Tattoos and self-harm scars


We saw an article on the BBC website, part of a series on self-harm where a lady called Becci answers readers’ questions about living with self-harm 

This is a lovely article, full of insights from an actual person who has self harmed, rather than a medical or media perspective. Becci’s statement that self harm is “a habit to deal with a bad situation” particularly resonates as do her comments about dealing with reactions to the scars left behind.

For an inventive and transformational approach to dealing with self-harm scars, some consider getting a tattoo. Here are Toni’s tips based on her own experience:

  • Do not even consider getting a tattoo over your scars until you have gone one year without harming and your scars have settled – if they are red, raised and itchy then it’s too soon. Your tattooist will be able to tell you if your skin is ready yet.
  • Always take time to choose the right tattoo shop and tattoo artist, one who has some experience dealing with scar tissue.
  • Spend a lot of time researching the tattoo that you want – this is a permanent mark that will be on show to a greater or lesser extent for the rest of your life.
  • Other people will react to it – maybe not in the way that they reacted to your scars, but be prepared for some judgement in some cases.
  • Don’t pick something just because you like the look of it or it’s funny. Pick something that has meaning for you. Your scars have a deeper story, so should your tattoo. Don’t pick a design that makes a statement to other people – pick one that makes a statement to you.
  • A good tattooist should spend time chatting about what you want and look at designs with you. Don’t feel like you have to rush into starting the tattoo – on your first visit you might just work out what kind of style you want.
  • Listen to the tattooist’s advice. They know what works and what looks good on skin. Some designs or colours may not be great with your scar patterns or location.
  • Ask the tattooist to sketch design ideas onto your skin with a pen. Take photos while it’s fresh. Walk around with the marks for a day or so till they fade.
  • Look on the internet for pictures to guide the tattooist. If you want a tattoo of a mermaid and you are not an artist yourself, print out pictures you like. The tattooist isn’t a mind reader and might have a different mental image of mermaids than you do! You can find images to copy (especially useful for specific objects like mirror frames) or you might find pictures that convey the feeling that you want (colours, ideas, moods). Don’t just look for “tattoos” in your online search – inspiration can come from all kinds of places including digital images or paintings. Books have pictures in them too!
  • Live with the idea for a while. If you find that you still want the same broad design after a few months of thinking about it, then you are ready to commit. This shouldn’t be a quick process – but then, a tattoo is forever.
  • Tour the shop. A good tattooist won’t mind telling you about their hygiene practices. A good tattooist and shop should be clean and organised.
  • Don’t get your new design all at once. You can gradually add elements over more than one session. This can minimise the shock to your skin and means shorter sessions which can help pain-wise (yes, self harmers can be squeamish!). It also means you have time to make sure you are completely happy with each bit before moving on.
  • If you have doubts about something that’s been inked, go back to the tattooist and adjust the next stage of the design. There are many ways to deal with something that you regret in a tattoo from changing the colour to creating a cover-up. If you’ve done your research and been doing the work in manageable stages then there should be plenty of scope for some adjustments. A good tattooist will be approachable and kind, won’t mind if you need to make changes and won’t make you feel uncomfortable. If they react badly, go somewhere else.
  • Follow every instruction you are given – caring for a new tattoo is vitally important. Self harmers are not always good at wound care.

Toni’s personal recommendation in our area is the Grantham Tattoo Shop. Ask for Paddy.

1 Comment on “Tattoos and self-harm scars

  1. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve had a tattoo over your scars or are considering it. How do you feel about your scars? How do you deal with other people’s reactions?

    Please share your comments below 🙂