Living@Guelph - Choose Your Own Adventure Living
Choosing an Adventure in "Body-Art"
By Johanna Botari, revised by Mark McAlpine

So, you've decided, and are now working up the nerve to get pierced or tattooed! "Body-art" is a term used to encompass all forms of permanent or long-term adornment of one's flesh. Body-art has increasingly become a rite of passage in our modern, urban culture.

To make this the best possible experience for yourself, choose to be informed! After all, a well-informed consumer is subject to far less risk than one with incomplete or inaccurate information:

Your skin is being broken; the transmission of pathogens (germs, viruses and bacteria) is possible. This is not a cause for panic, but for practical concern on your part. The following is a short checklist of things you should demand of your tattoo artist or piercer.

  • NEW NEEDLES. Always. Single use only- even on the same person during the same appointment. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL.

  • Autoclave sterilization of needles and all other heat-safe items. An autoclave uses heat and pressure to kill contaminants. This is the same device used by dentists and surgeons for their tools. Remember: it is not only important that the artist or piercer has an autoclave, but that they also know how to properly use it!

  • Chemical/ultrasonic sterilization of non-autoclavable materials, and chemical disinfection of work surfaces and customer-contact items (such as the chair you sit in).

  • Disposable razors, ink caps, cleansing materials, etc.

  • Latex or PVC gloves. Your artist must wear gloves, to protect both of you.

  • Your artist or piercer should provide clear, preferably written, instructions on taking care of your new adornment, both in the immediate healing stages and for long-term health.

  • The shop should be clean, the artists sober and friendly, and that if for any reason you change your mind about getting a tattoo/piercing done, you should feel free to walk out.

    It is also important to note that tattoo and piercing shops are in competition with each other, so in addition to asking 'body modified' people about their experiences, you should also seek unbiased information from a place like the local Health Unit, who can provide information about inspections, infractions, etc.

    Please consider this as a mere starting point for basic advice. Do your homework, take your time, and your Body-art experience should be something positive and a source of pride for the rest of your life.

    For more information, contact the Wellness Centre, or explore some of the resources listed below.

    Web Sites - The Association of Professional Piercers. - a Canadian site with images, articles and links on it. - contains the basics and some extreme examples (consider yourself warned!), but has some of the best info available. It is a very comprehensive body modification site.

    Things to Know About Getting A Tattoo
    A tattoo involves the use of needles, ink, and a machine to drive the Needle. Carried at thousands of oscillations per minute, the needle is dipped in ink then applied to the skin, puncturing the skin and carrying ink into the permanent, non-renewing layers of skin. This leaves a permanent design of pigment.

    Tattoos should be applied by a qualified and experienced practitioner. This person will be first and foremost an artist, who has a specialization in particular tools, the needles, and a particular canvas, human skin. Consider the skill it takes to render a work of art on paper; you should demand no less, and often much more, of your tattoo artist.

    Shop around. Many tattoo studios list in the Yellow Pages, though this gives no guarantee of quality. Visit practitioners, research on the Internet or paper publications. Ask tattooed people (polite or admiring inquiries are often welcome!). Take your time - you don't want to make a hasty decision on forever.

    Things to Know About Getting Pierced
    Body Piercing is another permanent or near-permanent form of adornment. Yes, a piercing can always be removed, but note that after a short amount of time, the hole or some indication of it will remain. Please think about that!
    A professional piercer has training in anatomy, safe procedures, and should have an experienced sense of how a piercing and the jewelry inserted suits an individual customer. Tools used for piercing are sterile, single-use surgical needles, and often clamps or other tools to hold and stabilize flesh during the procedure.

    PIERCING GUNS ARE NEVER EVER USED by reputable piercers. These cannot be adequately sterilized, the jewelry is often dull and of questionable quality, and they can be picked up by anyone in a mall shop or hair salon. In contrast to the clean, surgical incision made by a sharp needle, the "stud" of a piercing gun is dull, and tears the skin, resulting in much more trauma and an often inferior result.