Tattoo Aftercare

Now that your tattoo is complete, your tattoo artist should go over aftercare with you. Use this as a refresher or a reminder, but remember that you can call your tattoo artist if you have any specific questions.

LOTIONS:
First things first. On the way home from the tattoo shop, you’ll need to pick up some lotion for your tattoo. You can also do this before you go in for the tattoo as well. You cannot use just any lotion for your tattoo. You want to avoid colors, dyes, glitter, and especially scents. Scents can really irritate newly tattooed skin; any girl who has used scented lotion on newly shaved legs knows exactly what this feels like. It burns, itches and leads to red bumps and razor burn-like reactions. So, what can you use?

My personal favorite tattoo lotion is called Aquaphor. Every tattoo artist I’ve spoken to recommends this lotion. It’s a Vaseline like texture without being Vaseline, which is bad for tattoos and we’ll get into that later. It absorbs into the skin slowly, allowing for the most moisturization possible. And a little bit of this stuff goes a long way, so a single small pot will last you the entire healing period of your tattoo and beyond.

What other lotions can you use? Since not everyone lives in the same area, or even country, lotion brands are going to vary, so I’ll list as many as I can and hopefully you’ll be able to find at least one in your area. Good lotions for tattoos include: Aquaphor, Eucerine, basic Lubriderm, A&D lotion, and some have even had good luck with basic Aveeno lotion and E45 lotion. Bottom line, you want the most basic, bare necessity lotions you can find. You want lotions with no scents, no colors, no sparkles or glitter, no products that contain Vaseline, petroleum, lanoline, or aloe vera. Even though the tattoo may feel hot and like a sunburn, you don’t want to use aloe vera because it doesn’t get absorbed into the skin well and can actually dry out the skin.

Do not use Vaseline, Neopsorin or Polysproin, Bacitracin, or any other healing ointment. These aren’t absorbed into the skin well and actually trap any bacteria against the tattoo, which can increase your risk of infection.

Some shops will carry a product called Tattoo Goo. I’ve never used it, but have honestly heard conflicting reports about its effectiveness. It usually comes in small tins, so it’s not a good idea for larger tattoos, since you’ll run out quickly and will have to keep rebuying more and more tins. Some say that it’s effective for healing, while others have had issues with it. My cousin was actually allergic to something in Tattoo Goo that made her break out in a rash even getting it on her hands and fingers. Honestly, if your tattoo is small and you want to try it, go for it. I just think it’s a little too expensive for such small volume, usually, and it’s so much easier to just get lotions you can find in a drug store. They’re usually cheaper, much more volume, and you can restock whenever you need. If you run out of Tattoo Goo, you either have to go back to your tattoo artist when the shop is open, which can sometimes be a pain, or just hope that another shop carries it. Of all the various shops I’ve visited, no one has carried it. So there you go.

Once your tattoo is finished, you’re going to want to leave the plastic wrapping on it for no less than 2 hours, and no more than 24 hours. Depending on the time of day you finish your tattoo, you can even sleep with the cover on if you wish. Once you decide to take the wrapper off, you’ll need to rinse your tattoo clean of any leftover ink, lotion, lymph and plasma that may be left over. Stay out of the shower if you can help it. The water pressure is much too harsh for a new tattoo. Just cup your hand, fill it with cool water and very gently run it over the tattoo. Don’t use hot water, and don’t use cold, either. Nice and cool and refreshing will be just fine. Pat it dry with paper towels and let it air dry the rest of the way for about 15 minutes, then apply your first layer of lotion. Most of the time a little goes a long way, you want to apply just enough to make it shiny. Do not rewrap your tattoo for any reason. Believe it or not your tattoo does need to breathe to heal properly. Even though your skin itself doesn’t need to breathe, we’re not amphibians after all, but a new tattoo does need to have fresh air flow over it to allow it to heal properly.

When you do shower, don’t let the water beat directly on the tattoo. Not only is that incredibly painful on a new tattoo, but you don’t want to saturate the tattoo with water because that can cause scabs to drop off prematurely and that can pull ink out of your skin. You can load up on extra lotion before you shower to help create a sort of barrier between your skin and the water, but you also want to wash your tattoo. Some artist say you can use anti-bacterial soap on the tattoo, but my personal preference is to not. Anti-bacterial soaps tend to dry out my skin and make it tight. I’ve even had my hands crack and bleed if I use it too often to wash my hands, I can only imagine what it would do to my tattoos! Just warm water and a soft hand running over the tattoo is fine. DO NOT use a loofa or shower puff or wash cloth, because these things are filthy, harbor bacteria and can scrub off scabs, again, pulling ink out of your tattoo.

You should be applying lotion about 2-3 times a day. Do not over apply. Apply fresh lotion when you wake up, after you shower and before bed at the bare minimum. You can also apply throughout the day if you notice your tattoo getting dry and tight, but only apply in thin layers and with clean hands. Usually, just the 3 times a day is enough.

HEALING:
For the first few days of your tattoo, slight bleeding, plasma weeping and ink-bleeding is normal. Plasma is a clear fluid secreted by your skin, its natural reaction to trauma. It’s the same clear stuff that oozes out after a bad rug-burn. Slight bleeding is normal for the first day or two after the tattoo, and should stop quickly. Ink-bleeding is just excess ink being removed, washed away, and cleared up. This doesn’t mean your skin is rejecting the tattoo ink completely, it’s just basically deciding that it doesn’t need that much and gets rid of the excess. This is normal, so don’t freak out.

Some people can be allergic to tattoo inks. It seems this is most common with red colors and white colors. There’s no way to know if you’ll end up being allergic to tattoo ink until you get tattooed with it. The most common reaction to ink allergies is the ink will be forced from the skin, meaning that you’ll have to get it re-tattooed later on with a slightly different color, a different ink mixture, a different brand, etc., to avoid whatever it was you were allergic to. It also usually manifests as an itchy rash around the area. Don’t scratch it, just double check with your tattoo artist to make sure it is just allergic reactions and not infection, and they’ll direct you on the best course of action from there.

Depending on the location of your tattoo, sleeping and sitting can be difficult and even painful. You want to make sure everything that comes into contact with your tattoo is clean and soft. For bedding, I recommend changing into either old sheets that are still clean, or getting new cheap sheets that you use just for tattoo healing. Tattoo ink can stain, and certain lotions can leave greasy stains on the sheets, and you don’t want that on your good bedding. Most of the time the ink and lotion stains come out in the wash, but sometimes not, so better safe than sorry. Make sure your blankets are newly washed and clean as well. I’d wash them at least every 2-3 days as well, or at least change for a new set. It sounds like a lot of work, but for a healthy tattoo, it’s worth it. You can also wear a clean cotton t-shirt or cotton sweatpants when you sleep to help protect your tattoo from contact with the bedding.

For clothing during the day, wear loose clothes that are soft and comfortable. If you got a thigh tattoo, for example, you don’t want to wear super tight abrasive denim jeans. Wear soft loose cotton sweatpants or pajama pants as often as possible instead. Or wear shorts short enough to expose the tattoo. If your tattoo is on the back of your shoulder, either wear a shirt with a low back like a cami tank top, or just walk around shirtless as much as possible. When you do need to cover it, again, choose something light and soft, like cotton. Common sense and comfort will kind of rule here, so wear what’s comfortable and what works best for you.

As you begin to heal, your tattoo will start to scab and peel. For the love of all that is holy DO NOT PICK THE SCABS. This is one of the worst things you can do to a healing tattoo. Picking the scabs off will pull out chunks of ink, leaving bare patches or uneven color in the tattoo. It also opens up the skin again and can allow infectious bacteria inside. Just keep up with the lotion and within about two or three weeks you should be healed up completely. Even after the scabbing phase is over, the skin itself may still be a little sensitive, almost feeling like a mild sunburn. This is not unheard of and will clear up over more time.

The average healing times for most tattoos is about 2-3 weeks. How you take care of your tattoo, the lotion you choose, and how well you take care of your body and skin can all affect this. Avoid smoking, drinking, and caffeine as much as you can during the healing process. Get lots of rest, drink lots of water, eat healthy. You can take an over the counter multivitamin if you want just to keep all of your vitamins and minerals up to encourage your bodies full healing potential.

Even if you treat your tattoo perfectly, sometimes bare or light patches in the tattoo can still happen. Most artists offer free touchup for at least six months afterward, some offer them for a year, or even a lifetime. If you notice these light patches, just call up your artist, tell them what’s up and set up an appointment for touchups. Treat the new touchup tattoos as you would a new tattoo, and start the healing process over again. Touchups are usually small areas and take a bit less time to heal, in my experience anyway.

AVOID INFECTION, AND LEARN TO RECOGNIZE IT
The best way to avoid infection is to keep your tattoo clean. Do not over clean if you’re paranoid, because this just leads to prolonged healing, excessive irritation, and can actually damage your tattoo. Basic hygiene and proper lotion application is really all you need. Avoid dirty locations, like pools, hot tubs, saunas, lakes, rivers, oceans, home bathtubs, etc. Don’t let people touch your new tattoo. Make sure any clothes or bedding that come into contact with the tattoo are clean and freshly washed. Don’t pick at or scratch the tattoo, because that opens the skin up and leaves it vulnerable to airborne bacteria.

I personally have never had a tattoo get infected, and I’ve really never met anyone who’s had their tattoo get infected. It can and does happen, but as with most other body modification infections, 99% of all cases are wearer’s fault, not tattooists or piercers fault. Meaning YOU did something that exposed the modification to infectious material that caused it to be infected. Tattoo infection can be recognized by swelling, excessive redness and soreness, pus oozing (pus is green, dark yellow, or “spicy mustard” colored, foul smelling and thick/goopy), and excessive pain. The only way to treat true infection is with doctor prescribed antibiotics. If you honestly believe that your tattoo is infected, go see a doctor, or even your tattoo artist for verification. They’ll be able to tell you the difference between infection and just irritation and will tell you when a doctor visit is needed.

DO’S AND DON’TS:
Do not expose your tattoo to extended sunlight at any point during the healing process. Sunlight is a tattoo’s number one enemy once healed. Nothing will fade and distort and fuzzy out your tattoo faster than exposure to UV rays, natural or artificial. This means no sunbathing or tanning for the first few months of your new tattoo. Once it’s fully healed you may show it to the sun, but you MUST wear a sunblock with at least 30 SPF and UVA and UVB protection. Reapply as often as the bottle instructs, and limit sun exposure as much as possible. You shouldn’t have any extended exposure to sunlight for at least the first 3 weeks of a new tattoo. The longer you can go, the better.

Avoid all bodies of water, like pools, hot tubs, lakes, oceans, rivers, saunas, steam baths, home bathtubs, etc. These are all festering cesspools of filth that can damage your tattoo. Soaking in water can also pull ink out of your tattoo as scabs soak off. I read a book once called “Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink” by Jeff Johnson, and he described hot tubs as: (paraphrasing) “Ever wonder what that foam in hot tubs is? It’s like an ass, dick and pussy cappuccino.” I haven’t been in a hot tub since reading that, I just can’t get the visual and horror out of my mind. Great read, by the way, I suggest everyone pick this up or borrow it from the library.

Respect your tattoo and your skin. A tattoo is considered an invasive procedure, and it will take more than just a few days to heal up. Leave it alone other than to wash it and apply lotion, don’t pick it, don’t scratch it, don’t touch it, and just leave it alone!

Don’t let other people touch your tattoo. I can’t believe I have to say this, but based on past experience, apparently I do. Do not let other people, with their filthy hands, touch your new open wound. Sure, it does feel odd and weird, but if they want to feel what a new tattoo feels like, they can go get their own and feel up their own for themselves. You have no idea where people’s hands have been, what they’ve touched and you’re now exposing your new, open, very vulnerable wound to those germs, which can very easily cause infection. Gross.

If you have any questions, concerns, or just general curiosity about your new tattoo, never be afraid to give your tattoo artist or the shop in general a call. The only stupid question is the unasked one.

Only Skin Deep

This blog seems to be focusing mostly on piercings, which wasn’t really my intention. It just seems that piercings are more popular, are easier to screw up, and usually has more information that needs to be covered. But since there is more to the body modification world than just piercings, this next entry is all about tattoos.

A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF TATTOOS
Oh goodness, the history of tattoos is a long and colorful one. Nearly every culture that has walked the earth has had its own form of tattoos. Asia, Africa, Europe, India, North and South and Central America, New Zealand and Micronesia, I can hardly think of one area of the world or one culture that doesn’t have some history of tattooing in it. Many have done it for religious or even medical purposes, to mark the passage into adulthood, to mark important events in the individual’s life, among other reasons.

It was only in the early to mid 1900’s or so that tattoos began to take on a negative connotation. It was believed that only foreign people, sailors, sideshow spectacles, criminals and other “dregs of society” were getting tattooed. Certain religious influences are partially responsible for this as well, as more western cultures viewed tattooing as barbaric or savage.

As of the last thirty years or so, tattooing has seen quite a resurgence. It’s becoming more an art form now rather than marks of pride, of where one’s been and done, and people enjoy being a walking canvas. Many people who would never even dream of getting a tattoo in their entire life actually would consider, or even have, permanent makeup, which very much is a type of tattoo.

WHAT IS A TATTOO?
So, now that there’s a little history behind us, what exactly is a tattoo? A tattoo is described as an insertion of ink beneath the dermis layer of skin to change the pigment. Before the invention of the modern tattoo machine, people would poke the tattoo into the skin with sharp sticks, shards of metal, animal bones, thorns, or the skin would be cut and dyes rubbed in. That’s actually one of the explanations of how the word “tattoo” came into existence, because that was the sound of one stick hitting another stick that held the needles dipped in ink as it was tapped into the skin. “Tat to! Tat to!”

In the past, people have used soot, charcoal, and other natural dyes and pigments to create their tattoos, the colors of which were extremely limited, probably just blacks and blues. More recently, tattoo inks are made of vegetable ingredients, trace metals, carbon, and synthetic pigments.

HOW DOES IT WORK?
In modern times, with modern tattoo machines and inks, the insertion of ink is much easier, faster, and I would imagine less painful. We actually have Thomas Edison to thank for the modern tattoo machine, though that wasn’t his intention for it when he created it. Rather, he meant for it to be a duplicating device or an engraving device for hard surfaces, and it was later discovered by a man named Samuel O’Reilly that it could be altered and modified to hold ink and inject it beneath the skin. He later patented those modifications into the tattoo machine we all recognize today. It’s remained relatively unchanged since that original patent.

As clarification, it is not called a tattoo gun. That name came about mostly because of the shape of the machine. This is because the machine does not shoot the ink into the skin. Rather, it injects it like a hypodermic needle underneath a few layers of skin.

The skin has essentially three major layers, and the tattoo machine injects the ink into the second layer. In the first layer, the body would replace the cells and the tattoo would disappear. Too deep, and the body will flush away the ink. The ink doesn’t even sit as deep in the skin as the hair follicle, so the myth that tattoos can interfere with and damage vital or important nerves is absolutely false. Here’s a handy diagram:

The tattoo machine uses a cluster of needles and creates a puncture wound in the skin, injecting a drop of ink as it goes. Most tattoo machines run at about 50-200 injections per second, and this can be altered to suit the needs of the specific tattoo, going slower or faster. The amount of needles used each time can also vary, depending on what’s needing to be done. Liner clusters, used to make thin lines and outlines, have anywhere between 1 and 5 needles, and can be arranged in a long line or a small cluster, to make thin or thick lines. Shaders, used for filling in large areas, hold about 4-6 needles in a row. Other shaders will have clusters between 5-8 needles arranged in a diamond shape or partial pyramid shape. All of this can be altered and moved to accommodate whatever effect the artist is trying to create.

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE GETTING A TATTOO
Probably the most important thing to remember is that tattoos are for life. Wrap your head around that, any young people who are reading this. FOR. LIFE. Until you die. Until you’re worm food. You’ll have it at your wedding, in the hospital when you have your kids, when you watch those kids graduate from high school, at your work retirement party, at the bridge table when you’re in the old folks home. FOR YOUR ENTIRE LIFETIME. Whatever you may be into right now you may not like in 20, 30, 40 years. So, do you really want that Justin Bieber tattoo on your wrist? Do you really want to explain to your grandkids the significance of the gigantic Charlie Sheen wearing a tiger skin across the back of your shoulders? Do you really want to be in your golden years, walking along the beach in Hawaii with naked chicks humping flaming devil skulls scrawled all down your entire calf?

As cliché as it is, and how much I hate to hear it, you do have to think about where you might be when you’re 80. My personal response to this is “I’ll be 80, I won’t care what I look like and even more so I’ll have earned the right to not care!” But you still have to think about it. So you need to make sure that the tattoo you want is something you’re going to continue to love for the rest of your life, and that the artist you choose is capable of making the tattoo beautiful.

HOW TO CHOOSE A GOOD ARTIST AND SHOP
It may sound daunting, but finding a good tattoo artist involves more than just walking into your most local shop and taking whatever it is they have to offer. Not all tattooists deserve to call themselves “artists”. There are no laws preventing just anyone from buying a tattoo machine, bottles of ink, a business license to operate as a shop, and then they can start tattooing. Some don’t even take the time and effort and money to open a legitimate shop, they operate out of their homes, or go on house calls. We’ll go into why these guys are so bad a little later. So just because someone has all the tools it doesn’t mean they’re really qualified to use them.

Non-professional tattooists are called scratchers, because they tend to just scratch the tattoo haphazardly into the skin and call it good. They won’t follow sterilization procedures and laws, they have no artistic skill whatsoever, and you’re going to get a terrible tattoo because of it. So how do you tell the difference between a good artist and a scratcher?

The best way is to recognize that a professional will NEVER work out of his or her or someone else’s home, their car, a basement, a back room in some random business establishment, etc. They will have a specific SHOP that they work in, specializing in tattooing and sometimes piercing as well. Not all tattoo shops pierce also, though I’ve never found a piercing-only shop, either. When you do find an artist in a shop, ask to see their portfolio. This will be a binder, a book or some other record of their past work, to show what they’re capable of. Some artists specialize in a specific style, like portraits, traditional Japanese style, etc. Just because an artist specializes in a certain style, does NOT mean they can’t do other styles. They may refer you to another artist who does specialize in what you want to assure that you get the best tattoo possible. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes you can ask the artist if you can sit in on a session with another client to see them at work. Of course, you MUST ASK and get permission from the artist and the client for this. Working artists should be wearing gloves 100% of the time, and changing them CONSTANTLY. If they have to touch something while tattooing, like the phone or they drop something, they should be taking the old gloves off before touching the item, and replacing them when they come back to the station.

Once you find an artist you feel comfortable with and who has the quality of work you’d like on you, make sure the shop they work in is up to par. It should be clean and uncluttered, and smell like a doctor’s or dentist’s office, smell clean. The tattoo stations should be clean and uncluttered, and each station should be separated by a wall, or at least a partial wall. Most I’ve seen are stone or cinder block, rising to about chest height or more. Each station should have a door, curtains, or another way to shut off visuals 100%. The employees should be clean and neat, professional yet causal looking, if that makes any sense. People who tattoo and who get tattooed tend to be artistic, maybe a little eclectic, so they shouldn’t be wearing suits and ties and business sets, but their jeans should be washed, their hair should be shampooed, their teeth brushed, that sort of thing. They should be willing to answer any questions you may have readily and fully. Don’t ever be afraid that a question is dumb, or obvious, or inappropriate or anything like that. The employees should all be absolutely willing to answer your questions, find the answers, or refer you to someone who does know the answer. If they don’t answer you to your satisfaction, ask for clarification. If they refuse to answer a legitimate question or concern of yours, walk out.

Demand to see autoclave spore test records. This is VERY important. The autoclave is the same machine that doctors and dentists use to clean their reusable tools. It uses steam or chemicals and pressure to destroy and kill 100% of all potentially living germs, viruses and organisms on whatever is placed into it. Some shops operate on a 100% disposable system, meaning they never reuse tools. There is nothing wrong with this; you just have to make sure that they really ARE throwing away everything after each use and not using dirty tools on various people or reusing dull and dirty needles on people. If a shop does clean and reuse tools, you can ask to watch them open these sterilized packages in front of you to assure that they are brand new clean and sterile.

Demand to see any licenses to operate (state business license, city license, etc.). Demand to watch them set up their station and watch them remove new needles from sterile packages. Make sure everything is single use, sterile and thrown away after each use and each client. If the artist you talk to denies even one of these requests, walk out. Ask if the artists or shop belong to any professional organizations, like the APP (Association of Professional Piercers). These memberships are not required, since many can be expensive to maintain, but if they are members they’re likely to have current, up to date information on health and safety, laws, regulations, trends and new innovations in the industry.

Ultimately, trust your gut. Bring a friend for a second set of eyes and ears and opinions. If something about the shop makes you uncomfortable or uneasy, leave. If something about the artists or the people you talk to make you uncomfortable or they don’t answer your questions satisfactorily, leave. Remember that you’re going to be paying these people to perform a service FOR YOU, so if they’re not up to YOUR standards, find another shop and another artist who is.

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU DECIDE TO GET YOUR TATTOO
So, you’ve found the perfect shop and the most amazing artist. You have your design ready to go, but what if you can’t draw, like me? How do you get what’s in your head onto paper, and ultimately into your skin?

Any tattoo artist worth their machine will draw you a custom piece of artwork if you don’t have one of your own ready to go. And even if you do have something you want, they will be more than willing to help you finish it, perfect it, alter it, tweek it, whatever needs to be done to make it perfect. Bring in any designs you have made up already, any reference pictures, books, materials, even movies or DVD’s, ANYTHING you have that will help the artist and you design the perfect piece of art.

Bring your materials with you when you walk in. Initially, you’ll talk to an artist about what you’re visualizing and what you want to do. The artist may take measurements of the area, pictures of the area so that they can use it later with the final artwork. They may do a quick rough sketch of the idea to get down important points, then will have you come back in a few days for the final piece. Some will ask for a deposit on the artwork, just so they know you’re going to come back for it and they’re not wasting their time drawing custom work that you’ll never come back for. The average seems to be about $50 for the deposit, and that will be added into the final cost of the tattoo. Once you agree on the design, you’ll either start then, or will get an appointment to come back later and get started.

This is about the time when you decide on a final price. Sometimes artists will ask you early on what your price range is and will work with you, cutting the tattoo into several sessions at a certain price each time, if necessary. There is no such thing as a general price range for any tattoo, since there are so many factors involved that will affect it. Location of the shop, region of the world or country, the piece itself, the amount of detail in the art, the size of the artwork, the individual artist, the shop’s minimum price, etc., will all affect the ultimate cost. Some artists charge solely by the hour, no matter the size of the piece or how long it takes. Some will agree that a small tattoo should only cost however much, say about $60, even if their hourly charge is $100 or more. Talk with the artist, discuss payment options and your price limit, if you only have so much money to spend you can very much work on a tattoo in sessions. If they’re not willing to work with you, walk out. Again, THEY are performing a service for YOU, and since you’re paying for it, it’s going to be on your skin forever, everything should be done to your satisfaction, within reason.

The day arrives! How should you prepare? First of all, EAT SOMETHING!!! I know a lot of people are nervous about getting their tattoo and forget to eat, or don’t eat enough. You really don’t want to get tattooed on an empty stomach. I recommend eating something hearty, with solid proteins and good sugars and complex carbohydrates in it. Getting tattooed is a traumatic experience for your body, so it needs the energy to combat the pain and trauma. On your way to the shop, you might want to swing into a store and grab a juice, or sports drink, but avoid energy drinks and sodas. The juice and sports drinks will help you replenish sugars and electrolytes lost during the tattoo process and keep you stable, while the caffeine in sodas and energy drinks will drain you, make you shaky and get your heart rate up, potentially making you bleed excessively during the tattoo because caffeine can thin your blood.

Once you get to the shop, make sure you watch the artist set up their station. You should be able to watch them open new sterile packages, wrap and rewrap their machine, their station, the chair, everything around them in disposable plastic wrap. They should be changing their gloves CONSTANTLY during this process.

Once the artist is ready for you, he or she will have you come over and they’ll examine the placement once again. The area will be shaved of hair, if needed, and your skin will be cleaned. The stencil will be placed on your skin, if you’re using one. If not, the artist will draw on your skin what is to be done. Then you’ll review it in the mirror, give them the all good, and you’ll get started!

During the tattoo process it’s important to remember to BREATHE!!! If an area hurts, do not hold your breath. You can get lightheaded that way. My personal ritual is to inhale for four or five heartbeats, then exhale for four or five heartbeats. This will keep your breathing regular and deep and keep your heart rate even. Sip your juice or sports drink as you go, and don’t be afraid to ask the artist for a break if you need it.

Once the tattoo is complete, your artist will then wrap it up in plastic wrap and tape it on. This is to protect your newly open skin from outside elements and allow it at least a few hours to start scabbing over. This is a very important step, because again, it keeps germs in the air, from your clothes, from the car seat on the drive home, out of your new tattoo. Tattoo inks can also sometimes stain, so this protects surrounding surfaces as well. Now is when you’ll be paying your artist, cash or charge or however you chose to do it is fine. I’ve talked to some artists that will actually charge slightly less if you pay in cash since the shop has to pay a fee for the operation of the charge card machines, and that’s annoying. Remember also to tip your artist, however much you feel is appropriate. Use the same guidelines you would if you were in a restaurant. Anywhere between 10-20% of the total cost is customary, but if you’d like to tip more because you had a great experience, love the work, the artist was fun and entertaining, then by all means tip more. Besides, tipping makes it hurt less. ^_~

Now you have a beautiful tattoo, a mark that reflects yourself for the rest of your life. It’s an expression of who you are, what you believe, what you stand for, and how you view the world around you.

In the next entry, we’ll discuss the aftercare of your tattoo, what you should and shouldn’t do to it and with it, what happens if you notice something wrong with your tattoo and need to get it fixed. We’ll also look a bit into tattoo removal products and procedures, how effective they are, and other alternatives to cover, remove, or improve a tattoo.

So don’t go too far!

Been there, done that.

This goes back a bit to the piercing gun post. This story is from someone who has actually worked with a piercing gun, at a very common store called Piercing Pagoda. Not sure how wide-spread this store is, but it seems fairly common from the people I’ve spoken to.

My experience at Piercing Pagoda wasn’t the best. Aside the fact I was the only worker there besides my manager who was never there so I had to work 12 hour shifts 7 days a week..

Working there made me realize how horrible piercing guns were. Our training was next to nothing basically and looking back on it, was horrible. I first had to take a test over the phone about various types of metals, irons and such. A test that I was given all the answers to by my manager so I could “get through it” faster.

Then came the hands on training. They taught us that all the guns were sterile, and in order to “sterilize” them we had to wipe them down with an alcohol swab. THEN we’d put on gloves and put the earrings in. Of course (sarcasm), wipe down the persons ear with a cotton swab, take a marker (that was used on other people as well) and mark their ear. Put the gun up to the persons ear and fire away. Don’t panic if it gets caught, that happens a lot, just wiggle it and yank it to make it free again.
The actual piercing training consisted of us taking a piercing gun and practicing on a FOAM ear. We had to dot the ear where we thought the piercing should be and pierce it. The way the manager knows if we did well was the cheat sheet on the back of the foam ear. If we got it through the x, we were done training.

Before we could pierce a paying customer we had to bring a family member or friend in as a guinea pig to pierce them. After we were done with just one ear, we were fully trained.

All of these are horribly wrong. The “sterilization” method used isn’t really sterilizing at all. In order for a piercing gun to be truly sterilized it needs to be put through an autoclave system. But they can’t be because the guns are plastic and will melt. Just wiping it down with an alcohol swab won’t do either because there are so many areas that you can not reach on the gun that it remains forever dirty. If it isn’t properly sterilized the person getting pierced runs the risk of getting HEP, HIV and MRSA, which is a flesh eating bacteria.

The lack of training, and what training I DID get was a dumbfuck to me looking back on it. At the time in my life I wanted to become a professional body piercer and thought that working at Piercing Pagoda would help me. Well it actually did, it helped me learn on what NOT to do while piercing someone.

Now I am heading to the medical field and really know how to keep things sterilized and safe for all people, including the handler. Piercing Pagoda and other mall kiosk/store piercing shops should be shut down due to their lack of knowledge and risking their customers lives.

Now if that doesn’t convince you to run screaming from piercing guns, I don’t know what will.

Stretching

One of the most popular body modifications right now is ear stretching. It is also, unfortunately, one of the most improperly and incorrectly done body modifications as well. This is going to be a long and picture heavy post because we have a lot of information to cover, but stick with me here, it’s all good information.

Stretching (often incorrectly referred to as “gauging”), is the practice of enlarging a chosen piercing by slowly inserting larger diameter pieces to accommodate larger jewelry, usually called plugs or tunnels. The most commonly stretched piercings are earlobes, lips, and the septum, but any piercing has the potential to be stretched. I’ll limit this to lobes since it’s the most common, but this information applies to nearly all stretched piercings.

This ancient practice has been performed by many cultures for thousands of years, signifying adulthood, patience, status in the tribe or group, etc. In modern times, stretching is commonly done to stand out, to identify with a certain subculture, and sometimes just for the aesthetic value, some people just like the way they look.

Historically, stretching has also been done to discourage the slave trade. Africans would pierce and stretch lips and ears to make themselves “unfit” for slavery, they were seen as deformed and weren’t taken away. Stretching is such an ancient practice that even the oldest mummy ever found, Ötzi the Iceman, who was found in Italy and was dated to about 3,300BC had stretched earlobes of about 11mm. Egyptian mummies have also been found with stretched lobes.

How to stretch properly:
Getting started

Before you start stretching, be absolutely sure this is something you want to do. At certain points, it becomes very hard to downsize again and some people never will. This practice is to be considered a permanent modification, so if there is any doubt at all that you’ll want to one day go back down to “normal” piercing size, don’t stretch.

Most standard piercings are anywhere between 20-16ga. The way the gauge system works is the LARGER the number, the smaller the diameter of the piece is, so 20ga is actually smaller than 16ga. This is the same measuring system that welders use, called the American Wire Gauge system. It’s backwards, I know, but you’ll get used to it quickly enough. It’s safe to assume that most people can start their stretching process with 16ga tapers and plugs. Here’s a link to a gauge size reference table for you to look back on as a reference.

http://www.bodyartforms.com/help_MeasurementGuide.asp

Do not stretch freshly pierced ears, or any other fresh piercing. They should be fully, healthily healed for at least 6 months before you start your first stretch. Sometimes you can get a head start on stretching by getting pierced at a larger gauge, or getting a dermal punch, or getting your lobes cut with a scalpel. If you choose one of these methods to get a head start, you MUST absolutely be at least 6 months fully, healthily healed before you start stretching. The longer you can go, the better, so I always recommend the longer end of the average healing times. There is no such thing as “too healed”.

There are several ways to stretch your ears: tapers and plugs, taping, or weights. The two most common and safest ways are tapers and plugs, and taping.

How to use tapers and plugs:
Tapers resemble round railroad spikes, and plugs are cylinder-shaped pieces.

Tapers:

Plugs:
Product photo

These can be purchased in sets off many websites, including http://www.bodyartforms.com, my personal favorite jewelry website.

First, buy some sort of lubricant. I prefer Jojoba Oil, since its chemical makeup is very similar to the oils your body naturally produces. You can also use Emu Oil, Vitamin E oil, extra virgin olive oil in a pinch and even some sexual lubricants, such as KY. Make SURE these sexual lubricants are water based only, no scents, flavors, colors, etc.

Once you have your taper and plug set ready to go, go take a long hot shower. This loosens and softens the skin of the piercing and makes stretching easier. When done, rub the taper and your ear liberally with your chosen oil, and slowly insert the long pointy end into the piercing, stopping when you reach the uniformed end. It should be smooth sailing, with NO PAIN. If there is actual pain, stop immediately. Some slight stinging or light pressure is alright. You’ll notice that tapers come with little rubber rings, called O-rings. These are provided because some people like to leave their tapers in their ears for an hour or two to let their piercing calm down, before inserting the plugs. If you wish to do that, slide on the O-rings now to hold the taper in place. The taper is now to be followed by the plug. Simply remove the O-rings from the taper and plug, lube up the plug, put one end of the plug flat against the taper and slide it through your piercing until the taper falls out the back, slip the O-rings back on the plug and you’re done! The plug should be left in the piercing for about 3-4 weeks while any microtears inside the fistual (the tunnel of flesh that a piercing is) heal, and then the process can be started again, at the next size up.

Some websites will sell taper and plug sets beyond 0ga, I’ve seen some that go up to one inch. You should never ever use tapers beyond 0ga, at the most. Your risk of blowouts from the tapers greatly increases the larger you go, so 0ga is the stopping point for the taper and plug method. You should only be using the tape method after 0ga.

How to stretch with the taping method:
The taping method isn’t quite as easy as the tapers method, but it is safer at the larger sizes. Taping is kind of hard with the little sizes, about 16ga-10ga, but it can be done. In my experience, most people start taping around 8ga.

There are only two types of tape suitable for the taping method: Plumbers tape, also called PTFE tape, and bondage tape. Both of these are non-adhesive, which is the important part. You can purchase plumbers tape at any store that has a hardware section, or hardware stores, of course. You can get bondage tape either from the internet, like Amazon, or some sex and fetish shops will carry it.

To start taping, take a pair of plugs in your current size and wrap 1-2 layers of the tape around it. Lube up your ear and the plug with tape, and carefully insert, then leave it alone. Repeat this process every week or two, adding 1-2 layers of tape each time. This is a slower method than the taper and plugs, but is much safer at the larger sizes because your risk of tearing and blowouts is greatly reduced.

Weight stretching:
This is probably the most uncommon way to stretch, because it often gives undesired results. Weight stretching is done by wearing heavy stone or metal weights that stretch the piercings using gravity. This is usually undesirable because it can easily cause thinning of the lobes and the elongated “saggy” earlobes that most people try to avoid. But it is effective.

You can inadvertently weight stretch if you’re not careful. By wearing heavy hanging stone or metal earrings for extended periods of time, the weight will eventually stretch your lobes. I’ve had this happen first hand. I wore heavy hanging 2ga stone earrings for a good 8 months, and when I went to the usually difficult stretch to 0ga, I barely had to use the taper, the plugs just slid right in, because all those months of the heavy stone earrings stretched them for me.

No matter the method you choose, you must wait for a while between stretches. Every body is different, but the most common wait times are:
For 18-10ga: About 2-3 weeks
For 8-0ga: About 4-6 weeks
For 00ga and beyond: About two months or more

A good indication you’re ready to stretch again is when you VERY gently pull down on your plugs and you can see light between your ear and the plug. That’s a good visual that you might be ready to stretch again. Give it a try, and if it hurts or just won’t go all the way, STOP DOING IT and try again in another 2 weeks or so.

Aftercare and what to expect:
Stretching should NEVER hurt. If it hurts, stop right away and put your old plugs back in. There should NEVER be blood, tearing, or anything like that. Some slight stinging or tightness is okay, but it shouldn’t be enough to even make you grit your teeth. If it is, stop right away and put your smaller plugs back in. Wait another 2 weeks, and then try again.

Aftercare for stretched lobes is very simple. Basically, you treat them the same as you would for any new piercing, which is the Sea Salt soak method, or SSS for short. This is a very simple method and is the only one you’ll ever need. Take 1/4 teaspoon of pure organic sea salt (not iodized table salt) and dissolve it in 8oz (1 cup) of hot water. Make the water as hot as you’d make your bathwater. Soak the piercing 2-3 times a day, for about 5-10 minutes each time. If direct soaking is difficult, soak about a quarter to half of a paper towel in the SSS mixture then compress. Do not turn the plugs, do not remove them to clean them, do not slide them back and forth, just leave them be.

The residue that sometimes builds up on stretched ears is called sebum or, more disgustingly, ear cheese. This is normal, but undesirable, mostly because it’s gross and smells bad. Cleaning your ears and jewelry as is proper with basic hygiene will reduce this. Also, switching to organic materials like wood, horn, bone, stone, etc can also help, but remember this can ONLY be done when your ears are fully healed.

Suitable jewelry:
There are many styles of jewelry available for stretched earlobes, but not all are suitable for stretch-ING. The only suitable materials to wear in newly stretched lobes are 316 or 316L surgical implant grade steel, titanium, and glass. These are all non-porous materials and can be autoclaved for full sterility.

Materials such as horn, stone, wood, bone and acrylic should only be worn in fully healed stretched lobes. All of these materials are porous and can harbor and breed bacteria, and you don’t want that in newly stretched lobes.

There are also different forms of plugs, these are no flare or straight plugs, single flare and double flare.

No flare is a uniform cylindrical shape:

Single flare has one end larger than the other:

and Double flare is hourglass shaped:

You can wear either no flare or single flare in new stretched piercings. You cannot wear double flare because the ends are wider than the saddle or wearable area, and you won’t be able to get them in or out of new stretched lobes.

There are also spirals and crescent shapes, or pinchers, that many people believe are safe to stretch with. This is not true.

Spirals:

Pinchers or crescents:

These pieces are meant to be pretty jewelry worn in fully healed piercings. These are not safe to stretch with because they’re too heavy, and can cause thin spots in your ear. The tapering on these usually isn’t gradual enough and can cause tears. So, ONLY use plugs in new stretched piercings!

A piece you never wear is tapers, the tools you use to stretch with. I know they come in pretty colors and patterns, but they are not intended to be worn as jewelry. This is because they cause uneven weight distribution which can wear thin spots in your ears. And most are made of acrylic, which, as already said, is bad for new stretched piercings. So, just stretch with them, leave for an hour or less if you want to, and then replace with a plug. There is NEVER an appropriate time to wear tapers.

Major risks:
Outside of the normal risks for any piercing like infection, irritation, etc. the major risks associated with piercing stretching is what’s known as blowouts, cat ass and thinning of the earlobes. All of these are easily avoided by stretching slowly and properly.

Blowouts happen when you stretch too large, too fast, or force jewelry through when you aren’t ready to stretch up yet. Essentially, what happens is you force the fistula from the inside of the ear to the outside. You can also have blowouts if you skip sizes while stretching.

Cat ass looks just like that, a cat’s butt hole. This comes from stretching too fast and creates a puckering effect. Skipping sizes can also lead to cat ass.

Thin lobes come from stretching too fast, which causes splits in the ear. As these heal they get thinner and thinner, thus you’re more likely to tear your lobe in two. Again, ALL of this is easily avoided by stretching slowly and properly.

For full on visuals of all of this, I refer you to the Blowout Slideshow. As a warning, these are VERY graphic images and very much not safe for work, not safe for weak stomachs, and should only be viewed with a prepared mind, in a well-lit room, with maybe something soft to snuggle to take away the potential nightmares.
http://s260.photobucket.com/albums/ii9/blowoutslideshow/?albumview=slideshow

Myths:
There are many myths associated with stretched lobes, and stretched piercings in general. A major one is that they smell bad. Anything on your body will smell if you don’t wash and clean it properly, this is basic hygiene that all of us were taught as kids. Just wash them with wet hands every time you shower, and you should never suffer from a smell.

Another myth is that they’re unsanitary. I really don’t see how they can be; they’re no more sanitary or unsanitary than regular ear piercings. They do take a little more care and cleaning, but again, with basic hygiene and showering, they’re fine.

The myth that ear stretching is irreversible is another prevalent one. This is mostly untrue, but does hold some truth. The general consensus is that the “point of no return” is a 2ga, that means that you’re unlikely to shrink back down as if you were never pierced, or to “standard” piercing size. You might go down to 16ga or 14ga, but not as if you were never pierced. Even at the much larger sizes, like several inches, it is possible to reverse. This is done by surgically trimming and reattaching the earlobes into the basic or original shape. So, yes, stretched piercings ARE possible to reverse, for the most part, but they should be considered permanent modifications. If there is any doubt in your mind that you might want to go back to normal sizes, don’t stretch at all.

Why “gauging” is wrong:
Alright, here’s the big one. Why is staying “gauged” wrong?

There are several reasons why this is wrong, but my biggest irritant is it’s grammatically wrong.

It is NOT slang, it is not a regional term, it’s flat out grammatically incorrect in this context. Gauge, as a verb, means “to measure”, as in “I gauged the distance of the ravine before I jumped over it.” or “Your magic gauge is getting low, you should drink a Mana potion.” or “The fuel gauge in my car dashboard is slightly off, I actually have more gas than it shows.” So to say you’re “gauging your ears” you’re saying “I’m measuring my ears”, which is grammatically incorrect in this context. You can measure your ears, certainly, with a ruler, meaning you are taking its measurements. Just like you would for a dress fitting or suit fitting, you are getting measured. You don’t do that with your ears when you stretch them. You STRETCH them to accommodate larger pieces of jewelry.

Gauge is also a unit of measurement, just as inch, centimeter, mile, kilometer, etc. is. It’s based on the American wire gauge system; any welder will know exactly what this is. So to say you “wear gauges”, is to say “I wear inches in my ears”, you’re just replacing one unit with another. See how that’s wrong? How can one wear a unit of measurement in their ears?

Using the logic that gauge represents the diameter of the jewelry, the jewelry itself, the enlarged earlobes themselves, and the process of enlarging the earlobes, which is commonly done, you should be able to say “I wear 0 gauge gauges in my gauged gauges.” What? That doesn’t make any sense. Properly, that sentence should be said as “I wear 0 gauge plugs in my stretched earlobes.” See how that actually makes sense?

You have gauges in your car, not in your ears.

Remember, these are gauges:

That’s not what’s in your ear, is it? So why say that it is?

Do’s and don’ts:
Do not ever skip sizes. Ever. I don’t care how stretchy you think your ears are, I don’t care how fast you think you heal, you NEVER skip sizes. This causes cat ass, blowouts, and generally gives you crappy looking ears.

Do respect your ears. If you treat them nice and care for them, they’ll be beautiful and healthy for you.

Do not rush it. Stretching is not a race, size does not matter. You are supposed to enjoy the journey, use it as a learning experience about yourself and your body, and find a size you feel comfortable at. Someone with 1 inch crappy looking lobes will get LESS respect in the body mod world than someone with thick healthy 0ga lobes. Size is not an indicator of how cool you are, how unique or special you are, how hard core you are, size means nothing in the body mod world. QUALITY of the lobes is what matters.

Don’t listen to your friends. If they suggest something that sounds like a bad idea, it probably is. Listen to professionals, people who have been there and have beautiful lobes to show for it. There are very few shortcuts and cheats in this process, and it’s so simple anyway, why would you need shortcuts and cheats, anyway?

Don’t be cheap. If you can’t afford to stretch properly, then don’t stretch at all. It is very much worth it to invest in good tools and jewelry to have beautiful ears to show for it. You don’t need super expensive things, but it is better to spend the money on good steel tapers and plugs than go cheap on acrylic stuff, use hand-me-downs from friends (which is unsanitary and gross in the first place!), or get sub-par metals from some kiosk in the middle of the mall. Spend the few extra bucks on good stuff, it’s worth it.

Do your own education and research. There is no such thing as too much knowledge, so you should educate yourself as much as you can. That way if something goes wrong you either know how to handle it, or can consult trusted resources and information to fix it. Talk to many professionals and trusted people in the body mod community, read about it as much as you can.

Stretching is a wonderful, sometimes even fulfilling process, and should be done with the utmost care, respect and understanding.

Feed a cold, drown a fever

Been really sick lately, but hopefully I should have some new posts up next week. Just not feeling up to it right now. Sit tight, and I promise to have some cool stuff up soon enough.

Boyfriend’s mom was lovely enough to make me some home made chicken noodle soup, and I already feel quite a bit better. Shook some red pepper flakes into it to help clear up my sinuses, and even though I’m not 100% yet, I’m well on my way.

The horrors of piercing guns.

This is a subject very important to me, and a discussion I find myself engaged in fairly frequently. Admittedly, most of us have, or had, gun piercings. I myself had several done before I knew better. They’re so incredibly common, and many people still believe that piercing studios are filthy, drug infested and only frequented by the dregs of society. I was fortunate enough to not suffer any lasting consequences from these gun piercing experiences, but others have not been so lucky. What I want you to take from this post is a better understanding of why these things are so bad and why you should do everything you can to help get these things banned.

If they’re really so bad, why are they so readily available? You can even buy reusable home kits from places like Sally Beauty Supply. Again, most of it comes from the misconception that piercing parlors are dirty and that needles actually cause more damage, or WILL cause infections, or that these things are less painful than needles. Thus, making home guns safe, right? Some will say they’re sterile, or have been sterilized, which we will soon discover is impossible.

Many people think that because “piercers” like Clarie’s, Piercing Pagoda, Wal-Mart and some hair and nail salons offer gun piercing services that they’re completely safe, as well as because it’s common, cheap, readily available, convenient, and quick. Because they’re performed in national, well known retailers that the employees are highly trained and knowledgeable. We’re about to learn why they’re not.

You can’t call yourself a professional and use a gun. Because real professionals would never use one. Most of these gun “professionals” have about 10-30 minutes, MINUTES, of training before they’re let loose on the public. Most of it is reading a pamphlet or watching a video, practicing by gunning a piece of cardboard or a teddy bear, and then they can call themselves professionals.  REAL professionals, the ones you’ll find in licensed shops, have undergone at least two years of training as an apprentice under a mentor. Many also require that apprentices take blood borne pathogen classes, sterilization courses, study human anatomy, and are not allowed to pierce until they’re given permission by their mentor.

The way the gun works is by using brute force to blast a blunt piercing stud through the flesh of the earlobe. It was originally designed for tagging livestock. This causes severe tissue damage, unnecessary pain, swelling, and extended healing times. Frequently, this force isn’t even enough to shove the blunt stud through the ear, requiring removal of the partially inserted stud and trying to repierce it. Or they could try to manually force the stud in the rest of the way. The best way to illustrate what guns actually do to your ear is to imagine if you punched a wall. See all the cracking in the drywall, the ragged and uneven hole your fist left? See the dust and wall chunks that are left on your arm? That’s exactly what the gun is doing to your ear, and what it’s leaving behind on the gun.

Sometimes, these guns are also used on cartilage piercings, such as helixes. The force from the gun can actually shatter the cartilage, which is very hard to heal, if it can be healed at all. Because cartilage has less blood flow than other areas, the rate of severe infections in cartilage piercings done with guns is much higher. These can result in deformity and collapse of structural ear tissue, requiring antibiotic therapy for the infection and extensive reconstructive surgery to actually rebuild the shape of the ear.

Piercing guns cannot be fully sterilized. Alcohol wipes are not adequate sterilization, by a long shot. These wipes only wipe down the surface; they don’t penetrate into the deeper mechanics of the machine where bacteria and blood can hide. The very mechanics of the piercing gun don’t allow it to be fully cleaned. There are so many little nooks and crannies that it makes it impossible. The only, ONLY way to fully sterilize a piece of equipment is to autoclave it. This is the same machine that doctors and dentists use to clean their reusable tools. It uses either high pressure and steam, or high pressure and chemicals, to destroy every single living pathogen on the surface of the item. Piercing guns could never withstand the pressure and heat from these machines, the plastics would melt, the cheap metals would rust and become brittle, it would utterly destroy it.

As it blasts through the ear, skin cells, micro-drops of blood, plasma, and other organic particles explode around the area and land on the gun. And since the gun can’t be cleaned, whoever is pierced next is at risk for those cells to be rubbed off on them, or onto the new jewelry that is then rammed into their new piercings.

Because they can’t be cleaned properly, there’s no way to know what sort of infectious diseases could be on the guns. Infections, Hepatitis A, B, and C, HIV/AIDS, among others could be given to you if you are pierced with a gun. The Hepatitis virus can live on inanimate surfaces for weeks, or even longer. And when dozens of people go in and out of stores that use guns, the opportunity to spread infections and diseases to other people is huge.  These little machines can also malfunction frequently, requiring dismantling of the gun, dirty fingers coming into contact with newly exposed flesh, unsterilized tools used to help release any pieces that are stuck on the ear, etc.

Piercing studs aren’t even designed for wear in new piercings. If you’ve ever seen a stud under a microscope the end is actually very blunt, and there are notches cut out of it where the butterfly back clicks on.

This is what the stud looks like up close.

Photobucket

The studs are too short to allow room for any swelling. The backs are pressed on incredibly tight, again, not allowing room for swelling. Because there is no room for the swelling to run its course, the ends can actually become impacted or embedded into the flesh, requiring surgical removal. The butterfly back, which is usually the style used, has loops on the sides that harbor blood and plasma, which harbor bacteria close to the new puncture wound.

These are butterfly piercing stud backs.

Photobucket

The materials these studs are made of are certainly unfit for long term wear in the body. They are hardly the “14K gold” you were talked into paying extra for. They may be very thinly coated in that metal, but it wears off quickly, exposing the cheap metal underneath. This metal can cause allergies, infection, even adherence to skin as your body breaks it down, it literally corrodes in your body. Ever taken out a piercing stud that’s been in the ear for a long time, that green residue and crusties left behind? That’s corrosion taking place. That’s why piercing gun operators tell you to turn the piercings, because they know this will happen and they think that will prevent it. The spinning actually causes a rifling effect in your ears, causing unnecessary scar tissue to form.

So, is it really worth it to save money and time when you’re putting your very life at risk?

For full reading on the dangers of piercing guns, I refer you to the APP website, the Association of Professional Piercers. The APP is the authority on body piercing in the US. Their word is law for body piercing.

http://www.safepiercing.org/piercing/faq/#guns

What is body modification?

Before we can really start discussing something, we first have to know what it is. So what, exactly, is body modification?

Body modification is defined, quite literally, as the act of modifying or altering your physical body. In this context, it usually means changing the body for aesthetic, personal, sexual, social or other non-medical reasons. Examples of medical body modification would be pacemakers, false knees and hips, permanent dental replacements, etc. Circumcision could even be considered a medical body modification, not a personal one, but that’s a pretty controversial subject that we’re not going to get into here. Maybe some other time.

Body modification, in the context most people know and which will be discussed here, is tattoos, piercings, scarification, branding, implantation, among others. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that anything, ANYTHING that alters your body and it’s appearance is body modification. Cutting your hair is a body modification, wearing makeup is a body modification, cutting your nails is, hair dye is as well, breast implants, dental braces, body building or even just working out and toning up is a body modification, tanning (natural or artificial), Botox, face lifts, tummy tucks, ALL of this is body modification. You do it every day, even if you don’t realize it.

Why do people get modified? There are many reasons people feel the desire, sometimes even need, to alter their bodies. Some do it for personal reasons, they’ll feel closer to their “ideal self” with the modification. Some do it for purely aesthetic reasons, some just think the modification is pretty or cool or otherwise pleasing to their eye. Some do it to enhance their sexual experience or performance. Others do it to fit in, to identify with a certain subculture or group and feel like they belong. Whatever your reasons are, they’re 100% personal, and I am certainly not here to judge people’s choices in that respect. I personally don’t have to like what they’ve chosen, the artwork, the subject matter, or anything like that, but I am not judging the person wearing it one bit.

WHO gets modified? Everybody, in one form or another. It’s not just for sailors, convicts and bikers anymore. If you have your earlobes pierced, you are modified. If you cut your hair or fingernails, you are modified. Some modifications are just more temporary than others, but you are still modifying your body, so that makes it a body modification. Some mods are just further down the spectrum of intensity and permanency than others.  You’d be surprised how many people are actually modified. Your doctor could have a full back tattoo. Your lawyer could have a Prince Albert. Your favorite grocery clerk could have stretched ears, or her septum pierced. Not all modifications are obvious and brightly colored.

When does modification become mutilation? Honestly, my response to this is when it ends up being detrimental to your everyday life and your enjoyment of it. Mutilation, to me, means it’s harmful, or negative. I believe cutting is mutilation, if you do it out of depression or as a coping mechanism, because it’s a negative response or done with negative feelings. Tattoos, I believe, are to improve the person wearing them, same with piercings, implants, professional scarification, etc. They’re done to beautify the person wearing them, to make them feel more “complete” as a person.

How much is too much? That’s 100% relative. Who am I to tell someone they’re done decorating their skin? Some will stop with basic earlobe piercings, maybe a helix or two. Some will stop only when they’re dead, or run out of skin, whichever comes first. It’s up to you to decide when you’re done, when you’re “complete”. Don’t let anyone else tell you when you should stop, or that you shouldn’t even start. It’s not for THEM to decide, so long as you’re an adult.

So modification is much more common than most people would think. It’s not always subdermal horns, gigantic devil tattoos, and obnoxious facial piercings. Everyone performs some sort of body modification every day, they just don’t really realize it.

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