Page last updated at 22:57 GMT, Saturday, 4 October 2008 23:57 UK

Tattoo culture under the spotlight

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Kevin Pietersen. Pic credit: Lal Hardy
Celebrities including England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen have tattoos

David Beckham, Samantha Cameron and Amy Winehouse all share at least one thing in common aside from their fame - a tattoo.

In the past, tattoos used to be mainly a badge of belonging and were generally the preserve of armed forces personnel, bikers and tribes.

But they are now used to express individuality and can range from the small dolphin on the ankle to huge montages of a fan's favourite pop group, or even tattoos covering most of the body.

On 7 October, the Dana Centre at London's Science Museum is putting tattoo culture under the microscope, looking at not only contemporary fashion, but the history and medical implications of having this procedure and how to get rid of a tattoo.

It is only now in Western culture that tattoos are becoming an expression of individuality rather than being about belonging to a community
Katie Maggs

Katie Maggs, associate medical curator at the Science Museum, said there would be a collection of late 19th Century tattoos on display and the equipment used to make them.

"The variety of imagery among those we are displaying is very extensive. There are lots of elaborate, beautifully designed women, naked ladies, military ranks - there is also a pig on a bike and gambling images," she said.

The event will look at how tattoo use has changed and examine whether improving technology may mean they do not need to be a permanent adornment.

Ms Maggs said that, in the past, tattoos had been used for identity whether in a positive way - such as belonging to a community - or negatively to impose an identity, such as in Nazi concentration camps.

In other cultures, tattoos are associated with status or belonging.

"It is only now in Western culture that tattoos are becoming an expression of individuality, rather than being about belonging to a community," she said.

A tattoo
One of the French tattoos on view

Lal Hardy has been a tattooist in London for 30 years and has created images for stars such as Tottenham footballer Ledley King, England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen, actress Patsy Kensit and singer Liam Gallagher.

He said: "Tattooing is now really, really mainstream. I tattoo a lot of football players and celebrities and the profile is being raised."

Dr Raj Mallipeddi, a consultant dermatological surgeon in London, said while he would not advise against tattoos, he would always recommend care.

"There are different types of potential problems following tattooing, including allergic reactions to the ink, which may resemble eczema or even red lumps in the skin.

"Henna tattoos are popular and although Henna itself is safe, the black dye with which it is often mixed, called PPD paraphenylenediamine, is the culprit when an allergic reaction develops.

Lal Hardy has tattooed Dimitar Berbatov: Pic: Lal Hardy
Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov getting a tattoo

"Another risk is infection, most commonly bacterial, although viral warts could develop in the area treated.

"Furthermore, the transmission of syphilis, hepatitis and HIV have been reported - although this is rare."

He added: "My advice to someone interested in having a tattoo is to go to a tattoo parlour that is reputable and maintains impeccable standards of hygiene and infection control.

"People understandably tend to be focused on the artwork of the tattoo, but as it is usually an invasive procedure on the skin, people should be aware of potential problems, even if the risk is small."

The free event takes place at the Dana Centre on 7 October at 1930 BST. Places should be pre-booked.

Man gets breakfast tattoo on head
09 Feb 07 |  North West Wales
Celebrities leading tattoo demand
02 Aug 08 |  North West Wales


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