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What Boomers Need to Know About Tattoos


By Patt Johnson, Fifty Something

June 5, 2009


The cheetah tattooed on Dan Doran's leg is a source of inspiration for the 52-year-old central Iowa man.

He had the image of the fast cat permanently etched into his skin two years ago after running a marathon. And last month he added a tattoo to his rib area in honor of his father, who died in December.

"I guess it was a right of passage," says Doran, a shirt-and-tie kind of guy. He also has an image of a water buffalo on his upper arm, his first tattoo from more than two decades ago.
With the stigma of tattoos diminishing, more baby boomers are heading to tattoo salons to add colorful designs to their bodies.

"One of my best clients got his first tattoo after he retired," says Dan Conner, co-owner of Mid Air & Ink, a Des Moines tattoo studio. "He worked for the government and felt he couldn't do it then. He was 60 when he retired, and he really went nuts. But he had a great plan (for getting tattooed)."

Conner says he does a lot of tattoos for clients who are in their late 40s to mid-50s.
"With some, they felt it wasn't socially acceptable 15 or 20 years ago to get a tattoo," Conner says. "And some are getting close to retirement, and they don't give a dang."

A 2008 Harris poll showed that about 20 percent of adults between the age of 40 and 64 reported having one or more tattoos. People are becoming more comfortable and curious about body art, tattoo artists say.

"These are people who have grown up in an era when tattoos were not acceptable. This gives them a little outlet and a feeling of being young," says Rachel McColley, manager of Lasting Impression tattoo studio in Des Moines' East Village.
Dr. Ava Feldman, a Clive dermatologist, says she has seen a slight increase in the number of baby boomers with tattoos at her office.

One woman had a blue rose tattoo on her in remembrance of her late mother. Another had a little angel tattoo near where she had melanoma, Feldman says.

"We feel like we are liberated, but you have to remember that removal is not easy," Feldman says. "It is so expensive and painful."

Improving laser techniques are helping with tattoo removal, but it is still a long process, she says.
People on certain medications, such as blood thinners, are not good candidates for tattoos, Feldman says. Others are allergic to certain types of tattoo dyes, she says.

Boomers coming into the shop are generally looking for smaller tattoos that they can conceal with clothing, says McColley.

"Women tend to go for ankles or shoulder blade where it's easy to hide, or they can show it off if they want to," McColley says.

Popular images include flowers, birds and family references, she says. "I do a lot of grandkids stuff."
Most of Sean Wilcox's boomer-aged customers know what they want when they come into his shop, Iron Heart Tattoo.

"That age group is less spontaneous. They book their appointments and have put more thought into what they are doing and what they want done," Wilcox says. Women choose florals on their feet or backs while men want Asian-inspired work such as dragons on their upper arms or shoulders, he says.

Doran says he got the water buffalo tattoo 25 years ago on his upper arm after traveling to some Third World countries. After launching his professional career, additional tattoos were put on hold, he says.
"People have the attitude that if you get a tattoo, you're either a convict or a thug," he says. As he got older and tattoos became more acceptable, he began thinking about body art again.

"Then when I turned 50, I decided I wanted to take better care of myself," he says. He started running and then training for a marathon.

The cheetah tattoo "seemed like a motivator," he says. He recently got a military-inspired tattoo on his arm in honor of his father who was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Is it a painful process?

"You bet," he says without hesitation.

Will he get another?

"Oh sure," he says.
Additional Facts
Protecting yourself
Mayo Clinic.com offers these tips for decreasing possible complications when getting a tattoo:

- Ask if the tattoo studio has a state or local license.

- Choose a reputable tattoo studio that is clean, tidy, professional and has properly trained employees.

- Make sure the tattoo artist uses an autoclave, which is a heat sterilization machine used to sterilize all nondisposable equipment after each customer.

- Ensure that the tattoo artist uses needles and tubes from sealed packages.

- Make sure the artists uses latex gloves.

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