The Doctor's Corner: Questions on the tattoo experience

I am pleased to announce that I will have a recurring column in the Daily Pilot and Coastline Pilot. I welcome your feedback. My goal is to grapple with relevant health topics, interwoven with the colors of local personalities, enterprises, and culture — a sort of Southland medical and social tour of my own creation.

To kick things off, I will be doing a series of articles on tattooing and piercing. Please contact me if you can share personal stories about these practices. All contributions can remain anonymous.

So, here we go, starting with tattooing.

A tattoo is a permanent body alteration based on a temporary mental impulse. As indelible on the skin as is tying a woman's tubes to her fertility, both are forever.

Reversal of both can be attempted, however painful, expensive and uncertain the results. Let's examine the process and some of the consequences.

To educate myself, I took a field trip to Laguna Tattoo in Laguna Beach. At 656 S. Coast Hwy., just south of Legion Street, for nearly 30 years the tattoo shop has been Orange County's oldest tattoo shop in the same location.

The affable owner and tattoo artist, Steve Crome, has been laying down the ink there for 22 years. Both he and his co-worker, Brian, have tattoos up to their necks, and on most visible skin surfaces.

They both stated: "Tattooing is my life."

A youngish couple on a weekend rendezvous generously allowed me to observe. They winced and fidgeted, but shed no tears.

The man, a recent UC Davis veterinarian school graduate from Ventura, was placing a caduceus and staff with a big "V" in it on a leg calf.

He already had a high ring encircling one arm, both adornments easily concealable by usual work attire.

The woman — a yoga, singing and piano teacher from San Diego — was bold, choosing a lotus imprint on an inner wrist.

Crome explained that the shop is registered with the Orange County Health Dept. 

The special-use tattoo needle goes in and out of the superficial layer of the skin like the needle of a sewing machine, powered by an electromagnetic tattoo machine.

Many questions come to mind regarding the explosion of body illustration.

Can you get a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test where there is a tattoo?

Can you find a skin cancer, especially the deadly melanoma, if it is within a tattoo? What happens when you no longer want an old boyfriend's initials on your skin? With our difficult job market, is there a bias against applicants with tattoos that cannot be covered?

Can tattoos form keloids? How do tattoos look 30 or 40 years later, after weight and skin quality may change?

Like the very tattoos, these questions are not going to disappear quickly or easily.

Please contact me about your experiences with tattooing and piercing. Articles on tattoo removal and body piercing are to follow. I welcome requests for other topics for my health column.

Dr. JANE K. BENING is a board-certified gynecologist who for 20 years has had a private practice in Newport Beach, and has lived in Laguna Beach. She can be reached at her office at (949) 720-0206 or at

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