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Going back to black

MUMBAI:Tattoos have always been in vogue, irrespective of their size, designs and colour. Recently, images of uber-cool-looking blackout tattoos have been doing rounds online, especially on Instagram, and also are articles raising questions on its associated health risks. We spoke to experts about it…

What is it?
Usually, many people get small tattoos tucked away in places that are aren’t easily spotted. This recent trend of blackout tattoos is like the reverse of traditional tattoos, where instead of getting designs inked on your skin this one involves having large portions of the skin covered in solid black ink. This trend got popularised by a Singaporean tattoo artist Chester Lee. And the reasons for their popularity are: a) they look totally bad*, b) they are a convenient way of covering up old tattoos, (still stuck with a tattoo of your ex’s name or exes’ names, anyone?), c) some people aren’t afraid of needles or pain!

Has the trend reached here?
While blackout tattoos got popularised in Singapore and is spreading to other countries thanks to social media, has it trickled down to Mumbai yet? “Blackout tattoo is not a new trend. It’s actually Borneo tattoo art, which is making a comeback now,” informs tattoo artist Arun Alva at Al’s Tattoo and Body Piercing Studio, who did a blackout tattoo for his brother Al on his arm. Arun says, “The trend of blackout tattoos has reached the city but there are very few takers for it. So far, I’ve only done a blackout tattoo for my brother. This type of tattoo is a great way to cover up old tattoos. So only if somebody wants to cover up their old tattoos, they’ll go for it, otherwise I don’t see this trend picking up here.” What about the health risks associated with such type of tattoos? “We use organic black ink for making tattoos and it’s safe. Organic black ink because a little bit of chemical needs to be added to the ink, if one wants to get a coloured tattoo. As long as one is using organic black ink and disposable tools, there shouldn’t be any problem,” he clarifies.
Expert speak
Medical experts on the other hand aren’t so welcoming of tattoos, especially of the blackout variety. “Most of the colours used for tattoos are usually safe. However, sometimes if the ink is bad, it may be unsafe for the skin as the colour added in the picture may penetrate inside the skin and mix with blood causing poisonous circumstances. Also, the bigger a tattoo is, the more stretch it will give to the muscles. This may cause sudden/significant muscle gain and stretch marks on the skin,” says Dr Satish Bhatia, MD, Dermatology and Skin surgery, Indian Cancer Society.
Dr Apratim Goel, Dermatologist & Laser Surgeon, Cutis Skin Studio says that big coloured tattoos, mostly black, are the trend these days to hide patches of vitiligo or any other pigmentation or hiding old tattoos or just a style statement. “As a skin specialist, I feel they are extremely dangerous. Skin is just not a cover, it is a mirror to see health. If you cover it black, it is horrible as it can mask many underlying skin problems like rash, reactions, cancers, etc. I am not in favour of it at all. As a dermatologist, I request people to stay away from it,” advises she.
Risks associated with blackout tattoos
Along with the growing popularity of blackout tattoos, questions are being raised by health experts with risks like interference in vitamin D synthesis, impossibility to do a proper skin cancer screening besides possible issues like rashes, inflammation, allergic reactions with associated tattoos. “The black ink might affect vitamin D synthesis. It could also erupt reactions like itching, redness, and raised portions of the tattoo and sometimes may lead to cancer. It may give false positive reports for cancer while screening, for eg. it may look like cancer without actually being a cancer,” says Dr Bhatia.
Dr Goel is not in favour of blackout tattoos at all. “Can you see anything through the window when it is covered with curtains? Similarly as a dermatologist, I use skin to see smallest sign of internal diseases which can sometimes be a life saver. I can’t imagine treating anyone with a blackout tattoo. For that matter, even henna obscures signs on skin and makes it difficult for us to even perform so many treatments. When we treat skin, we depend on the skin signs by its change in colour and texture. So stay away,” she signs off.
Dr Bhatia recounts the case of two patients with blackout tattoos who came to him for removal. One, was a 27-year-old-girl who wanted to become a flight attendant, and her employers asked her to get the tattoo on her neck removed. Another patient, a man from the Gulf, in his late 20s who got a blackout tattoo while on a trip to Bangkok came to get his tattoo removed as he was to go on a holy pilgrimage. “Earlier, dermabrasion and local anaesthesia were used for tattoo removal. Nowadays, we use Long Pulse Nd: Yag Lasers which is much more efficient and pain-free. In the case of typical tattoos designs, removal takes about two to three settings, whereas in the case of blackout tattoos, it would take about five to six sittings. Cost varies depending upon the size of tattoo. To give a rough estimate, cost is around Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 per sitting,” informs Dr Bhatia.