If you happen to be reading this while in a tattoo parlor chair after a few too many cosmos at a Vegas bachelorette party—well then, we’re afraid it may be too late for you. But if you’re of sound mind and currently, carefully considering a tattoo, here are some things to weigh before you commit.
If, say, you’re of a certain age to remember the ‘80s and early ‘90s, you’ll recall an era when bigger was better—big hair, big sleeves, big long nails held daintily under chins in mall glamour shots. Imagine how you’d feel now if you’d made those things permanent fixtures of your personal style. Avoid trends when considering designs. This year's Mexican sugar skull is next year's Celtic cross.
STRETCH MARKS DISTORT
If you think you might want to be pregnant some day, consider avoiding tattoos on your belly region—or pretty much anywhere on your abdomen. Stretch marks could turn that dolphin into a malformed manatee. Not the look you were going for when you made that pre-baby commitment.
PLACEMENT COUNTS A LOT
This goes without saying—right?—but a neck or hand tattoo of a boyfriend’s name (or a pistol, or a marijuana leaf, or actually any tattoo on your neck or hands, really) isn’t going to be attractive to potential employers. Do your future job-seeking self a favor and place tattoos where they won’t impede your ability to work wherever you’re qualified.
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COLOR CAN FADE
Keep in mind that over time, colorful tattoos can fade. You can preserve your vivid ink by staying out of the sun, for instance—good advice in general. But know that that fresh, brilliant landscape you pick today stands to show your age over time as much as fine lines on your face.
KELOIDS CAN FORM
Tattoos can prompt the formation of keloids, or irregular, enlarged scars. If you know you’re predisposed to keloid scarring, you might want to avoid ink altogether.
THERE'S A RISK OF INFECTION
Blood plus needles equals risk of infection. You’re fine if all the equipment is clean and sterile—so ixnay on that spontaneous vacation tattoo on some remote beach. Make sure you’re at a reputable place to guard against diseases like hepatitis and HIV.
ALLERGIC REACTIONS COULD RESULT
They’re not common, but they’re possible—and they’re no fun, since tattoo pigment can be very hard to remove. And you’re not even necessarily in the clear after your skin heals: Allergic reactions can happen even after years of living with your body art.
TATTOOS ARE PERMANENT
OK, you knew that. But consider the things you value now, versus what you might value later. If I’d gotten a tattoo at the time in my life when I was most inclined toward body art, it would probably be a full sleeve of Depeche Mode’s lead singer—not exactly in line with my life’s current priorities (with all due respect to the always-sexy Dave Gahan). Keep in mind that tattoo-removal options like lasers and re-inking may not yield a satisfactory outcome.
Please, please tell us your own tattoo horror story below. We want to know what you learned!
Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Twitter: @alicedubin.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.