Ink and age: Tattoos remain wildly popular, even among older adults

Delan Canclini is a Salem tattoo artist who enjoys working with customers of all ages.


Delan Canclini is a Salem tattoo artist who enjoys working with customers of all ages.

Whether a small flower or a full arm sleeve, the beauty of body art transcends age so go ahead and get that “tat.”

“I have tattooed octogenarians, and my 92-year-old grandma has informed me she wants her first tattoo next time I see her,” says Delan Canclini, owner of The Ink Underground in Salem. “I don’t think you can be too old to get tattooed. I feel that getting a tattoo is something you do, or should do, for yourself and not for others, and whatever age you do get tattooed is the right age if you want it.”

Like the proverbial spider to the fly, Canclini invites adventurous seniors to “come on in” to his parlor, in the basement of the Reed Opera House in downtown Salem. Unlike the poor fly, his clients leave with another addition to their “canvas,” body art that often tells a story and/or provides a memory.

“Military symbols are a common tattoo for seniors,” says Canclini, “as well as flowers and names of loved ones.”

Canclini grew up in California and moved to Oregon to attend Willamette University, where he got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“I became a teacher, and then missed art and decided to become a tattoo artist,” says Canclini, who started tattooing seven years ago and “can’t imagine doing anything else.”

His love of art motivates Canclini to create “beautiful pieces that are worn everywhere my clients go for the rest of their lives.

“My tattoos have been at people’s weddings, their children’s births, their vacations around the world … Christmas mornings,” he says. “I just think it’s amazingly cool to get to bring their ideas to life and to make something they can have with them forever.”

Canclini says he goes out of his way to listen to his clients.

“I design specifically for them, and I do my very best for them,” he adds. “Usually seniors might get a tattoo or maybe two, but I have regulars working on ongoing projects.”

Statistics are proving that tattoos are no longer for rebels, bikers or veterans. About 13 percent of Baby Boomers have tattoos, which is an approximately $1.65 million industry. Thirty-two percent of people with at least one tattoo report getting addicted to ink, research shows.

“Age does alter skin, and as one ages there can be more challenges,” says Canclini, who advises finding a knowledgeable artist to create the ink. “I first and foremost do research when I am getting tattooed. I find the right artist, schedule an appointment, and then the day of I wear comfy clothes and eat a ton of food for breakfast. I show up and let the artist I trusted do their thing artistically.”

Since drawings involve needles, getting a tattoo can be painful, but Canclini says the hurt is subjective.

“Some spots barely hurt at all, some are pretty rough. I have tattooed probably a hundred first-timers and when almost everyone feels the start of their first tattoo, they usually say, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ There is a lot of built-up hype around tattoos, and I’d say, yeah, they hurt in some spots, but they are worth it if you want them badly enough.

“As soon as they’re done, they just sort of feel like a light sunburn,” he says. “Depending on how your artist suggests you take care of it after, the healing process can be quick, simple and painless.”

Another consideration is how tattoos change with age. According to Medical Daily, aging skin changes the shape, composition and elasticity of tattoos because they are embedded in the skin. Aging tattoos begin to lose detail in terms of color and definition, and the ink particles in older tattoos tend to move deeper into the skin over time, causing the tattoo to look bluish, faded and blurry, making their removal with laser treatment more difficult, the site says.

According to Inked Mag, the top reason for tattoo regret is being too young at the time of getting the first tattoo. Other reasons include personality and style changes, unprofessional-looking tattoos, having an ex-partner’s name tattooed, and having a tattoo that lacks meaning. More popular these days are tattoos covering surgical scars and other cosmetic applications.

Regardless of wrinkles and the potential for wandering ink as bodies change, a recent Washington Post article says Baby Boomers and retirees are still “getting tattoos, fulfilling lifelong dreams and raising eyebrows.”

And Canclini is grateful to be a part of the movement.

“Tattooing is an art, and I’m so thankful to all of those that trust me with their bodies, their canvasses,” he says. “I love making art every day. Whether an 87-year old veteran or an 18-year-old getting their first piece, I am always honored to create something cool for them.”

Cutlines & photo credits

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

This intricate design of pink roses by Delan Canclini is one example of today’s tattoos. Be aware that aging skin changes the shape, composition and elasticity of tattoos because they are embedded in the skin.

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