The Meaning of a Tattoo

On the topic of… Meaning

Just to introduce this feature I will be discussing topics relating to tattoo art but not the art itself. The topics will vary in each addition but have the aim of helping you build your tattooing business. You are most likely an artist by self definition but we all need to ensure that we run an effective business for our art, whatever form that art doth take, to flourish.

This piece is about how you communicate your work. I spend a fair amount of time communicating with tattoo artists on social media. It’s great to log onto Twitter/Facebook/Instagram and see awesome tattoos that have just been done. There are so many talented artists around these days and these platforms are perfect for sharing work on.

However, one thing has always struck me as conspicuous by its absence in these posts. I have 6 (soon to be 7) tattoos myself and they all MEAN something to me. I have a reason why I had those particular tattoos done and I think this is true for most tattoos on most people.

Sure, a lot of tattooists have tattoos which are possibly more about the experience or overall appearance but when it comes to Joe Public (your customers) it usually takes a bit of INSPIRATION to come up with a tattoo you want doing.

Kids’ names are the obvious one. No parent would worry that their kid’s name is going to be on them for the rest of their lives because they know they will love their child for the rest of their lives. That tattoo has a fairly obvious meaning to that person.

However, EVERY tattoo is going to be on your body for the rest of your life (at the very least that’s the plan) so what’s the inspiration for those?

However, Lee ‘Doc’ Kelly, a tattooist from Okehampton, told me the story behind a particular tattoo;

‘Not my best tattoo but by far my most important: I tattooed a gentlemen who had lost the last 6 generations of males in his family whilst in military service. He was unable to join up for medical reasons and felt ashamed of himself. This tattoo gave him back some self respect, knowing he was honouring his lost kin. Like I said, my most important tattoo.’

It FEELS different now doesn’t it. Now, the story behind every tattoo is quite that powerful. I doubt we’d feel as moved by the story behind a Lego Iron Man tattoo but if you do get in the habit of asking your clients about the inspiration behind their tattoos; why they want it on their body for the rest of their lives; and share this your posts will be far more engaging and there’s no better way to build your profile than show you connect with others’ inspirations. And not least shows the IMPORTANCE of what you do as a tattoo artist.

‘Why?’ is the simplest of questions but ‘why’ is the driving force behind every action we take. If you want to move people, you can do that with great art for sure but… now wait for this next sentence because it’s a good one… What is art without meaning?

Jungle Tattoo Supplies UK are stockists of the full range of tattooist products – from inks, needles, tips and tubes to anaesthetics, tattooist chairs, tattoo machines and furniture.

Tattoos – Your Health Is at Risk


The detrimental side effects of tattoos are known, but are often being ignored. Many just assume that tattooing is safe because of its popularity. Others simply fail to do their research before being injected with dies, plastics and paints. Many feel that since tattoo parlors are regulated, then the ink should be to, but that’s just not true. The potential of infection with life changing infections is also present. The biggest health risk is due to heavy metal poisoning due to tattoo ink. There are things everyone should know before they are tattooed. I will endeavor to inform you of the major risks.

The risks associated with tattooing can be described as skin related diseases, end organ disease (liver, kidney, brain) and heavy metal poisoning. There are ways to avoid these effects of tattooing and I will share those with you. But first, let’s look at some statistics.

According to Statistic Brain (2016),
• Americans spend a whopping 1.655 Billion dollars on tattoos annually.
• Americans that have at least one tattoo totals 45 Million people.
• The percentage of people who regret getting a tattoo is 17%.
• The percentage of Americans getting a tattoo removed is 11%.

Why are People Getting Tattoos?

These statistics are staggering numbers to me. It is surprising that this many people want to risk their health for skin art. People are motivated to get tattoos for a variety of reasons ranging from wearing art on their skin, remembering a loved one or to look sexy or dangerous. The motivation is unimportant for today’s topic, but I just wanted to give you a little background.

The Dangers of Tattoo Ink Carriers

What are the dangers of tattoo ink carriers? Carriers are used to keep the ink, plastic or paint evenly distributed during application and inhibits the growth of pathogens (bacteria/viruses). Please understand that these ingredients are not regulated for use in tattooing by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in most states.
• Ethyl Alcohol – rubbing alcohol is for use externally and should not be injected into the skin. It can cause skin drying, irritation and can negatively affect nerves.
• Glycerin – it is the sugar alcohol glycerol and can cause increased urination and diarrhea.
• Listerine – is an alcohol based concoction of menthol, methyl salicylate, thymol (from thyme oil), and eucalyptol (liquid derived from eucalyptus oil). It can cause skin irritation and localized allergic reactions.
• Propylene Glycol – is the primary ingredient in antifreeze which can be damaging to your liver and kidneys.

The Dangers of Tattoo Ink

That was just the carriers. What is in each color of ink? Many of these inks have ingredients that you shouldn’t even apply to the skin, much less inject into the blood rick lower layer of skin. The epidermis is the outer layer of skin that is made up of dead skin cells and acts as a whole body bandage. It protects us from bacteria and viruses. The dermis is the living skin underneath the epidermis. Things injected into the dermis can be carried away by the bloodstream to all parts of the body. That’s why we get infections when we have a cut or scrape of our skin. The protective epidermis is damaged.

What is in the ink? Most inks contain acrylic resin (plastic molecules), but they also contain other ingredients. They are listed below by color as per Helmenstine (2017) and my own research.

• Black ink – Iron oxide (rust), charcoal or carbon – this is probably the least dangerous ink. The amount of Iron oxide should be inadequate to cause iron toxicity. Ask the tattoo artist to use purified water as a carrier.
• Blue Ink – Copper, carbonite (azurite), sodium aluminum silicate (lapus lazuli), calcium copper silicate (Egyptian blue), cobalt aluminum oxides and chromium oxides. Copper can lead or contribute to heavy metal poisoning. Aluminum has been proven to attribute to Alzheimer’s disease and gastrointestinal disorders.
• Brown ink – Iron oxide and iron ochre clay – this is probably as safe as black ink and for the same reasons.
• Green ink – Chromium oxide and Malachite, lead chromate and the synthetic compound Cu phthalocyanine are used and only the first two are considered moderately safe. Lead chromate is derived from lead which is toxic even in low doses. Cu phthalocyanine is an unregulated compound of copper and can cause skin irritation and respiratory irritation.
• Orange ink – Disazodiarylide and/or disazopyrazolone, and cadmium sulfate make orange ink. The first two are considered safe, but the cadmium sulfate is considered toxic and possibly cancer causing.
• Purple – Manganese violet, quinacridone and dioxazine and the first of these is considered safe. Quinacridone is an FDA approved food coloring, but has caused localized skin reactions.
• Red – Cinnabar, cadmium red, iron oxide and naphthol-AS pigment are the various components of red ink. It is considered by most to be the most toxic color of tattoo ink. Cinnabar is derived from mercury sulfate and is devastating to the nervous system. Cadmium red is a known cancer causing agent. Naphthol-AS pigment is used in red paints.
• Yellow – Cadmium sulfate, Ochre,curcuma yellow, chrome yellow and some are safe and others are not. Cadmium sulfate is derived from lead and is toxic. Yellow derived from the spice turmeric or curcuma yellow is considered safe. The problem with yellow is the volume that must be used to provide a vibrant yellow color, so local irritation of the skin often occurs.
• White – Titanium dioxide, lead white, barium sulfate and zinc oxide (the stuff you smear on your nose at the beach). Titanium dioxide has caused cancer in lab animals. Lead white is considered a cancer causing agent in humans. Barium is derived from the metal barium and is used in barium swallows for gastrointestinal tests, but when injected can cause skin irritation.
• Glow in the dark ink – made up of compounds that are toxic and in some cases radioactive. This again is unregulated in most states.

Some of these compounds can be considered safe, but testing still needs to be done. Some of these compounds are toxic and can cause heavy metal poisoning as the copper, lead, cadmium, chromium, arsenic and aluminum leach into your blood stream. Aluminum inks can also hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of these inks cause cancer and have known mutagenic properties (cause mutations and birth defects) per Genser (2007). The FDA should be regulating these inks, but in most states they are not. Most states have started regulating tattoo parlors though and at least that’s a start.

Regulation of tattoo parlors has greatly decreased the rate of serious infection. Use of disposable needles has made the great impact. In the past, in unregulated tattoo parlors, the risk for getting hepatitis B & C, HIV, tetanus, herpes, staph and syphilis were a real threat. Regulation and disposable one-use needles have eliminated this risk (as long as the regulations are followed).

One other major concern with tattoo art is the fact that lifesaving MRI scans cannot be done in certain instances. This is because the metals in the ink cause intense burning pain for the patient. This has prompted many radiology departments to refuse to perform MRI scans on patients with tattoos, per Grenser (2007). This could cause resulting misdiagnosis or the inability to diagnose.

There are safe tattoo inks out there that are willing to divulge their tattoo formulas. There are many more that are dangerous tattoo inks that are unregulated. Many manufacturers refuse to divulge the formula as secret proprietary information. The carriers used to evenly distribute ink can also potentially be unsafe. Both the inks or carriers are not regulated by the FDA and regulation of tattoo art is the responsibility of each individual state.


Tattoo at your own risk. Tattoos can be safe or hazardous depending on your preparation for the tattoo. Talk to the tattoo artist. Ask them what carrier solution they use. Ask them the composition of their ink. Choose your colors by which colors are least toxic. Make sure the tattoo artist’s shop has an active Health Department certificate. Ask them for their Health Department sanitation score. If you feel you must get a tattoo, please do your research and make an informed decision. I personally recommend that you don’t get a tattoo. There are just too many risks for minor irritations and lingering side effects like cancer, scaring, granulomas, infection, toxicity and infections, per Mishra (2013). I don’t think it’s worth the risk, but it’s your body. Just please study-up and make an informed decision.

How To Become A Professional Belly Dancer

There is a major question to ask yourself if you want to become a professional belly dancer. Do you want to be a professional instructor or do you want to be a performing artist of belly dancing? A professional instructor will have responsibilities for both teaching and performing. A professional belly dancing artist will focus on being a performer.

Which came first… the chicken or the egg? First and foremost knowledge and real experiences are critical. When professionals are interviewed most of them did not intend for this form of art to be a career. They were happy taking lessons and dancing for self, but life has its surprises.

If I may, it is my opinion that the teacher has much to do with students becoming future instructors or entertainers. Throughout my years of teaching I know of eight or ten of my students who became instructors and three others who became professional performers. Two of these people work in the United States and one is an international performer.

It is critical that you take belly dancing lessons from a knowledgeable and experienced instructor. She has to love this dance in order for you to combat negative feedback. Take time to learn traditional ethnic, cabaret, and the newer developments in this art.

Why would you do this?

Traditional ethnic will give you the foundation of history, culture, myths, folklore, and basic knowledge and inspiration for this dance. It is not uncommon for many cabaret dancers to backtrack and take ethnic lessons.
Know that your instructor is truly knowledgeable and experienced. His or her resume, activities, and referrals will help you with making your decision.
Attend many seminars and workshops. I am sure that you heard that electronic instructions are not the same as attending live classrooms. Much is to be gained from mingling with other students and teachers, listening to comments and opinions, being a part of conversations, observing the elements of dance and teaching styles, and watching the teacher and other performers to gain unwritten or unspoken cues for teaching and performing.
Participate in shows which your instructor sets up for students. A good teacher will allow for heavy participation on your part to contribute to the show. If a teacher is the center of attention and the students are in the background; find another instructor. Realizing the amount of personal practice, hours of rehearsal, choreography input, cost of costumes, strengths and weaknesses of performing before an audience will help your decision to becoming a performer.
When you exhibit your performance people in the audience will ask if you teach or would you perform at an event. The question most asked is usually an indicator of how people see you. It then becomes your decision where your heart leads you.
If teaching is being considered, start teaching private lessons in your home or teach a small group of ladies in a community setting to experience if you have the knowledge and the abilities to contribute to a student’s success or to gather many more students. If you are not able to attract more students; teaching is not for you.

Do you like being the center of attention? Performing may be for you. Are you able to take criticism? Are you willing to work irregular hours? Are you open to dancing for a variety of audiences or are you being selective? If you are being selective, can you make an income within this specific niche?

Performers work hard to develop their skills and to offer exciting performances. They also understand public relations, advertising, and marketing. Show business is the business of making money. In addition to learning about this dance you will need to refine your theater and business skills.