Tattoos have become extremely popular in this day and age. Once thought to be only suitable for sailors or hoodlums, now even the most prim of grandmothers might be sporting a butterfly on her ankle. Tattoos may be large and intricate or small and simple, weighted with meaning or whimsical, but they seem to be everywhere. And your teen may be hankering after one.

It is illegal to tattoo anyone in Washington State under the age of 18 (even with parental permission), so unless your hankering teen has plans to head to Colorado, they may just have to hanker until they hit legal adulthood.

However, if your teen is anything like me, they may trot off to the nearest tattoo parlor as soon as they pass that eighteenth birthday. If you’re lucky, they may ask for your advice and input. Here are a few things to know about tattoos.

  • Tattoos work by delivering pigment to the lower layer of skin (which does not slough off and regenerate, like the upper layer of skin.)
  • Tattoos are permanent. They can be removed by laser, but this can cause scarring, pain, and expense, so it’s best to consider them as a permanent fixture.
  • Tattoos must be done by a skilled professional using disposable needles, ink, and ink cups. Anything else carries a risk for contracting blood borne diseases. You can find out more about tattoo safety here.
  • Tattoo healing is fairly easy, compared to piercings. But your teen needs to be able to care for the site over the next couple of weeks, avoid swimming pools or other bodies of water while it heals (showers are fine), and be prepared for some pain.
  • According to various surveys and polls, about 20% of people who got tattoos regret them later in life. A study in Archives of Dermatology found that this was mostly because of an “identity shift” involving changing careers, becoming a parent, or identifying with a new social or religious group. Does your teen think their tattoo will fit into future life changes?
  •  While tattoos are vastly more accepted as mainstream than they used to be, many people still see a visible tattoo as unprofessional. These people may be interviewing or hiring your teen. Especially when young, it’s best to get tattoos that can be easily hidden in professional attire.
  • Different tattoos have different emotions attached to them- some are sad, some are funny, some are simply aesthetically pleasing. It’s good to think of all situations where it might be displayed. In the future, on their wedding night, does your teen want their new spouse facing a cheerful Mickey Mouse tattoo? When being examined by a health care provider, does your teen want someone to be listening to their lungs over a curse word tattooed into their back? The answer might be “Yes,” but it deserves thinking about.
  • Apart from family or beloved pets, it is a very bad idea to tattoo someone’s name onto yourself, because relationships are often less permanent that we’d like. This is not a new problem.
  • Our bodies change over time, and that includes our skin. Any young woman who may get pregnant at some point in her life should avoid tattooing her belly or breasts, unless she’s okay with some stretching and re-shaping of the image. (Even if she’s not planning on children, breast tattoos may lengthen as she gets older.)
  • Both men and women may want to avoid tattooing places that gain weight easily, like abdomens, hips, bottoms, and thighs. This helps avoid misshapen tattoos.

Tell us about your teenage tattoos, your teenager’s tattoos, and what you think about the “tattoo craze” in general!