When David Rich sits down with a client to begin a tattoo, he always considers the concerns and safety of his clients. Rich has worked at Golden Tattoo & Piercing in downtown Iowa City for 14 years.
Tattoos have long been associated with self-expression but can also be a powerful tool for healing and self-empowerment. Covering up scars with ink is more than just artistry; it provides comfort, safety, and a renewed sense of self for those seeking it.
The cover-up process revolves around comfort, safety, and execution to ensure the client’s convenience, the security of the scar tissue and the site, and the execution of a tattoo that will make the client happy.
“Since receiving [my] tattoo, it has given me so much confidence,” said Tia Scheitlin, a children’s assistant at Mount Pleasant Public Library.
Scheitlin sought tattoo coverage for keloid scars — raised scars that cover more skin than the original injury — she received from an infected vaccine site on her upper left arm. The raised bumps were noticeable, Scheitlin said and became a point of insecurity for her.
“People would stare, which made me uncomfortable,” Scheitlin said.
One of the main complications when tattooing a scar is that the skin can often differ in depth throughout the injury site. The ink may also work out, or the site can bleed much more in inconsistent tissue areas.
Rich said the process entails more than just “running it through” like a typical tattoo.
“On parts where it’s deeper, you have to saturate it to get it to stay,” Rich said.
Healing Through Art: The Mental Health Benefits
Catherine Norwood, the director of clinic operations and therapist at Psychiatric Associates in Iowa City, cited the mental health benefits of this process.
“The scar itself is often not chosen by the individual, but the tattoo is, which helps the individual have some control over the uncontrollable,” Norwood said.
Norwood believes cover-ups can offer a psychological sense of empowerment, confidence, purpose, and positivity that increases self-esteem and confidence while allowing individuals to control the narrative surrounding their scars.
In most cases, the process of scar coverage requires extreme delicacy from the artist. According to Rich, establishing a partnership and trust between artists and their clients is paramount.
“You have to make them feel comfortable as much as possible,” Rich said, noting the experience of tattooing over a client’s self-harm scars.
Rich said he establishes honest, open communication with his clients by first explaining the tattoo process to them thoroughly, including showing them the needles he intends to use and their expiration dates to reassure the client.
“They need to feel like they’re safe,” Rich said. “I let them play their music on the speaker and try to make them feel at home.”
Many times, clients experiencing insecurity are in a rush to conceal their wounds. Still, Rich noted the client’s scar must be adequately healed before it can be tattooed to prevent further injury.
According to Rich, a telltale sign of a scar being ready is that it no longer has redness and matches the client’s skin color.
The Artist’s Touch: Design and Technique
Steve Barjonah, owner of Crossroads Tattoo on 508 Second Ave. in Coralville, has similar tattoo processes to Rich. As a tattoo artist with over 36 years under his belt, he has applied a particular approach to the art of cover-ups.
“Usually, you try to do a design bigger than the scar and will help mask where the scar tissue is,” Barjonah said.
Regarding the risk of the tattoo, there’s no guarantee that the ink will stand the test of time on damaged tissue.
“Sometimes the lines will spread, sometimes the color won’t hold,” Barjonah said.
However, Barjonah noted that this risk, though elevated when dealing with scars, is a point of consideration for any tattoo job.
While one might want a tattoo over a scar for many reasons, Norwood has also seen clients who face potential drawbacks.
“Discoloration, aging, or the individual changing their mind at some point in their life,” Norwood said, are all possible after getting a tattoo.
The artists agreed to consider permanence for future clients interested in scar coverage. If the decision is made in haste or out of insecurity, it can quickly lead to regret, nullifying the purpose of this reformative process.
While this is only one of many potential solutions for healing, tattooing over scars can be a form of therapy in which an individual can reframe their view of oneself and their struggles, gaining a greater sense of resilience, encouragement, and purpose behind a dermal import.
Five months after receiving her tattoo, Scheitlin has a newfound confidence in her scars.
“I don’t even care if people stare at it; besides, I can now show off my guns,” she joked.
A Journey of Healing and Self-Empowerment
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