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“I designed the entire thing over a few years,” she says of the three-quarter sleeve that now adorns her right arm. (A tattoo sleeve, like the sleeve of a shirt, covers the arm.) “I drew it over and over until I had perfected it.” Townsend wanted the tattoo to be a collection of many things that were meaningful to her. “Every component was picked for a reason,” she says, including Big Ben, musical notes and one of her favorite quotes.
Turning her design into body art took a major commitment of both time and money. “It took four sessions — 13 hours total — over a few years to completely finish it,” she says. That’s because her arm needed time to heal between sessions. All those hours in the tattoo shop also didn’t come cheap. She saved up for years to pay for her sleeve.
Townsend is one of many young adults sporting inked body art. Researchers estimate that about four in every 10 young adults aged 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo. More than half of them have two or more. As tattoos have become more common, scientists have begun to study their health impacts.
This body art might appear cool, but it can pose risks. Some people react badly to the inks — substances that aren’t meant to go on or in the body. Other people may have trouble getting certain medical tests after a tattoo. And not everyone is as thoughtful as Annabelle Townsend when selecting their design. Many people get inked on a whim — and later want that permanent art removed. It can be done, but it’s a long and painful process.