July 16, 2021

Getting a Tattoo in the Philippines: Then and Now

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  • Getting a Tattoo in the Philippines: Then and Now
  • To tell you the truth, getting a tattoo in the Philippines used to be frowned upon. Locals had the negative notion that only criminals or drug addicts have a tattoo. But thanks to the progressive liberation evident in the country (aka millennials), tattoos are now considered as an art—perhaps a way to express oneself.

    Also read: Millennials in the Philippines: Who are they and what do they do?

    IMAGE Yana Bautista


    Ethnic groups in the Philippines had their own tattoo practices dating back to the olden times. However, there may be little to none with such tradition now.

    You’ve probably heard of the living legend, Maria “Whang Od” Oggay, in Kalinga, who is believed to be the oldest manwhatok or traditional tattooist. In her tribe, tattoos used to be a sign of bravery as you cannot have them unless you’ve proven your worth in battles.

    Thousands of people from all over the globe visit the Philippines just to see Whang Od. Though remained single, she’s able to pass on the tradition to her nieces.

    Also read: PH’s Oldest Tattoo Artist Whang-od, to receive National Living Treasures award

    IMAGE JR Padlan

    There’s another tattoo tradition in Leyte, called the Pintados or “painted”. Similar in Kalinga, it was believed that the more tattoos you have, the higher the status was as a warrior. They have a festival celebrated yearly on the 29th of June.

    Also read: Vibrant and Colorful: A Guide to Understanding Leyte’s Pintados-Kasadyaan Festival

    Contrary to having tattoos to brag about victory in battles, the modern times got to the point where several local companies do not accept inked employees. This rule is still followed by some until now, especially for flight attendants, policemen, and soldiers. Donating blood also has restrictions especially when you have a tattoo.

    Nevertheless, by this year, inked locals are pretty common in the country. Filipinos, especially those in their 20s, are now more confident to flaunt their body art. Those who do not have the courage to get permanently inked opt for the henna tattoos, which are pretty common in beaches.

    Getting a tattoo in the Philippines

    There are still no laws about getting a tattoo in the Philippines, but most shops follow safety rules and precautions set by the Department of Health (DOH). You may want to take a step back if a shop accepts customers below 18 because that’s usually a red flag.

    Below are some do’s and don’ts to follow:

    IMAGE Yana Bautista

    Never settle for a cheap tattoo!

    One should always take this advice wherever you are in the world. If you came from the USA or Europe, you’d probably be surprised by how cheap tattoos are in Asia. But that doesn’t mean you should settle for the REALLY cheap ones. A good 1×1 black tattoo starts at Php 1,500 in the Philippines, but it’s still up to the artist to decide based on the design. 

    Make sure that they use new needles

    The artist will show you a brand new package of needles while setting up to prove that they’re actually clean. Be sure to check if they’re using an unopened pack of needles, as you wouldn’t want to have the recycled ones in your system.

    Tattoo shop should be DOH-accredited

    To ensure that the tattoo shop is trusted, make sure to double and triple check that they are DOH-accredited. Of course, the establishment itself should have a business permit, too.

    Research about your tattoo artist if you must

    Thanks to the boom of social media, it’s now easier to stalk your artists online instead of going to the shop to check. Trusted tattoo shops have Facebook pages, while the artists usually have their own Instagram accounts for their portfolio. Familiarize yourself with the artist’s specialization, whether it’s text, realistic, minimalist, cover-ups, among others.

    Communicate effectively

    You might want to learn a bit of Filipino language if you’re a foreigner setting foot for the first time in the country. If not that, you can also bring a Filipino friend with you. Explain your preferred design carefully to avoid miscommunication with the artist as you might get lost in translation. Better safe than sorry!

    Also read: 10 Common Filipino Words Expats Can Use to Talk Like a Local

    Are you ready to get your first tattoo in the Philippines? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

    Source: Inquirer Lifestyle, Philippine News Agency, Philippine Information Agency
    Written by Yana Bautista

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