“Tattoos and Your Mission,” Liahona, Mar. 2006, 18–20
Imagine you are standing outside a beautiful white temple. Its walls and grounds are immaculate. On the lawn near the front door is a painter. He has displays of his art for all to see.
A few minutes later, you see this painter turn around, pull out cans of paint, and start to paint on the walls of the temple. His painting isn’t ugly, but it just doesn’t belong there. Do you say anything to him? Do you ask him to make his picture bigger and more colorful and offer to pay him for his work? Or do you say, “You can’t do that! This is a holy temple!”?
What would you do if it were your temple? The Apostle Paul said, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … For the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).
“A tattoo is graffiti on the temple of the body,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley.1
Tattoos are permanent. They are not only physically damaging, but through disobedience to the voice of the prophets, choosing to get one causes spiritual damage also. On top of that, something you might not have thought about before is that having a tattoo will affect your application to be a missionary.
When Bobby Collins (name has been changed) sent his mission papers off, he was surprised that he did not get back a large white envelope containing his mission call. Instead, he received a letter from the Church’s Missionary Department asking about his tattoo.
When Bobby graduated from high school, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go on a mission. He moved away from home to work, and he liked the independence of not having his parents around all the time. At about the same time, his best friend and his cousin both got tattoos. “That kind of lowered my guard,” he says.
Bobby had always been good at art, so he designed his own tattoo. He knew tattoos were discouraged by the Church and that his mother wouldn’t like it, and before he went to get it, he asked his brother what he thought about it. His brother had some good advice. He said, “Life already gives us so many scars. Why would you want another one?”
But Bobby had already made up his mind. Six weeks and 700 hard-earned dollars later, he had a huge tattoo all the way up one leg. “It was really painful. It was bloody,” he remembers. And “getting one made it easier to think about getting more.” He didn’t get any more, but after strengthening his testimony of the gospel, he did decide he wanted to serve a mission.
As painful as getting his tattoo was, the pain of regret that Bobby felt was much worse. He was very worried about whether or not he would be able to serve a mission. He wanted to get the tattoo removed but couldn’t afford to. He worried what his future spouse and children might think of it.
“That letter from the Missionary Department scared me a lot,” Bobby says. “My biggest fear was that this one thing was going to hold me back from serving a mission.”
Bobby had to do what the Missionary Department asks all missionary applicants who have tattoos to do. On his original application he told them a little about his tattoo. The letter he received later requested a few more details, including an explanation of when and why he got it and where it is located on the body as well as a description or photograph of it. He was also asked to describe how he felt about it.
When a missionary candidate with a tattoo applies, General Authorities review each case and decide whether that candidate will be allowed to serve a mission. Some cannot.
Bobby did receive his mission call. He is grateful to be a missionary and sorry that, now a representative of the Lord’s Church, he once decided to get a tattoo.
For some missionaries, having a tattoo means being assigned to serve in a place where their tattoo is either culturally accepted or to a colder climate where long sleeves, and tights for women, will cover their tattoos. A tattoo can limit not only where you can serve, but, depending on its content and your feelings about it, it could also determine whether you can serve at all.
“I just hope people will follow President Hinckley’s counsel,” Bobby says. “I know that he is a prophet of God. If he says it’s important, then it’s important.”
Bobby has some counsel of his own too, the same counsel his brother gave him: “Even though we can be forgiven through the Atonement, why do something else that’s going to leave us scarred?”
“You are a child of God. Your body is His creation. Would you disfigure that creation with portrayals of people, animals, and words painted into your skin?
“I promise you that the time will come, if you have tattoos, that you will regret your actions. They cannot be washed off. They are permanent. Only by an expensive and painful process can they be removed. If you are tattooed, then probably for the remainder of your life you will carry it with you. I believe the time will come when it will be an embarrassment to you. Avoid it. We, as your Brethren who love you, plead with you not to become so disrespectful of the body which the Lord has given you.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Prophet’s Counsel and Prayer for Youth,” Liahona, Apr. 2001, 37.
Inna Prokopenko is a registered nurse and licensed master aesthetician in Salt Lake City, Utah. She has attempted to remove many tattoos in her years of work. Here is some of what Inna has to say about tattoos:
One big physical risk of getting a tattoo is ink allergies. They can develop right away or in six months to a year after someone is tattooed. Ink allergies make the tattooed part of your body swell up and get red and itchy. If you are allergic and ink gets into your bloodstream, you could become very ill.
Blood-borne illnesses are another risk. If needles and other equipment are not properly sterilized, it is possible to get HIV or other illnesses.
Regret for being tattooed is more than a risk—it is a certainty for all of Inna’s patients. Many people try to get tattoos removed so they can look more professional at their jobs or to show a good example to their children.
Laser tattoo removal can remove some tattoos—at least partially—but removal is much more painful than getting tattooed in the first place.
Laser treatments don’t usually cause scarring, but there is a possibility.
Yellow tattoos or tattoos using yellow inks cannot be removed without surgery.
Removal treatments take a long time and are very expensive—much more expensive than getting the tattoo.