when you want to express it with your skin, a tattoo or piercing may be your aesthetic channel. But make sure it's a beautiful adventure and that you don't communicate your way to communicable disease.
Handled incorrectly, body art can cause serious infection, allergic reactions, disruptions of your energy field -- and most chilling, hepatitis C, B and HIV. You should know that since amalgamation, Toronto public health has been retooling inspection procedures; at least for now, inspectors only visit shops when customers or owners request it.
Rule number one is to avoid letting your friends perform the operation. Save your pennies and head for an established outfit. Once there, make sure all the equipment is soaked, scrubbed with antibacterial solution and a toothbrush, put into an ultrasonic cleaner and then sterilized in a special machine called an autoclave.
Tools that break the skin (like tattoo needles) should be disposed of after every job, and new sterile plastic bags should cover the electrical cords that power the tattoo machines. Ink must never be shared between clients. Your tattooist should always be gloved and shouldn't touch anything but the equipment used on you once the work's under way. If the last client had hep C and used the phone, and the tattooist touches the same phone during your job, you're now at risk. If in doubt, ask for a glove change.
Tattoo pigments are trade secrets, so no one is really sure what's in them. Make sure you aren't allergic. And temporary "black henna' tattoos are not cool -- they contain a chemical called paraphenylenediamine (PPD) that can cause permanent skin, blood and kidney damage. Stick to the rusty-coloured natural stuff.
If you're the type to suffer regrets, think twice about this kind of artistry. Many tattoos can be erased with a laser beam or surgery, but it's expensive, you'll experience significant pain and be left with a lifelong scar. Complex tattoos are often impossible to shed.
Needles used in piercing are hollow and must never be shared. Forceps or pliers must be autoclaved. Follow your piercer's after-care instructions exactly. And realize how long it actually takes to heal: earlobes eight weeks, ear cartilage up to a year, nasal septum up to eight months, nipples up to six. Do not use alcohol or peroxide, only antibacterial soap, and don't let anyone else touch the wound during healing.
With tongue piercings, it's imperative to get properly fitting jewellery once the swelling's come down. Otherwise you risk breaking a tooth. Lip rings need to be properly placed and fitted so most of the ring is on the outside, or gum recession or possible tooth loss is a real possibility. Infections of the upper ear can require surgical intervention and create deformed "cauliflower ears." Make sure jewellery is made of surgical stainless steel, titanium, niobium or solid gold.
If you're into taking care of your energy field, a subtler thing to watch out for with piercings is whether they contact an acupuncture point or meridian. To play it safe, avoid these spots.
"Piercing acupuncture points could be overstimulating, unbalancing your energy flow. On the other hand, piercing has spiritual meaning for the person who does it. That might overcome any negative effects.'
LUIS VILLALOBOS, acupuncturist and body/mind practitioner
"Hepatitis C and tattooing are very closely linked. In the right conditions, the hepatitis C virus can live outside the body for two weeks."
DEBRA PHELPS, RN, Central Toronto Community Health Centres
"I ask people with low immune systems to take vitamins A, C, E, zinc and selenium and an astragalus formula beforehand. I recommend homeopathic arnica (30C) before and right after a piercing or tatoo and every few hours after. I don't recommend piercings for diabetics."
MICHELLE STAPLETON, naturopath
"Whether piercing on the meridians (energy pathways) stimulates negatively or positively depends on the person. The navel is representative of the immune system and also affects the very important conception-vessel meridian (RenMai), which directly affects the uterus."
EMILY CHENG KOH, practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine
"You could get numbness and possible paralysis from piercing. Tongue piercing could affect taste. You even have to worry about tetanus. You can get bone infections, toxic shock syndrome, infections around the heart. Uncommon, but still possible."
REUVEN JHIRAD, MD, Shout Clinic
"A tattoo or piercing usually marks a turning point in a person's life. When something happens that's profound, it's beautiful to make it physical."
TEE DEFACENDIS, Passage piercing