For Albuquerque millennial, Amanda Luna, body art is a form of self expression.
“My tattoos help identify who I am,” she said.
The 22-year-old has half of her right arm and shoulder covered with ink, featuring delicate flowers, swirls, books, and more. Luna is passionate when talking about their meanings, for example, how each flower represents a member of her family.
“The meaning behind my tattoos gives insight as to who I am as a person and my own artistic representation. Everyone has a different style and that gives way to their personality,” Luna said.
Luna is one of the growing number of young people choosing permanent body art, causing the number of body art shops in Albuquerque and New Mexico to rapidly increase.
New data from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (NMDWS) shows there’s been a 40% increase in establishments practicing body art over the last ten years.
New Mexico’s Department of Regulation and Licensing (NMDRL) released data that supports this trend, showing an 80% increase in tattoo artists and a 48% increase in body piercers over the last ten years.
Noah Babcock, the Head Piercer at Albuquerque’s Evolution Body Piercing, says his side of the body art industry has also felt the increase in demand for body modification services.
Babcock credits a generational shift in attitudes toward piercings and tattoos.
“It just comes down to time,” Babcock said. “Remember that back when this was not socially accepted, it was primarily the younger people that were doing these things. Well, now we’re all old. Now we’re all in our 30s, 40s and 50s,” Babcock laughed.
With millennials leading the social norm of body art, Babcock said this acceptance carries over into the workplace.
“When I started doing this in 1995, it was a tricky to get a job with facial piercings. Now, that’s not so much the case, there are many places that are happy to employ people with piercings,” Babcock said. “You can see a bank teller with a nose piercing.”
Luna agrees and said her tattoos and piercings have never interfered with her job. Luna has been a nurse for 4 years, working at many different clinics and facilities. Now she works for an insurance company.
“All the places I’ve worked at, they don’t care,” Luna said. “Me personally, I like to cover my tattoos while I’m at work. They’re mine, I didn’t get them for anyone else but me.”
Pablo Martinez, a tattoo artist at Albuquerque’s Stay Gold Tattoo, thinks social media plays a part in the industry increase.
“It (body art) is definitely trendy, and social media has a big part with that,” Martinez said. “You got Pinterest, you got Instagram, even Facebook and other social media networks that are out there.”
Martinez says that social media is helpful with sharing ideas for body art, but experimentation with new styles has brought artistic challenges.
“It’s been a challenge with the newer generation of tattooing, what’s ‘in’ now compared to what was ‘in’ five years ago,” Martinez said.
Fine lines, soft colors, and life-like tattoos are the current art style of choice and Martinez says most millennials don’t realize the quality and freshness of these types of tattoos won’t last as long compared to a more traditional style of tattoo art.
“The trends changed and the style of tattooing now won’t hold up in five to ten years,” Martinez said. “A lot of this photorealism with no outlines that are super soft and pastel… as human beings, our body ages and the ink ages with it, quickly losing its composure.”
From a customer’s perspective, Luna also thinks social media serves as a communication tool with body art.
“If you want to check out an artist, you go to their Instagram site,” Luna said. “It is very social media driven because that’s how you discover all these artists that are here.”
Last year, the body art industry generated $1.6 billion in revenue, according to the market research firm IBISWorld. The industry is expected to continue to grow 7.7% annually over the next decade.
With more body art being practiced, there’s also more potential for regret. It’s not an uncommon case for someone to later question their tattoos and piercings.
The American Academy for Dermatologic Surgery reports that 687,450 tattoos have been removed since 2010. Since this is a tiny fraction of all tattoos in the United States, it might be partly explained by how involved and expensive the removal process is.
Using lasers to break up ink, temperatures reach as high as 1,652 degrees Fahrenheit with rapid pulses of light. Most tattoo removals require between three to 12 sessions, but it all depends on skin tone, ink color, and ink placement.
Luna says that even though not all of her tattoos have meaning, she doesn’t regret any of them.
“Every tattoo that you get, at that moment in time you were going to get it. It represents something that was happening in your life at that point in time,” Luna said. “Even if it’s not my favorite tattoo, I look back at it and remember what I was going through at that time… and that’s a piece of me.”