Body art, safely done

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photo by elbragon
photo by elbragon
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Around the world and through the millennia we’ve been adorning our bodies with jewelry, sometimes integrating that adornment in the form of tattoos and piercings on our bodies themselves. While it’s an increasingly common form of expression, precautions must be taken before and afterwards to make sure getting either one done is a safe and healthy endeavor.

Tattoos were long the province of sailors and jailbirds, and piercings limited to one in each ear, girls only. Now many, many young people have plenty of each all over. A 2005 article in The New York Times reported that one in 10 Americans had a tattoo; in 2012 a Harris poll said it’s up to one in five. Thirty-somethings are the most likely group to sport them, women slightly more than men. Although some may make snap judgments about a girl with Elvis tattooed on her calf or a guy with studs coming from his nostrils, we’re all getting pretty used to it.

Body art of this kind, especially tattoos, is used for a variety of reasons: self-expression, fitting in, for religious reasons, or to be part of a group, maybe family or military. When I was a kid I wanted my ears pierced very, very badly (49 percent of women have them, although to me the proportion seems much higher), but my parents wouldn’t let me do it. Eventually, at age 17, I had it done against their will, and later added a couple extra holes in my left ear. I wouldn’t be averse to doing an eyebrow, and I’ve been considering a tattoo or two, too, although I may be too old for that sort of thing.

Although many people — very sensibly — let their kids get old enough to decide for themselves first, I pierced my daughter’s ears when she was about six months old, which is common in the Italian culture of her father. At age 11 I let her get an extra set, although I draw the line at the lip piercing she’s requesting.

Cleanliness counts in large amounts

Plenty of precautions minimize health risks. The place where you get your tattoo or piercing should be as clean and sterile-looking as a doctor’s office. Visible dirt and mess are no good. Tattoos and piercings are wounds to the body, and wounds can get infected or be a portal for diseases to enter, including severely disabling or fatal ones.

Before either body alteration, you should be up-to-date on immunizations, especially the hepatitises and tetanus, and have a plan in place for health care should complications arise. People who have immune system disorders, diabetes, heart disease, skin problems, allergies, a tendency to form keloids, or pregnant may need to discuss things with their healthcare practitioner before that skull goes on the arm or the labret on the chin.

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