattooed – we’ve seen it with our own eyes on various studio websites, and in an age of hyper-information, that is pretty irresponsible.

Here’s the deal: in the United Kingdom (if you were off school that day, that means England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), the rules are the same. You must be 18. End of story. There is no ‘parental consent’ get out clause, so there’s no point in dragging your folks down there having pestered them for months on end. The penalties for breaking this law are fines for the tattooist, but any reputable and decent studio will know this already and will show you the door before the conversation even begins.

There is a caveat to this law: you can be tattooed for medical reasons and under the direction of the medical profession. Some research reveals those reasons to be as follows:
1. As a warning that a patient suffers from a chronic disease that can exacerbate suddenly and that will require immediate specialist treatment. One example is in the case of congenital adrenal hyperplasia, in which patients may need steroid replacement therapy during ordinary illness.

2. As an aid in radiotherapy. In order to minimize damage to surrounding tissues, the radiotherapist seeks to keep the irradiated field as small as possible. Marking a number of points on the body with tattoos can aid radiotherapists in adjusting the beam properly.

3. During breast reconstruction after mastectomy (removal of the breast for treatment of cancer), or breast reduction surgery. Tattooing is sometimes used to replace the areola which has been removed during mastectomy, or to fill in areas of pigment loss which may occur during breast reduction performed with a free nipple graft technique.

We sincerely hope you never have to consider these three points ever again, but that’s the law in a nutshell. If you want to be a responsible collector – one that is respected and admired by others – just stick to the rules. Easy.

Heal It Fast

There are many trains of thought when it comes to healing. Up front, we will state quite rightly, that you should follow your tattooist’s advice to the letter. Not only do they know what they are doing, but if you have any cause to go back with a query, you won’t have to enter into the conversation about how you made your own healing process up as you went along.

It’s always worth re-stating the basics though.

For a tattoo to heal properly will take some participation on your part. To heal properly, the tattoo – as any wound (which is broken skin) – needs to be able to breathe. This means removing the covering your tattooist has put on and getting some fresh air on your skin.

Keep it clean by gently showering it – water by itself is fine, or a gentle anti-bacterial soap can be used as well, but never soak it in water for anything that might be termed as a long period – and no swimming! Once it’s showered off, dab it gently with a towel and cream it up as directed to keep it moist.

There should be just enough ointment on there to keep it from scabbing. Your body will warm up any cream and liquefy it further – so if you find it gets runny, you’ve probably put a little too much on, but that’s easily rectified by dabbing it off with a paper towel.

There is a train of thought that you should simply leave it to heal by itself without the assistance of any creams, but the itching may well drive you to distraction, so it’s not heartily recommended by anybody.

There are many creams on the market – and as stated above, you should use whatever your tattooist recommends to you, but popular brands include Bepanthen (the well-known nappy rash cream), Tattoo Goo, Aquaphor, and one of the new kids on the block, MOA – the green balm, which has been reported to have an increased healing time over all others. We’re currently road-testing MOA here to see what it has to offer and we’ll make some comparisons in a later issue.

As with all things that involve humans, some heal faster than others, but generally speaking, you’re looking at anything from ten days to two weeks before you can consider it healed properly.

Finally… when it comes to tattoos, whether it’s your first or 20th, just remember that the sun (big ball of fire in the sky, you can’t miss it) is not your best friend when you’re healing up. If you can’t help yourself, cover up with clothes not sunscreen/ block.

Aftercare is a tricky business indeed, but over time, you will learn to know thyself…