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Tattoo artists warn of dangers of 'semi-permanent tattoos'

Gisela Swaragita
Gisela Swaragita

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, November 27, 2020  /  05:10 pm
Tattoo artists warn of dangers of 'semi-permanent tattoos'

Skin deep: Clients wishing to get a tattoo may want to commit to a permanent one. (AFP/Ed Jones)

Concern is growing within the tattoo community over the mushrooming trend among teenagers of getting a “semi-permanent tattoo”. The activity targets young people who want to express themselves with a relatively small tattoo but are not yet ready to say yes to more permanent ink.

However, the “semi-permanent” nature of the trend has been called into question.

The so-called semi-permanent tattoos are said to stay in the skin forever, and more often than not, they are inked by amateur artists who risk exposing their customers to viruses or inflammation such as HIV or hepatitis.

Christine, a senior tattoo artist and owner of Revolver Tattoo Studio in Kebon Jeruk, West Jakarta, spoke to The Jakarta Post on behalf of the tattoo and piercing artist collective Indonesian Subculture about the issue.

“The concern started about two years ago when we realized the trend was growing. We did some research and experiments on semi permanent-tattoos. However, we found that the tattoos did not fade entirely and the quality was not as good as professional tattoos,” she said.

Many of the so-called semi-permanent tattoos ended up forming scars, leaving behind faded colors and some even resulted in keloid on the skin.

With the tag line “semi-permanent” and the promise that the tattoos will fade entirely after some time, it is feared that clients will not take ample time to seriously consider the risks. Some clients are under 17 and only want the art to stay on their skin temporarily.

“Tattoo removal is expensive and won’t bring your skin back to its pristine state,” Christine said. “Moreover, we get reports that some clients contracted hepatitis after getting semi-permanent tattoos. This can happen when the artist does not follow the right procedures."

Further adding risk, some inexperienced semi-permanent tattoo artists have started offering tattoo courses.

Christine said these artists claimed that pupils who wanted to be semi-permanent tattoo artists were not required to have good drawing skills, while the learning process would only last two days.

“Real tattoo artists have to take a one-to-three-year apprenticeship to learn to master various tattoo styles. They also have to learn about the cultures, hygiene, how to handle clients and many more. Two days is absolutely not adequate,” she said.

Many semi-permanent tattoo artists have also been accused of showing little respect to original art, taking the shortcut of plagiarizing other artists’ works.

“Some media channels promoted semi-permanent tattoos by publishing stories without doing further research,” Christine said.

Misleading information on these tattoos is not uncommon on the internet. Some resources claim that herbal ink can be broken down naturally by the body or through the use of machines, such as those used for eyebrow microblading.

“This is nothing but a scam,” Christine said. “Inks used in semi-permanent tattoos are labeled as 'permanent makeup ink'. When the ink is penetrated into the skin, it will be permanent. Even after 10 years, the microblading ink in eyebrows are faded but it is still there. It won’t be 100 percent gone.”

A former semi-permanent tattoo artist, Sari (not her real name), said she practiced the business in Tangerang from June to August 2018. Originally an eyebrow microblading artist, she practiced semi-permanent tattooing after getting one herself.

“I watched the artist tattoo my body and I assumed that the procedure was just the same as the eyebrow microblading I've done,” she said. “She also said the ink was made from herbal ingredients and that the skin would not be penetrated as deep as with professional tattoos.”

She then practiced twice with her own body before taking in paying customers. She used her eyebrow microblading wand, needles and various inks to tattoo clients. 

“I also used carbon paper, anesthetic cream, sodium chloride water and foam soap,” she said.

In creating the tattoo, she anesthetized the client’s skin using anesthetic cream and then stenciled the design onto the client’s skin using carbon paper. She then injected ink into the skin using the eyebrow microblade wand following the design.

“Afterward, I cleaned the tattoo using foam soap and wrapped it with plastic wrap,” she said.

After several months of employing this method, she wanted to level up her game by learning how to create professional tattoos under the guidance of a cousin who had been in the practice for 10 years. 

“From him I learned that what I did was wrong and that I had lied to my clients. I was shocked and horrified. Since then, I stopped wanting to sell what I had called ‘semi-permanent tattoos’,” she said.

She then learned to practice professional tattooing with fake skin, using a real tattoo machine and practicing proper hygiene procedures to prevent the risk of disease infections.

“I also bought complete equipment such as a professional tattoo machine, needles, a power supply, cables, a footstep pedal, basic ink, green soap, stencil cream, tattoo butter, etc.”

Sari wants artists who offer semi-permanent tattoos to stop as she considers the practice ignorant and harmful.

“Stop lying to the clients, especially to underage kids just to earn money. Learn more about your art and don’t deny that what you do is wrong,” she concluded. (wng)

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