Body art is art made on, with, or consisting of, the human body. The most common forms of body art are tattoos and body piercings. Other types include scarification, branding, subdermal implants, scalpelling, shaping (for example tight-lacing of corsets), full body tattoo and body painting.
Body art is also a sub-category of performance art, in which artists use or abuse their own body to make their particular statements. More extreme body art can involve mutilation or pushing the body to its physical limits.
In more recent times, the body has become a subject of much broader discussion and treatment than can be reduced to body art in its common understanding. Important strategies that question the human body are: implants, body in symbiosis with the new technologies, virtual bodies, among others.
What is body art?
Body art is one of the earliest forms of artistic expression know to humankind. It has been used to indicate status, religious devotion, desired protection against evil and disease, and much more.
Today, people express many different reasons for getting various forms of body art. Some of them are a means of personal expression, while others continue to decorate their bodies as a means of commemorating an important event/time in their lives (i.e., 21st birthday).
What are the different styles of body art?
- Tattoo - procedure of permanently marking the skin with ink or dye; tatau is the Polynesian word for “to strike” or “to mark.”
- Branding/Scarification - procedure in which skin is seared with a hot iron or cut with a scalpel or other sharp object to produce a raised design; the darker the skin, the better the keloid.
- Body Paint is a temporary form of body art which includes Mehndi. Mehndi is the Indian tradition of decorating a woman’s hands and feet with henna dye, originally done to celebrate her wedding. The patterns are very intricate and usually take several hours to complete. The dye lasts from 10 days to six weeks. The color can vary from deep brown to reddish brown to orange, depending on the body’s chemical makeup.
- Piercing - procedure in which a sharp instrument is passed through a fold of skin or part of the body.
- Permanent Makeup is a form of tattooing. This makeup is most commonly applied to eyebrows, upper and lower eyelids and lips. It can last anywhere from four to six years.
- Aesthetic Dentistry can include gold/silver/porcelain caps, having a hole drilled into a tooth and implanting a jewel into the hole, and filing teeth to a point to create the illusion of a fang.
- Body Play or Shaping is the most severe form of body art. It includes body suspension, waist/corset training, implanting foreign objects under the skin, e.g., inserting metal spikes into the skull or inserting marbles under the skin.
Things to think about when getting a tattoo or a piercing
- I have no doubts about getting a tattoo or a piercing.
- I think I will like the tattoo design in 10 years.
- I consider tattoos to be permanent.
- I want a tattoo for my own reasons.
- I have thought about the design, location, and effects it may have on others.
- I have made the decision without the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
- I fully understand the procedure.
Questions to ask the artist
- Is the studio an established business? Have you spoken with previous customers? How long has the business been in operation?
- What training does the artist have? Does the artist have any sort of formal training on how to maintain a clean and sterile environment? Does the artist have any background in the work that they are doing? Has the artist participated in an apprenticeship program?
- How much professional experience does the artist have?
- Is the piercing done in a separate room? Every good studio should have five separate areas:
- Are new containers of ink used with each tattoo? The artist should not be dipping into a large container of ink or dye with each customer.
- What additional training does the artist have? (i.e., first aid training)
- Does the artist use an autoclave to clean equipment? This is the MOST important thing you need to find out when you visit a studio. If they do not have an autoclave, RUN AWAY! “Dry heat” is not considered an appropriate sterilization technique for equipment used to tattoo or pierce. A spore test is the only way to know that the autoclave is working properly. If they do not run regular spore tests, do not let them tattoo or pierce you!
- Are sterile needles used every time? Does the studio sterilize needles every time? Make sure you see the artist place the used needles in a “sharps” container. NEVER allow an artist to use a needle on you that was soaked in liquid. All needles should be in individual packages and should be opened while you are present.
- Are you comfortable with the artist? Follow your instincts here. If you are uncomfortable in any way, do not feel obligated to seek services at the particular studio. If the studio seems more interested in your money than in your health, it is a sure sign that the studio is not the best place for you!
- Are latex gloves used?
- Does the artist use appropriate jewelry? There are many different types of piercing so there should be a variety of jewelry. When referring to the size of jewelry there are two measurements. One is the width of the ring or length of the bar called the “diameter” of the jewelry. The other is the thickness of the jewelry which is the “gauge.” As a general rule, jewelry no thinner than 14 gauge should be used below the neck. The smaller the gauge number the thicker the jewelry.
- Do they have an aftercare sheet that is up-to-date on industry standards? Read this sheet BEFORE getting a piercing or tattoo. If it tells you to clean your piercing or tattoo with an ointment or hydrogen peroxide, the studio is clearly not keeping up with industry standards.
- Does the studio have a license to operate? Many cities and states do require that a studio have a license. In most cases the license means that the studio meets minimum requirements and has passed an inspection. To find if you area has established standards and inspections, call your local health department. If the studio is illegally unlicensed, do take the time to report them.
- Is the studio recognized by the APP (Association of Professional Piercers)? All APP piercers have a certificate that should be hanging on the studio wall. The certificate has an expiration date on it; make sure it is current. For a list of APP piercers you can check out www.safepiercing.org or call 1-888-515-4APP.
- Does the artist have a portfolio of his/her work?
Did You Know? Only certain metals are safe for jewelry.
- 14 or 18 karat solid gold
- 316L surgical implant grade stainless steel
- jewelry from other metals, i.e., nickel, may increase your risk for allergic reaction or infection.
What are the health risks associated with body art?
Body piercings may cause staph infections and contact dermatitis which is picked up from the nickel composition of the piercing jewelry. Dermatitis is an allergic reaction which does not allow the pierced area to heal properly causing the skin to fester, swell, and become sore. Pull through injuries are also common with body piercings and may require surgery, i.e., eyebrow pull-through injury.
A piercing in a location such as the tongue involves additional health issues including hygiene. Teeth may be easily cracked, chipped or knocked out with the added weight of a spike or stud.
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), “the application of tattoos may present the risk of acquiring a bacterial or viral infection and other complications including allergic reactions to inks and dyes.”
People do not realize that constantly touching and playing with a new piercing or a healing tattoo may cause bacteria to develop which can lead to infection.
Some tattooists use commercially packaged, premixed colors made from plastic-based pigments, which may also cause allergic reactions. The metallic salts in certain tattoo inks and dyes can cause a slight irritation in some people.
Keep in mind… it can hurt! Your body’s natural reaction is to reject a foreign object. Be aware of your threshold for pain because you may experience pain or discomfort during a procedure and/or the recovery process.
How long will it take to heal?
Depending on the type of procedure and where it is located, healing time varies. Below are examples of common piercings and their estimated healing times.
Cheek – 2 to 4 months
Ear Cartilage – 2 months to 1 year
Eyebrow – 2 months to 1 year
Labret – 6 weeks to 2 months
Navel – 6 months to 2 years
Nipple – 2 to 6 months
Nostril – 2 months to 1 year
Tongue – 1 month to 6 weeks
Depending on the size of the piece, you need to leave the bandage on the tattoo for anywhere from four hours to overnight. Once the bandage is open to germs, the tattoo area must be cleaned regularly with cold water. Great care and caution must be taken in caring for a tattoo. Only fingertips may be used to wash the area, as any removal of skin or scabs will pull the ink out of the design.
What are the reasons why someone would want to remove a piercing or tattoo?
- Regret. Many tattoo and piercing studios offer walk-in appointments which encourages more “spur of the moment” decisions rather than a more comprehensive, thought-out process.
- Starting a professional job. Many places of employment discourage their employees from having visible tattoos or piercing; there are many stories of people who chose to have a tattoo or piercing in a place that compromises their ability to get a job or maintain a job because of a company’s policies or expectations of their employees.
- Romance ends. NEVER put someone’s name on your body…it’s just not good practice!
- Bad Workmanship. The artists who provide bad work are called “scratchers” in the field. Poor placement, design and painful effects of a tattooing or piercing can result in dissatisfaction with the outcome.
- Change in lifestyle. As you age, you may become bored with the tattoo or piercing OR you may become more conservative as you start a family or achieve professional positions in the workplace OR your physical appearance changes in a way that changes the appeal of having a tattoo or piercing.
- Allergic reaction. Coloring and tattoo pigments may create a physical or chemical reaction that prevents someone from being able to maintain the tattoo.
Are there any issues involved with removing a piercing?
Most importantly, if a person is considering removing a piercing, he/she should be sure that the pierced area is not infected. If infected, as soon as the piercing begins to close, the infection spreads throughout the body. It is SO important to visit a health care professional if you are unsure of whether or not you have an infection, so that you can be treated for the infection before removing the piercing. Nostril piercings, in particular, can be very dangerous when infected.
Also, when a piercing is removed, a keloid may form over the area in which the skin was pierced. The keloid may be very small and unnoticeable. However, in certain areas, the keloid may draw more attention and may serve as a permanent reminder of the piercing. For example, many people who allow eyebrow or nostril piercings to close will have a keloid form in its place. So, you need to consider where your piercing is going to be, the potential for infection, and what the consequences could be upon removal.
How is a tattoo removed?
Tattoos can be removed in a number of ways, most of which are painful and/or costly. When considering a tattoo it is important that the person considers the tattoo to be permanent, as the process of removal can be quite an experience!
Below are the methods of tattoo removal being used today:
- Laser removal. Most expensive of the three procedures. Can take multiple sessions to remove the tattoo in part or in its entirety. Laser removal procedures do not guarantee to completely rid the body of the tattoo. Laser treatment carries a minor amount of pain in the process. Painful recovery can occur.
- Dermabrasion. Process in which the tattoo is “cut out” of the skin. It is a painful procedure.
- Salabrasion. Process in which tattoo is “scraped off” the skin using a rubbing salt and rock. It is a painful procedure.
What are the laws and regulations governing body art practices?
There are no federal laws concerning any of the procedures and practices associated with body art. Some states have absolutely no laws regarding body art and safe procedures, while others only regulate according to age, making it against the law to tattoo, pierce or brand anyone under the age of 18 without parental consent. Tattooing has been outlawed in Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Vermont and Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is important that you contact your local health department to find more information regarding the regulations in your state.