Health Topics

Healthy Living

February 2010
For the Love of Tattoos
Anju Poddar
On Valentine's Day, youngsters tend to get a little romantic and get tattoos done. Here's more about the mark… Tattoos are markings made by inserting indelible ink into the skin to change the pigment for decorative or other reasons. It was the Blues' rock singer Janis Joplin – with a wristlet and a small heart on her left breast - who ushered in popular culture's acceptance of tattoos as art in the late 60s. Tattoos had to travel a long way to reach there, though, right from the Neolithic times where tattooing has been a Eurasian practice. Tattooed Egyptian mummies dating from end of the second millennium BC have been discovered. Tattoos were associated with indigenous people – like the Ainu of Japan, who wore facial ones.

Despite some taboos surrounding tattooing, the art was popular in many parts of the world mainly Polynesian people, in Taiwan, Philippines, Africa, New Zealand etc. The Polynesian practice of tattoos became popular among European sailors before spreading to Western societies. Tattooing is an important part of Russian mafia too. From the religious perspective, tattooing is not prevalent among Hindus. Sunni Islam considers tattooing haram (forbidden) because it involves changing the creation of Allah. Jews are commanded in their Torah not have any tattoos (Nazis forcibly tattooed the Jews in their infamous concentration camps). Christians share the Torah as their Old Testament and have the same commandment to honour God with their body. Animals also have tattoos, but these are for identification or branding. Tattoos on humans are usually a type of decorative body modification.

Women's Tattoos
The cardinal rule, if you are a woman dead set on getting a romantic tattoo, is to never tattoo your (ill fated) lover's name on you! Try a cute little hot pink heart, beautiful rose, cherry, something colourfully tribal or a butterfly. Women generally get tattooed on their shoulders, back or ankles. If you are a husband or boyfriend reading this, buy your woman her favourite flower tattoo.

Men's Tattoos
A Valentine's Day tattoo for a man is a little trickier. Try the traditional tattoo of a heart with a dagger going through it. Be smart, and write the word 'mom' in the middle! Men also have been seen to sport a dragon, their beloved's name, portraits of Lord Shiva, Guru Gobind Singh, tribal figures and even a dove. Men usually get them done on their arms, throat, shoulders and lower back.

Putting Them On
Tribal cultures traditionally created tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents. The traditionally Japanese tattoos (horimono) are still 'hand poked' - the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non electrical, hand made and hand held tools with needles of sharpened bamboo, or steel. This method is known as tebori. Today, the common method uses the electric tattoo machine which inserts ink into the skin via a group of needles soldered onto a bar, which is attached to an oscillating unit. The unit rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin usually 80 to 150 times a second.

This modern procedure is usually sanitary. The needles are single-use, and come packaged individually. Before the tattooing begins, the client is asked to approve the fixed position to apply the stencil. After approval, the artist will open new sterile needle package in front of the client, and always use new sterile instruments and supplies and fresh ink for each session. The tattoo artist washes his or her hands and also washes the area that will be tattooed. Gloves are worn all the time, and the wound is wiped frequently with a wet disposable towel.

The Colour of Pain
Earlier, tattoo inks were obtained directly from nature and so were limited in pigment variety. Today, we have an unlimited number of colour shades. The tattoo artist mixes these inks to create their own unique pigment. A small simple design might take fifteen minutes, whereas an elaborate tattoo might require multiple sessions of several hours each. The price depends on the time taken to complete the tattoo, the number of colours used, and of course, the skill and expertise of the artist.

Tattoo-specific salves have become prevalent in recent years to reduce the pain. Some artists recommend keeping a new tattoo wrapped for 24 hours, while others suggest removing the temporary bandage after the first two hours.

Don't allow your tattoo too much contact with a hot tub or pool water - the ink could fade due to overhydration. Don't expose it to too much sun either – the tattoo could fade. A number of commercial products are currently available for tattoo after-care.

Tattoo Removal
Tattoos, they used to say, are a permanent mark of temporary insanity. Not any more, though. It is possible to remove tattoos with laser treatment – fully or partially. Typically, black and darker coloured inks can be removed completely. The expense plus the pain of removing tattoos will be greater than the expense and pain of applying them though.

Temporary Tattoos
Temporary tattoos are popular with models and children. These last anywhere from a few days to several weekends. Although the design is waterproof, it can be easily removed using oil based creams.

Common styles include body stickers similar to a decal (which are transferred to the skin using water) and mehendi or henna ones. Temporary Airbrush Tattoos (TATs) are applied by covering the skin with a stencil while spraying it with ink.

Tattoos are also used as permanent make up - to enhance eyebrows, lips (liner or lipstick), eyes (liner), moles and beauty spots - usually with natural colours. The designs are intended to resemble make up.

When I was in Nagpur last year for a holiday, Jeetu, the best Tattoo artist of Goa, was in town! As I was fascinated since childhood by a tattoo on my grandmother's hand, I took the courage to go and meet him. I got a Sun and an Om tattooed on my right arm; I feel really happy. It was painless and done very scientifically. I fully recommend the art to anyone who wishes to get one done, on Valentine's Day or later.  
Anju Poddar is a successful home maker fascinated by Hindu traditions and festivals. She has authored four well received books, the latest being Meals, Menus and More
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
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