Day by day, DIY is becoming more and more popular. Aside from saving you
some bucks and the fun out of doing it, a DIY project stimulates your brain and develops your creativity and imagination.
But DIY is never as easy as it looks. In DIY furniture, for example, most instructions are all in Greek and the results are as wobbly as you can imagine. So how about body art? Unlike furniture, you won’t be hammering nails on wood, but rather, needles on your own skin and you’re not allowed to wince because it is you who will inflict it on yourself. This sounds like a more painful process, but hey, tattoos are not for the faint-hearted in the first place.
So more and more are sidestepping professional tattoo artists who charge outrageous prices in favor of having inexperienced friends ink them or poking themselves with a single needle dipped in ink. If you are reading this article, you must be a tattoo enthusiast who has toyed with the idea of doing it yourself. And why not? Cara Delevingne, Kesha, Brooke Candy, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus all have had hand-poked body art. Miley Cyrus’ smiley face was done by her friend Cheyne Thomas, and she gamely returned the favor. Part of the DIY appeal is the intimacy of the act; the meaning becomes more special and deeper if the one who did it is a close friend or lover.
But is it worth the risk? Let’s examine the pros and cons of DIY tattoos point by point, so buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Since the ancient times, tattoo artists have evolved with both time and culture. Today, the choice of professionals are only between a coil and rotary tattoo machines instead of rose thorns, bamboo needles, shark’s teeth, or pelican bones. The modern tattoo machines that professionals use have multiple needles that move rapidly in quick succession over the dermis. DIY tattoos use DIY versions are often done in a style known as “stick and poke,” freestyled with a single needle and ink that creates a single dot with each new puncture. It is, of course, a much slower and more painful process, so it’s for the braver ones out there. One of the reasons why this style is grabbing the moment is the desire to be unique. Now that even photographic body art has become a piece of cake and everybody is getting one, the rise of crude looking body art brings back the feel of real tattoo power.
But then, doing anything by yourself without the proper skill or experience can be dangerous, but putting your own blood and sweat (pun intended) on your body art adds value and meaning to it, so you can probably start with cutesies and proceed with caution.
The most common stick and poke tattoo tool consists of a sewing needle inserted right between a pencil’s and its metal socket. But the best needle to use should be professional tattoo needles which are safe, hold enough ink, totally controllable, and inexpensive.
Majority of tattoo enthusiasts dive into the thing without giving it much thought, especially the ink being used. In truth, tattoo inks are more than just skin deep. Long after the initial break into the skin, toxic inks can have unforeseen health complications such as adverse effects on the immune system. Studies show that one out of five tattoo inks contains carcinogenic chemicals and 83% of black inks contain carcinogens.
The bad news is, tattoo inks are not even regulated yet. Although the internet is flooded with information, most Millenials just ignore the reports that many pigments in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colors that are found in printers’ ink or automobile paint, such as Cinnabar cadmium red, barium, copper, mercury, lead, plastics, formaldehyde and a range of other chemicals, much as any smoker would ignore the carcinogenic elements in cigarette. If you should opt for DIY, you might as well mix your own ink. Ancient tattoo inks came from nature. It’s sometimes called wood ash ink, carbon black tattoo ink, or a poke-and-stick tattoo. Most people are concerned about the color or pigment of tattoo ink, but what you should be more concerned is the carrier. Choose vodka, glycerine or ethanol as your ink carrier.
The safest black to use is India ink, but if you have to mix your own ink, use soot or carbon black ashes; turmeric for yellow; Monoazo for green. Avoid bright colors altogether, they are highly toxic. If you should buy from tattoo ink manufacturers, the safe ones include Eternal, Skin Candy, National Tattoo Supply, Kuro Sumi, and Dynamic. All of them ensure safe and nontoxic tattoo inks. Never use ink from your pen, they can be very toxic and not sterile.
Ok, doing it yourself or having a friend/lover do it for you may sound so exciting and fun, but always remember that there is a certain amount of risk involved. Like any tattoo, there is always a possibility for allergic reactions and infection. So don’t gamble your health or life, make sure to observe these safety precautions:
Be sure to have everything sterilized. By everything, that includes any object, including your working area, floor, doorknobs, and faucets, your instruments, especially your hands. Now, alcohol is not enough – it only kills bacteria, not viruses. So for surfaces, you have to use chlorine bleach and water. Don’t use bleach on metals though, especially on needles because it will cause oxidation, making the metal rust.
Have the area of the skin shaved, then wipe alcohol over it to avoid infection. Be ready with an antibacterial cream to put over the tattooed area after you’re done.
Set Proper Needle Depth
Since you or your friend/lover are non-tattoo professionals, it may be difficult for you to tell whether you are pushing the needle too far or too shallow. If you don’t push enough, the ink will bleed out as your skin heals because the sub-layers of the Epidermis is constantly growing outward to the top. If you push too far, you run the risk of getting an infection, may damage tissues and suffer unnecessary pain.
Standard depth should be no less than 1mm and no more than 2mm, depending on your skin type. If there is too much bleeding, (more than a few droplets, that is) then you are obviously going too deep. It is best to practice on fruit or pig skin first rather than on your precious skin :)
Never take Aftercare for Granted
Remember, your DIY tattoo is a permanent work of art, etched not on a canvas or any other surface but on your very own body. But it is also an open wound that if left unattended, may become infected and leave ugly scars. If you intend to keep your tattoo in good shape after so many years, be extra careful with its aftercare. In professional tattoo parlors, they will apply tattoo jelly or moisturizer over the entire tattoed area they wrap it completely with a bandage or a plastic wrap. You’re better off using antibacterial cream instead of moisturizer to protect your skin from infection. The covering effectively protects the wound from bacteria and viruses, so let the wrap stay for at least five hours before you take it off.
After taking the wrap off, you can gently wash the tattoed area with sterile water and a hypoallergenic soap. You may notice a sticky substance and oozing ink. Don’t worry, the sticky substance is your infection-fighting white blood cells that are there to attack any bacteria, virus or fungi that may have gotten into the wound. The oozing ink is but excess ink from the process. After washing, use a sterile paper towel to tap the wound dry and leave it uncovered so your skin can breathe. The tattoed area may feel warm to the touch and may appear a bit reddish for the next couple of days but it shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Except when washing, avoid wetting or submerging the tattoed area in water for the first three to five weeks. You may continue to wash the area as needed, but keep yourself from removing scabs or scratching the skin. The mild swelling and redness should go away in about five days, but always be on the lookout for signs of infection or allergy. The healing process can be slow so you have to be patient. Once the outer layers of the skin are healed, the chance of infection is greatly reduced.
Last Word of Caution
So a DIY tattoo between friends/lovers can be a ritual with profound meaning. It could also be a rite of passage or initiation to a secret organization among teens.
There have been reports of blood-borne diseases, nerve damage and disfiguration due to poor sanitation practices. The biggest concerns are sharing of needles and other sharp instruments that can spread tetanus, AIDS, and Hepa B or C. Let’s face it, body ink is not something you can do anywhere, so be smart about it!