Skin deep

Chronicle Staff

They are indelible images for people around the world. Jimmy Buffet calls it “a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.” From Shaq’s giant Superman “S” on his left bicep to Travis Barker’s own Sistine ceiling spanning his entire body to Angelina Jolie’s plethora of tribal symbols, tattoos leave a lasting impression on the tattooed and on those who view them.

It is this kind of thinking that led Jonathan “Moose” Martin ’08 to sit in the medical chair that faced the expansive Pacific. He wanted to create his own ineradicable mark on his upper left arm.

“I kind of wanted to get a tattoo for a while,” Martin said. “I just think a lot of football players have them, so I might as well get one.”

On a weekend late in January, Martin ventured to Venice Beach with his father to get the image of a moose forever imprinted on his arm. The moose he chose was similar to that of Bullwinkle from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a children’s cartoon series.

“My dad already had a tattoo so he was all for it when I asked him,” Martin said. “My mom has always been against tattoos so I had to convince her to let me do it, and when I turned 18 she didn’t really have a choice in the matter.”

According to a January poll by the Pew Research Center, 36 percent of all 18 to 25-year olds have a tattoo. This percentage includes gang members who are often heavily tattooed, tattoos which police have used to identify criminals’ gang associations. Yet only in the last decade with the rise of television shows like TLC’s “Miami Ink” and “LA Ink” as well as A&E’s “Inked” have tattoos become more popularly accepted among women, said  Clay Clements, owner of Studio City Tattoo, a local tattoo parlor voted the best tattoo parlor by Los Angeles Citysearch in 2006 and 2007. Once considered a “tramp stamp,” tattoos adorn many young girls in the form of small mementos sometimes in place of charms on bracelets and necklaces.

“Twenty percent of our clientele is 18-year olds,” said Clements. “Most of these are females who usually get small stuff on their wrists and ankles.” These small tattoos usually cost $80 to $100 and take anywhere from a half an hour to an hour to complete, Clements said.

Last month, Frances Echeverria ’08 got the Chinese symbol for happiness tattooed behind her left ear.

“I always just wanted a tattoo,” Echeverria said. “My mom gave the symbol to me on a necklace for Christmas one year, and I just really liked the symbol.” Both of Echeverria’s parents were okay with her receiving the tattoo, and the procedure was done at Studio City Tattoo.

During the procedure, an electric tattooing machine inserts ink into the skin by rapidly and repeatedly driving a group of needles into the skin at anywhere from 80 to 150 times a minute.

“It was pretty bad,” Martin said. “At first I was like, ‘it’s okay, I can deal with this,’ but then when it gets more and more into it, I was like ‘when is this going to end.’ The outlining is the most painful part. I had to take a break partway through.”

Echeverria’s design was much smaller, but she discovered that the amount of pain didn’t live up to the hype.

“I thought it was going to be really painful,” Echeverria said. “I was really scared because I’m not good with pain, but it actually didn’t really hurt.”

The most common health risks stemming from tattoos are infection and allergic reaction. For this reason the FDA prohibits anyone who has received a tattoo from donating blood for 12 months.
“To the best of my knowledge, there are no systemic effects from having a tattoo,” said Dr. Joshua M. Wieder, a dermatologist at UCLA Hospital. “Occasionally, someone will develop an allergic reaction to a particular tattoo ink. This is more common with red ink.”

Some get a tattoo because they see the stars sporting them, while others just see it as a means of self-expression. Diana Davis-Dyer ’02 had a star tattooed on her back the summer after her sophomore year.

“I got it during a stage when I wanted to rebel against my parents,” Davis-Dyer said. “The star represents brightness and inspiration at a time when I really needed it.” Since then, Davis-Dyer has gotten three more tattoos: an Old-English “D” on her left ankle, her grandfather’s birthday in Roman Numerals on the inside of her right foot, and an arrowhead inside a mountain on her lower back.

“It’s almost like they are addictive,” Davis-Dyer said. “The way I see it is that my body is like a blank palette. There is something to be said for adding something artistic to it that is not supposed to be there.” Davis-Dyer said that she does not regret her decision to get a tattoo at the age of 16.

“It definitely meant something important to me at the time, and that’s all that matters,” she said.
While tattoos are considered permanent, it is possible to remove them, but not totally.

“Tattoo removal lasers are effective but often require many treatments,” Wieder said.  “Old faded tattoos come off easily, in 3 to 4 treatments, but new, multi-colored tattoos may require many more, even 10 or more.”

“Make sure you really think before getting a tattoo,” Martin said. “I’m probably going to hate this in five years, but right now, I really like it.”