If it feels like no matter where you look there's a person with a tattoo, you're right! More than 40 percent of Americans have tattoos, according to a 2017 survey — and as this form of body art becomes less taboo, we predict that number will only grow. Seeing as there's no good reason older adults can't get tattoos, we've rounded up a few questions you might have about what it's like to get a tattoo, as well as tips for tattoos on older skin. To get an expert's take, we talked to Laura Martinez, co-owner of Fleur Noire Tattoo Parlour in Brooklyn, New York, about the ins and outs of tattooing, especially on older skin.
What advice would you give to older people looking to get their first tattoo?
"I think the age doesn’t matter, honestly. It is more about knowing yourself enough to make sure this is something you are ready for. It is going to be on your skin forever, so you need to be attached to the design enough and proud to have your skin be permanently ornamented."
Does my tattoo have to have a meaning?
"Tattoos don’t have to have a meaning at all! Once again, it is such a personal art; whatever feels right for you is the right thing to do. Familial meaning, trauma healing, scar coverup, decorative, fashion style — your tattoo can be anything you want to it be/mean."
Do tattoos hurt?
"It depends on the placement and size, but the pain is mostly psychological: The thought of having a needle piercing your skin is more uncomfortable than the actual feeling of it. It's really not that painful!"
How much do tattoos cost?
"The price entirely varies between artists, styles, countries, cities, tattoo shops, etc. You should definitely make sure to find the right artist and the right style for you. It is something you are going to have on your skin for the rest of your life, so you should make sure you have some money saved to have the best result. Choosing a 'cheap' option because of the price can often result on a bad-looking tattoo and a lot of regrets. A good tattoo can go from $100 to thousands if you are getting a really big piece!"
How long does it take to get a tattoo?
"It totally depends on size, placements, and if there are shadings or colors involved." In some cases, you can walk in and out in under 30 minutes, but other times you may need to come in for multiple sessions with your tattoo artist.
What's the healing process like for tattooing on older skin?
"The healing process itself is pretty much the same than on younger skin. You might just want to avoid the parts of the body where your skin gets loose; your skin will more than likely keep getting looser with age, and the ink of your tattoo could spread."
For people who may not know what tattoo they want, would you recommend any specific designs?
"Trends come and go in tattoos, and you should definitely not follow a trend for your own ink. You have to know yourself and understand that what feels right for someone else doesn’t have to feel right for you. Everyone is different — especially when it comes to tattoos! It'd like choosing jewelry you will wear for the rest of your life. I personally like tattooing flowers and like getting them tattooed on me. I feel like they are very timeless and you can get them tattooed with the style you like — black or colored."
What's in the tattoo ink? Could I be allergic to tattoo ink?
"It totally depends of the type of ink — homemade, industrial, vegan, etc. Today's pigments include the original mineral pigments, modern industrial organic pigments, a few vegetable-based pigments, and some plastic-based pigments.
Allergic reactions, scarring, phototoxic reactions (i.e., reaction from exposure to light, especially sunlight), and other adverse effects are possible with many pigments. The plastic-based pigments are very intensely colored, but many people have reported reactions to them. There are also pigments that glow in the dark or in response to black (ultraviolet) light. These pigments are notoriously risky — some may be safe, but others are radioactive or otherwise toxic.
You can't be 100-percent certain of the components of every inks; manufacturers of inks and pigments are not required to reveal the contents. A professional who mixes his or her own inks from dry pigments will be most likely to know the composition of the inks.
Some tattoo inks are actually made with animal products. Non-vegan varieties may contain bone char, glycerin from animal fat, gelatin from hooves, or shellac from beetles. I personally only use vegan inks so if this is something you are concerned about, as you are checking out tattoo shops, ask if they use vegan inks.
If you are concerned of whether or not you are not allergic to the ink (black ink rarely creates allergic reactions, so it is more about [colored ink]), you should always check with your doctor or dermatologist to make sure they give you their validation first.
You can totally ask your tattoo artist what brand of inks he is using before your tattoo appointment, and do some research about the components and bring this list to your doctor. The tattoo artist is not responsible for potential skin or allergic reactions since they happen very rarely, and even though we are always happy to give our advices and opinions, if you have any real medical concerns I would absolutely recommend speaking with a doctor before getting a tattoo."
How do I get rid of a tattoo?
"You can have it covered up with another tattoo, though you have to know that the only color that can cover black ink is black itself. You will more than likely have to go bigger if you want to cover it up.
The other option is laser. The technologies have improved a lot and if you do your research well, you can now find good practicians that can remove your tattoo in a very sanitary way and with good results — though this is a very expensive and painful process, and you will need more than one session to have it fully removed. The best is to avoid having to use these techniques by making sure you love the tattoo you are getting enough that you will never regret it."