Tattoo studios reflect on student expression

Photo by Kate Lindsley

Research, research, research.

These three words resonated through an interview with James Allen, one of Anchorage’s best-known tattoo artists. Urging students to thoroughly research their artists, design, ideas and shops, Allen made it clear that understanding a tattoo is the first step in understanding its permanence.

This concept of permanence is not natural to college students, with lives constantly in ebb and flow. They’ve moved away from home, changed dorm housing every year, and adjusted to new classroom environments each semester. That may be why some college students choose to add something permanent to their lives: a tattoo.

“All of these different things constantly in flux, but you can still grab one element, your rock of Gibraltar, the concept that keeps you going,” Allen said, describing how a tattoo can be stabilizing.

Coral Petrie of Rebirth Tattoo by Vinnie noted that not many college students in Anchorage get tattoos they’ll regret.

“A good 3/4ths of them make informed choices,” Petrie said. For one, no one gets tattooed when they’re intoxicated. In addition, most tattoo shops are booked up weeks in advance, which helps avoid spontaneous walk-ins.

“Sometimes they never get tattooed because they come in and they only want it right then and there, and then they can’t have it right then and there,” Petrie said. Allen explained a good reason to wait the few weeks for a booked-up artist.

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“Keep in mind that a higher quality, better an artist is, the farther out they’re going to be booked to some degree. Don’t be afraid to wait to get your tattoo,” Allen said. For college students who often find themselves with empty pockets, Allen suggested smart spending.

“Budget accordingly,” Allen said. If a client wants a tattoo but can only spend $100 at that time, Allen recommends getting a tattoo outlined first and saving up to get it filled out exactly as dreamed. That way, they don’t shortchange themselves on artwork that will be displayed on them forever.

“You might be happier with it ultimately. The number one tattoo regret is too small,” Allen said. In contrast, Eileen Johnson of Solara Skin and Laser Center noted one of the biggest reasons to get a tattoo removed is that it is bigger than the client wanted.

“We see misspellings, what they want is not necessarily what the artist interpreted, the tattoo is bigger than they want,” Johnson said.  The irony of misspelled tattoos is the sign posted throughout Anchorage Tattoo Studio: CHEK YOR SPELING.

The tattoo removal process is lengthy and painful, Johnson explained. Patients describe the pain as a seven or eight on a scale of one to 10, and that’s with extensive numbing. It involves between five and seven treatments each taking a half hour each. The success rate of treatment is less than disheartening.

“There’s only a 70 to 80 percent success rate due to the many variables in ink; tattoo ink is not FDA regulated. Pastel colors are very hard to break up and tend to stay in the skin. Black ink that is professionally done and less then 10 years old get the best results,” Johnson said.

In addition, Johnson noted the risks associated with tattoo removal. The patient must be healthy for the procedure and be committed to post care, as the wound needs to be treated like an invasive burn and could end up scarring.

The laser, which looks like a ray gun from a sci-fi movie, works by shattering ink molecules so the body can recognize that they’re foreign and let the immune system remove them. Technicians trained with it practice on ads in magazines. In a matter of seconds, the ink is destroyed leaving a streak across the ad as if someone used a giant eraser.

So how can students assure they don’t end up on the wrong end of this laser? Petrie, Allen and Johnson all gave the same advice: think about the art for a good long time before getting it on your body. In addition, consider where the tattoo will appear during a job interview.

Junior early education major JJ Lende, questioned the motive behind expression.

“I would want to have (a tattoo) in a place that I could hide, but why would I get a tattoo if I wanted to hide it?” Lende said.

“It’s really important to look at the future and how it may affect your job opportunities. There’s a lot of quotes on wrists and they can’t be covered by a watch band because they’re just too big and employers easily see them. Tattoos are still unacceptable in the business world,” Johnson said. “All of (my young clients) are either students or recent graduates that find getting hired with a visible tattoo is difficult.”

For this reason, Johnson sees about 15 college students in an eight week cycle in the tattoo removal process, about a third of her total clientele. Sophomore psychology major Stoli Lende, sister of JJ, offered some insight on behalf of the college crowd.

“Some college kids get tattoo because it is the ‘in’ thing to do and some have thought about it and have given it some time to think about it before actually getting the tattoo,” Lende said. “I just think everyone should think twice before putting a permanent picture on their bodies for the rest of their life.”

The three words resonated again:

Research, research, research.