And what better way to remind myself than looking at my own skin?
No one understands this better than Cora Breuner, M.D., M.P.H., a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She wants to get her first tattoo (of a heron) to commemorate finishing 10 months of treatment for metastatic breast cancer.
Aside from her personal interest, Breuner also has had a professional interest in tattoos and piercings ever since she realized how little scientific data and research there is on them. To counter that, she co-authored the first-ever report on tattoos and body piercings for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The report gathers what little research there is into one place. It shows that, contrary to stereotypes, just as many women as men get tattoos and most people don’t regret getting a tattoo.
The meaning behind tattoos is why Laura Exley, a licensed tattoo artist in Seattle, got into the field.
“I’ve always been fascinated with history, and also the history of tattooing and how far back it stretches. It’s a connection we have to our roots as humankind. The reasons people get tattoos vary from the extremely personal to the ‘because I like it,’” Exley says. “It could be as simple as adornment: decorating a part of your body that brings you happiness, or perhaps an area of your body that you wish to make more attractive for yourself. It could be a way to connect you to your loved ones, lost or living, or an outward expression of your inner self or interests.”
I spoke with Breuner and Exley about the tattooing process: what to avoid, how to make sure you’re going someplace safe, and how to care for a new tattoo. Here are their tips (which made a big difference during my experience).
Before getting inked
You don’t necessarily have to put a year’s worth of thought into your tattoo design like I did, but Breuner recommends making sure you get something that’s meaningful to you—if not for the sake of your mind, then for the sake of your wallet, since tattoo removal can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
“A name probably isn’t a good idea because of the lack of permanence of certain relationships,” she says.
Here are a couple of things to consider before committing:
Schedule a consultation
I met with Exley months before my actual tattooing appointment to go over my ideas and to learn what the process would be like. We talked about design and she ended up coming up with a few ideas I hadn’t thought of on my own but actually loved. This gave me a chance to meet her and make sure we were on the same page (we were—she’s also a huge fan of "The X-Files," one of the inspirations for my tattoo). Seeing the studio ahead of time also allowed me to verify its cleanliness and make sure I felt comfortable there.
Know the risks
Though most Seattle tattoo studios are spotless, Breuner says, it’s still a good idea to recognize that getting a tattoo puts you at a slight risk for acquiring serious infections like HIV or hepatitis C—but only if the needle isn’t sterile. This isn’t typically an issue at tattoo studios with licensed tattoo artists, but if you’re opting for a stick-and-poke or hand poke tattoo—a style that’s become trendy recently and hearkens back to the ancient days of tattooing—you’re definitely putting yourself at greater risk.
The day of reckoning
When the morning of T-day dawned, I was extra excited because I’d had to reschedule my original appointment due to illness. Which brings me to a few important safety and health points:
If you’re sick, reschedule
No tattoo artist wants your germy breathing thisclose to them when they’re tattooing you. Plus, since the proximity makes it likely you’ll get them sick, it’s also disrespectful to them and their upcoming clients. If you have a cold or other illness or infection (even something you can’t pass along, like a UTI) let the tattoo studio know and reschedule your appointment.