If You’re Cooking on a Budget, You Need These Foods in Your Pantry

As someone who’s spent most of my adult life living in expensive cities, I’ve inadvertently become kind of an expert on budget-friendly cooking. While I’m able to spring for fancy farmers’ market finds and gourmet oils and salts every now and then, my grocery shopping is usually restricted to whatever tastes the best and costs the least. That means I end up relying on a lot of freezer and pantry staples, namely canned food, frozen fruits and veggies, and lots of different dried goods.

While canned, frozen, and dried foods might not sound like they’d make the most delicious meals, they totally can as long as you know how to be creative with them, Beth Moncel, owner of Budget Bytes, tells SELF. As the creator of a popular budget food blog, she knows a thing or two about cooking great food without spending a lot. Here you’ll find all the affordable pantry staples she and I both love, plus ingenious, healthy, and delicious ways to incorporate them into your food.

Canned tomatoes, beans, pumpkin, fish, and chicken.

Moncel doesn’t love all canned foods, because many of them aren’t very fresh or as good as their frozen alternatives (like canned peas or carrots), or they have their flavor compromised by a lot of added sugar or sodium. That being said, there are a couple canned products she always has on hand.

Canned tomatoes are one of those products. “Fresh tomatoes have their place, but for quick and easy weeknight dinners, canned tomatoes can’t be beat,” says Moncel. “They’re perfect for making quick sauces, bases for soups, or adding to rice dishes.” In fact, canned tomatoes are actually preferable to fresh tomatoes when they’re not in season, because they’re typically made with tomatoes that are harvested at peak season, meaning they’re usually more flavorful. At the store, whole canned tomatoes with no added sodium are your best option, because preservatives are often added to diced canned tomatoes to keep them from clumping. While these preservatives don’t necessarily affect the nutrient content, they do affect the flavor, sometimes giving the tomatoes a weird, metallic tang. If you want diced tomatoes, you can cut whole canned tomatoes yourself—that’s what I do, anyway.

Moncel also loves canned beans of all different shapes, colors, and sizes, whether they be black beans, kidney beans, or chickpeas. “Cooking beans from dry is great if you have time, but canned beans are a great for last minute meals,” she explains. “You can add them to pasta, soup, salads, casseroles, rice dishes, or just about anything,” she adds, “[and] not only are they incredibly inexpensive, but they’re packed with nutrition, and there is an endless variety of flavors, colors, and textures to choose from.”

Canned pumpkin is one canned ingredient that I love, because it makes cooking with pumpkin that much more accessible. Rather than having to roast a whole pumpkin every time I want to make something with it, I can simply pop open a can instead. And they’re available all year-round, so I don’t have to wait to satisfy my cravings until they’re in season.

Canned seafood, like tuna or salmon, are great because they’re already ready to eat when you pop them open. They’re also great ways to add protein to whatever you’re eating on a moment’s notice. Just be sure to reach for cans with little to no added sodium—that way you can season it yourself and know exactly what you’re eating. Same goes for canned chicken, which is the best kind of chicken to make chicken salad sandwiches with, IMHO.

Frozen spinach, peas, broccoli, and corn.

Even though frozen vegetables can’t technically be stored in the pantry, Moncel still considers them pantry staples because of how often she uses them. The nice thing about frozen fruits and vegetables is that they’re just as fresh and healthy as fresh vegetables, because they’re always flash frozen right after they’ve been harvested. That means all the nutrients they have from the moment they’ve been picked will still be there when you finally decide to defrost them.

Frozen spinach is one of her favorite frozen products, because it’s way cheaper than fresh spinach. Plus, you get more bang for your buck, because frozen spinach is already shrunken, so you know exactly how much you’re getting, unlike with fresh spinach, which can go from being a lot to a little in no time.

Unlike their canned counterparts, frozen corn and peas both maintain that satisfying crunch that make those veggies delicious. Moncel adds them to everything from casseroles to soups.

Moncel also loves frozen broccoli, which she says you can roast and it will taste virtually the same as fresh roasted broccoli. (You can find her recipe for that here.)

Dry goods like rice, quinoa, lentils, and pasta.

“Dry goods are usually the inexpensive base ingredient that I build my meals on,” Moncel explains, “and because they don’t require refrigeration or special packaging, they’re always going to be super inexpensive.”

Some of Moncel’s favorites are quick-cooking ingredients like rice, quinoa, and lentils. “You can use these as inexpensive bases for bowl meals, to bulk up salads, make casseroles, or add to soups,” she explains.

And of course, Moncel loves pasta, especially now that there are so many different kinds available on the market. “Today there are so many varieties of pasta available for specific needs,” she says, “and even though these specialty pastas may be more expensive than normal pasta, they are still far less expensive per pound than dairy or meat, so they will help bulk up a meal without costing you a fortune.”

If you were to buy all of these ingredients at the same time, odds are it would last you for quite some time and everything would probably cost less than $20. So head to the store and stock up on them if you haven’t already, so you always have excellent building blocks to make affordable and delicious meals.

11 Pieces of Advice for Getting Your First Tattoo, From People Who Have Tattoos

You may have a lot of questions before getting your first tattoo. What do I want? Where do I want it? Who is the right artist? Is this safe? Believe us, before you get permanently inked, these are good questions to be asking yourself. (And, by the way, we have [answers to your questions over here]TK.) But there’s a lot more to the experience of getting a tattoo—and coming up with the design, and taking care of it afterward—that you probably wouldn’t think to ask about before you go under the needle for the first time.

So, we asked over 200 people for bits of wisdom they’d pass down to someone considering a tattoo. What did they wish they knew? What advice would they give? Any secret tips? Below, a guide to having the best tattoo experience possible, with a little help from some friends.

1. After-care is key.

“Keeping it clean after it’s done can be a pain in the ass but it’s so, so important. An infection can get very, very serious if left untreated. And, of course, keep it out of the sun—UV rays degrade and fade the ink.”
—Quinn W., 19

2. Bring a friend.

“Make sure you have a buddy that can hold your hand and look at it while it’s happening. Chew gum. It helps take away the pain.”
—Tristen L., 18

3. Do your homework.

“Make sure to do your homework on reputable shops and artists, and be willing to pay a pretty penny for a pretty tattoo. Overall, just have fun with it and make it YOURS. Tattoos are a personal and beautiful thing!”
—Marissa M., 18

“It is a permanent decision, so make sure you’re ready for that commitment. If you’re getting something in another language, verify it with a native speaker (Google translate isn’t fully accurate!). Do your research regarding tattoo artists and find one that specializes in your style of tattoo. It may be pricey, but if you want a lasting tattoo, it’s worth it!”
—Taylor M., 23

4. Take your time.

“Take your time. Think about things that are meaningful to you, words of wisdom, people that inspire you, or even a piece of art that speaks to you! But also, have fun with it! Don’t let anyone decide what a ‘good tattoo’ is. It’s a personal decision, and just like with your clothes or makeup, it’s a form of self-expression. And please, please do your research on the tattoo parlor you want to get yours done at. You do not want a bad parlor experience to ruin tattoos for you!”
—Brooke L., 21

“Tattoos can be absolutely beautiful, but they can also hold so much regret. My advice would be to wait at least one year before getting a tattoo. If the idea is still in your head a year later, and you still like the tattoo, chances are you’ll like it 25 years from now. Just remember they’re permanent. Like, legit permanent. And I would also suggest not getting any names of significant others because I’m convinced they jinx relationships. But if you and your honey want to get one, I recommend getting a symbol. A small symbol. This way you can come up with a cover story if the relationship ever hits the toilet!”
—Ambrosia L., 23

5. You get what you pay for.

“RESEARCH YOUR TATTOO SHOP! Let me reiterate: You have this tattoo for the rest of your life. You pay for what you get. Don’t be daunted when they tell you what the minimum is for a tattoo—that can really indicate how good it will turn out. The minimum is really the price of the ink itself, and having been to another shop where the minimum was much less, I can say that I would rather save up and have an $80 charge (before labor and tip) than a crappy tattoo where the ink is splotchy and faded.”
—Julie M., 20

6. Remember, it’s a personal choice.

“I think the most important thing to consider when getting a tattoo (and this is extremely cliché but nonetheless true) is that you’ll have that ink on your body for the rest of your life. The art doesn’t have to be grand or have a captivating story behind it; I am a huge supporter of getting tattooed for the present memory itself. Getting tattooed is solely a personal choice—yours and no one else’s. That being said, be sure that it is your choice and you are 100 percent committed to that tattoo.”
—Molly S., 18

7. Make sure you feel comfortable.

“You need to feel comfortable in the tattoo shop that you are planning to go to as well as be comfortable with the person who is giving you that tattoo. The place that I went made me feel comfortable and worked with me to make sure that I was getting exactly what I wanted. If the atmosphere of the shop is making you uneasy, then I would suggest looking elsewhere.”
—Ally P., 18

8. Eat before you go. (And tip at then end!)

“Definitely eat something before you go. I almost passed out AND threw up because I hadn’t eaten anything that day, with just this tiny tattoo. And always, always tip the artist!”
—Abigail K., 20

9. Start small.

I would say go with what your heart tells you and to also start small. This piece of art will be on your body for the rest of your life. Make sure you’re happy with the design beforehand and have added your own flare. I have two smaller tattoos that I got previously and it really helped prepare me for this larger one.”
—Madison S., 19

10. Think carefully about placement.

“To anyone who says that it won’t hurt, they’re lying. It’s a needle being poked into you a bunch. What do you expect? But it’s not the sensation of someone impaling you, so in the long run, the pain is worth the product. With that statement, you get what you pay for. Expect to pay more than what you’d expect, and sit down with your artist to see what would be appropriate. Lastly, be 10,000 percent sure of what you want to get, where you get it, and how it may affect you in the future. I get LOTS of comments on this tattoo because it’s on my forearm. Remember, everyone has their own opinions and enjoys different styles of art. Respect what people put on their body, because it’s theirs!”
—Emily S., 20

“I would say that if you can’t stop thinking about the image, just go for it. Also, my thigh tattoo really helped me love showing off my thick thighs in shorts, something I didn’t always have great confidence in. You forget about the pain, but you get to smile every time you catch your reflection for years.”
—Stefanie P., 29

11. Ask others for advice.

“My parents took me when I turned of age for my first tattoo. They wanted me to see what a clean shop was, learn what questions to ask, and not be afraid to say, ‘No I want it to look more like this.’ My mom told me to get it in a place where I can hide it or show it off when I want. Now that I’m a teacher, that was really great advice!”
—Rachel B., 33

8 Things You Should Definitely Know Before You Get Your First Tattoo

So, you’ve decided you want your first tattoo. Welcome to the club! No matter why you’ve decided to join—to commemorate a person or place, to honor yourself, or just because you think they look super cool—it’s important to do your research first.

Although it seems like everyone and their mother has gotten inked, the world of tattoos, shops, and artists can still be an intimidating place. Below is our beginner’s guide to entering it, with what you need to know about the before, the during, and the after. To get the best advice for newbies, SELF spoke to veteran tattoo artists Yoni Zilber, who started his career in the U.S. at New York Adorned in 2002, and Tamara Santibañez, an artist at Saved Tattoo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

1. If you like the idea of getting a tattoo but aren’t sure what you want, press pause.

If you don’t have a specific design in mind, but still think you want a tattoo, Zilber recommends you hold off for now. Going into a shop without an idea can make things difficult for the artist, and, more importantly, may not be best for you in the long run. If you have a general idea in mind but want to spend some more time brainstorming your vision, you can set up a consultation. At that meeting, you’ll walk through your vision for the tattoo with the artist. Then, the artist will come up with a sketch based on their style and your wants, so you can see exactly what your future tattoo will look like. During this process, you can give your input as much as you like, pointing out minor details you like and others you don’t until you together come up with a final design. Depending on the tattoo and what you’ve decided on with the artist, your sketch may be super detailed or somewhat vague—its most important use is to properly map out proportions and create a framework for the artist. (Make sure you’re on the same page as your artist when it comes to what will be freehanded and what will be more pre-planned.)

Depending on the parlor and the size of your tattoo (and thus the amount of time your artist will need to tattoo it), your artist may be able to start tattooing right away. However, at popular shops, artists often are booked in advance, meaning they won’t be available on the spot. In that case, you’ll have to set up a separate time to come back and get tattooed. If the tattoo you want is small and simple, you can skip the consultation and just set up an appointment to be tattooed. A good artist should also be able to contribute their knowledge about how the tattoo will heal and age to make it look even better.

“Think about what you’re going to want to look at when you’re 30 or 40 or 50,” Zilber tells SELF. “I’m 42 years old, and the stuff I wanted two years ago, I wouldn’t get today.”

2. Your tattoo artist should feel right, both aesthetically and personally.

Look for an artist whose work you like and whose style would go well with the design you have in mind. Instagram can be great for this. “If you want a lion or a dragon, look at artists that actually do those really well, and see that you really like what they do,” Zilber says. The next step is to meet your artist. Both Zilber and Santibañez say that it’s important that you like your tattooer—not just their work, but as a person. Santibañez advises, “Pay attention to their vibe. Are they happy to answer your questions? Are they open to your concerns, or are they acting like you’re rude because you want to know how it’s done and how artists work?”

While getting your tattoo, your artist should make you feel comfortable, as it can be a pretty intimate experience. “I try to make sure that I offer my clients privacy screens if they feel overexposed, vulnerable, or need to get undressed to get tattooed,” says Santibañez. “If I have to move someone’s clothing, I’ll tell them I’m going to do it or I’ll ask them to do it themselves.” It’s important to find an artist you’re comfortable around so that you feel good about communicating during the process.

3. It’s important that the shop is clean.

How a shop looks and feels to you will impact how comfortable you are with the experience. But what matters most is that it’s hygienic. “Look to see if the place is clean, and look at the tables you’d get tattooed on. A lot of tattooers are slobs, and they think it’s cool because they’re an artist, but it’s very important that the place where you tattoo all day, every day, will be very clean, because we still deal with blood,” says Zilber.

Tattoo parlors are regulated by state (not federal) government, which means laws, standards, and certification requirements vary depending on where you get your tattoo. In many states, tattoo parlors will need to apply for and receive a license from the health department to operate. To get this license, tattoo artists will often need to provide proof of completion of a variety of training courses, like those in bloodborne pathogens, tattoo infection control, first-aid, and adult CPR. You can always ask your artist or parlor for any of these licenses or documents.

“Any shop should be using single-use needles and medical-grade tubes,” Santibañez tells SELF. Needle reuse is dangerous, putting patients at risk of contracting hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and other blood-borne illnesses, according to Mayo Clinic. She recommends watching your artist unpackage their equipment in front of you to be sure that the tools are new and/or sterilized. Many states actually require that your artist unpackages their equipment in front of their customer.

4. Be aware that tattoos can be pretty expensive.

Tattoo costs vary depending on the size of the artwork and how intricate it is. Most shops will have a minimum price of around $50 to $80 for teeny tiny designs, but they’re more often hundreds (or thousands) of dollars. “What I always tell people is that if you don’t pay for your tattoo now, you’ll pay for it eventually,” Santibañez says. In other words, if you’re quoted a price that’s too high, and decide to settle for a cheaper artist or parlor, you may wind up paying the difference in other ways later—by having the tattoo removed or tattooed over by someone else, by being left with a design you don’t like, or with scarring or infection. “If you want a tattoo, and what you want costs $600, and you only wanted to spend $200, I wouldn’t get the tattoo. I would wait until I had $600,” says Zilber.

5. Yes, this is going to hurt.

Before starting, you’ll have a chance to review the sketch you and your artist came up with and make any tweaks or changes. They’ll make sure it’s well-sized for the area of your body where you’ll be getting it and will put the design on a piece of carbon or wax paper, which will then be used to transfer the sketch to your body. They’ll clean and shave the skin where the tattoo will go before making the transfer. Once the sketch has been transferred to your skin, you can get up, walk around, and look at it from a few different angles. Make sure you’re happy with the placement and size. If there’s anything you want changed, your artist will take the sketch off your skin, edit it, and do the transfer again. Make sure you do this until you’re sure you’re happy with the way it looks and feels.

When you get down to tattooing, the artist will get you in a comfortable position—which could involve lying down on a table (like you would at the doctor) or sitting upright in a chair depending on where your tattoo will be. Comfortable is something of a relative term—if you’re tattooing under your arm, say, you may have to sit or lie still with your arm up for minutes or even hours. And, oh yeah, it’s going to hurt. You’re getting repeatedly stabbed by a needle, after all. Some of the more sensitive places include the face, lower back, ankles, and feet. There’s also a chance you may bleed.

Generally, artists will tattoo the outline first, and then continue by filling in and adding detail. That also may mean starting with black ink and then moving on to colors or shading—and for large, intricate designs, it might require several sessions before the tattoo is 100 percent complete.

Be prepared: Once your artist is done, they’ll wash the area and let you have a look at it and it will almost certainly be more red and irritated-looking than the final product.

6. Sadly, you can’t make it hurt less.

“It’s gonna be painful,” says Robert Anolik, M.D., a board-certified celebrity dermatologist tells SELF. “You can take things like over-the-counter painkillers, but the sharp pain you have at the surface of the skin will still likely be felt during the procedure.” You can take acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Advil) can help with any soreness that occurs in the hours after you get your tattoo, but there’s little you can do to make the actual process more of a breeze. As for the myth that fatty areas of the body are less painful—not necessarily true.

7. Not everyone is the best candidate for a tattoo.

People with dermatologic conditions like psoriasis and vitiligo should consult their dermatologist before getting tattoos. There’s also a chance that getting a tattoo can trigger an underlying condition in someone who’s shown no symptoms before, according to Dr. Anolik. If you have a history of keloids—large, hard scars that grow around a wound—“the entire area that’s being tattooed could essentially turn into a massive scar,” says Dr. Anolik. Check your family history for all of these conditions, and be aware of any allergies that may come up as well, says Susan Bard, M.D., a board certified dermatologist and a fellow of the American College of Mohs Surgery. “Dyes can be very allergenic—they’re one of the most common allergens that people encounter. Something I encourage people to have a little test spot of the different pigments to make sure they’re not going to have an allergic reaction,” she says. Sherrif F. Ibrahim, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Rochester, says he sees this happen to patients relatively often. “Because different chemicals give the dyes their color properties, you can develop an allergy to just the red, for example. So I see patients who have multiple color tattoos, and all of the red sections are raised, itchy, and scarred over. Sometimes we end up cutting the whole tattoo out surgically.”

8. Aftercare is key.

Getting a tattoo is an “invasive procedure,” says Dr. Bard. “There’s multiple stab wounds to the skin, there’s multiple trauma. The skin is open. So I like to treat it the way I would an incision, or any kind of trauma to the skin.” There are two main things to keep in mind, she says: keep it clean, and keep it moist. Dr. Bard recommends using Vasoline on the wound. Zilber agrees: “Put on a very thin coat of ointment. The first couple days are the most important. If you keep it clean, it will heal great for the rest of the two weeks it’s supposed to.”

Your artist should wrap the tattoo in something protective before you leave the shop—like plastic wrap—and may suggest keeping your tattoo covered in plastic for the first several days. You can put the plastic wrap over the Vasoline. Dr. Bard warns against using over-the-counter antibiotic ointment, which can be highly allergenic.

“Don’t wear tight clothes over it, and maybe avoid the gym for the first day or two,” Zilber adds. “The sweat is fine, but if you lay on a bench with dirty bacteria on it, it can get infected.”

6 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Laser Tattoo Removal

Rethinking that ink? If you’re not as in love with your tattoo as you once were, laser tattoo removal is a generally safe (albeit expensive) way to get the job done.

Between our increased access to laser removal and the candidness with which celebrities showcase their use of it on social media (Khloé Kardashian, I’m talking to you), a permanent tattoo feels like less of a commitment. But “they’re not like magic erasers,” as dermatologist Amy Wechsler, M.D., previously told SELF—there’s more to it than you may think.

Though lasers are helpful, efficient, and effective when it comes to tattoo removal, there are a bunch of misconceptions about what they can (and can’t) do. Before you willingly get that questionable song lyric etched into your forearm—or take the plunge to have something old removed—here’s what you should know about the laser process first.

Myth #1: It’s safe to get laser removal done anywhere it’s offered.

Though laser centers and spas are popping up everywhere, it’s important to make sure laser removal is done by a dermatologist. “[Dermatologists] know what to recognize, how to look for a complication, and who not to treat,” Robert Anolik, M.D., a board-certified celebrity dermatologist, tells SELF. With laser tattoo removal, there’s a risk of bleeding, infection, and scarring, all of which can be successfully treated, but only under the proper care of a dermatologist. It’s up to you to check the qualifications of your practitioner. New Jersey is the only state that requires licensed physicians to operate a laser, meaning that in most places, the path to offering laser removal has fewer roadblocks than it should.

Myth #2: Laser removal is a simple, quick, reliable, and easy solution to a bad tattoo.

“The big misconception with tattoo removal is that it’s an eraser,” Sherrif F. Ibrahim, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Rochester, tells SELF. But it’s not that simple. “It’s a process,” he says. Sometimes, complete removal of a tattoo can take one or two years, with treatments occurring every six, eight, or 12 weeks. Plus, it’s not like getting your eyebrows waxed—it’s an invasive procedure that costs hundreds of dollars a session. Lasers remove tattoos by blowing up pigment molecules into tiny pieces, which are then cleared away by an immune system response. Healing from laser treatment isn’t always a walk in the park, either. “The laser breaks the skin’s surface, so you have bleeding, you have swelling, and you have pain after the treatment,” says Dr. Ibrahim.

Myth #3: It isn’t painful to have a tattoo removed.

Laser tattoo removal can be painless, but that’s usually because practitioners can give you a numbing agent first. For larger tattoos where the removal process takes longer, a doctor can give you a lidocaine injection to numb the area, whereas a non-medical professional might not. Smaller tattoos are technically just as painful to remove, as the laser settings reflect the color of the tattoo rather than its size. However, the pain you’d endure removing a small tattoo is less ongoing than that which you’d feel while removing a large tattoo, making it more bearable for some.

Myth #4: Laser removal is safe for everyone.

Not everyone is an ideal candidate for laser removal. “Removal is always going to be more difficult in patients who have a darker skin tone based on laser physics and the way the laser works,” says Susan Bard, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and a fellow of the American College of Mohs Surgery. “The laser targets pigment that’s in the dye, but at the same time, it can also target melanin in your skin. So, the darker your skin, the more complicated it will be to utilize a laser to remove the tattoo.” Laser removal can cause burns and hyperpigmentation in darker skin tones.

Myth #5: All tattoos are equally easy to remove.

Not all tattoos are created equal. “Black tattoos are easier to remove than brightly colored tattoos. Green and blue tend to be a little more challenging, and things like yellow, white, and purple are almost impossible to remove completely,” says Dr. Ibrahim. “Different wavelengths of laser target different colors in the skin,” says Dr. Bard. This is why multiple lasers are required for the successful removal of a multicolor tattoo—another reason to see a well-versed doctor for treatment. If you have laser removal done properly, you should see about 90 percent clearance on a tattoo, says Dr. Anolik. “You can’t be sure that you’re going to get 100 percent clearance on a tattoo, and that’s for a variety of reasons, including the type of ink and if [the tattoo] was done by a professional tattoo parlor,” he says. “Professional tattoos tend to incorporate more colors and deposit more deeply into the dermis, making them more challenging.” Amateur tattoos tend to be easier to remove, as they are often carbon-based, single-color, and placed more superficially. Dr. Ibrahim says the same goes for older tattoos, where the ink diffuses upward over time, making it easier to break up with a laser.

Myth #6: If you had no reaction to getting a tattoo, you’ll have no reaction to getting it removed.

It’s possible to have a smooth healing process after getting your tattoo, but still a poor reaction to laser removal. For one, lasers can cause scarring and permanent skin discoloration that tattoos might not (aside from doing so in the obvious ways, of course).

Alternatively, you may have had a bad reaction to the tattoo and want it taken off. In this case, says Dr. Bard, “the worst thing you can do is laser tattoo removal. [Laser removal will] to break up the pigment and bring it into the lymph nodes, which will cause a systemic reaction everywhere.” A systemic reaction puts a patient at risk for anaphylaxis, which is life threatening. Alternative removal methods for people with allergies include surgically cutting the tattoo out or removing it with an abrasive laser, which removes the top layer of skin.

19 People Share the Powerful Stories Behind Their Tattoos

I don’t have a tattoo, but I’ve always been curious about getting one. I’ve gone through phases where I use a Sharpie to draw a shape that feels meaningful to me at any given time—an infinity symbol, a safety pin, the letter of someone’s first name—on the inside of my index finger or below the edge of my palm. Is this what it would feel like? I stare down at my hands habitually and ask myself. Is this where it should go? Is this what it should be?

Whenever I see someone’s tattoo—whether it be big or small, and whether or not I know that person—I wonder why they got it. To put something on your body permanently, enduring what I imagine must be quite a bit of pain, and often paying a lot of money, takes a level of passion and dedication that I find fascinating. I always want to ask, What motivated you?

So, I asked.

Here, 19 SELF readers (of over 200 submissions) share photos of their tattoos and the stories behind them. The stories—like the tattoos themselves—are all different and beautiful.

Widely used mosquito repellent proves lethal to larval salamanders

Insect repellents containing picaridin can be lethal to salamanders. So reports a new study published today in Biology Letters that investigated how exposure to two common insect repellents influenced the survival of aquatic salamander and mosquito larvae.

Insect repellents are a defense against mosquito bites and mosquito-borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya, Zika, and West Nile virus. Salamanders provide natural mosquito control. During their aquatic juvenile phase, they forage on mosquito larvae, keeping populations of these nuisance insects in check.

Emma Rosi, a freshwater ecologist at Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a co-author on the paper explains, “Use of insect repellents is on the rise globally. Chemicals in repellents enter aquatic ecosystems through sewage effluent and are now common in surface waters. We set out to understand the impact of repellent pollution on both larval mosquitoes and the larval salamanders that prey on them.”

The paper is the first to suggest that environmentally realistic concentrations of picaridin-containing repellents in surface waters may increase the abundance of adult mosquitoes due to a decrease in predation pressure on mosquitoes at the larval stages.

Testing the two most popular repellents

The research team tested the effects of two of the most widely used insect repellents — DEET (Repel 100 Insect Repellent) and picaridin (Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent) — on larval salamanders and mosquitoes. In a lab, they exposed mosquito larvae and just-hatched spotted salamander larvae to three environmentally relevant concentrations of these chemicals, as well as a control treatment.

Rosi notes, “The concentrations in our experiments are conservative; we prepared them based on unadulterated commercial formulations, not concentrations of pure active compounds.”

Mosquito larvae were not impacted by any of the treatments and matured unhindered. After four days of exposure to repellent with picaridin, salamanders in all of the treatment groups began to display signs of impaired development such as tail deformities. By day 25, 45-65% of picaridin-exposed salamander larvae died.

Co-author Barbara Han, a disease ecologist at Cary Institute explains, “Our findings demonstrate that larval salamanders suffer severe mortality and developmental deformities when exposed to environmentally relevant concentrations of commercially available repellent containing the active ingredient picaridin.”

Adding, “The expediency of salamander mortality was disconcerting. When studying the effects of a chemical on an amphibian, we usually look for a suite of abnormalities. We couldn’t collect these data because the salamanders died so quickly.”

How toxic is toxic?

LC50 tests are used to define a chemical’s environmental toxicity. These standard tests, based on one life stage of a single species, measure how long it takes for 50% of a test population to die with increasing exposure to a chemical in a lab over a four-day period.

Co-author Alexander Reisinger, an Assistant Professor at University of Florida, Gainesville says, “We observed heavy salamander mortality with picaridin, but not until after the fourth day of exposure. By the LC50 measure, picaridin would be deemed ‘safe’, but clearly, this is not the case. If a substance doesn’t kill organisms within the first few days of exposure, it can still be toxic and have ecological impacts.”

Results may underestimate the problem

Lethal in a controlled setting, picaridin may cause greater mortality in a natural context, where organisms are exposed to numerous stressors. Rosi notes, “Animals don’t exist in isolation. In nature, competition, predation, resource limitation, and social interactions make it difficult for an organism to tolerate the added stress of exposure to a harmful substance, even in small amounts.”

Timing — of both repellent use and amphibian reproduction — is also key. Many amphibians breed in a single seasonal pulse, putting all their eggs in one basket, so to speak. Mosquitoes have an extended breeding season, and reproduce multiple times.

Lead author Rafael Almeida, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, conducted the research as a visiting PhD student at the Cary Institute. He explains, “The amount of repellents entering waterways peaks seasonally. If amphibians are exposed during a sensitive life stage, entire cohorts could perish. The population would not have a chance to recover until the following year. Meanwhile, mosquitoes would continue to reproduce. It suggests a negative feedback loop.”

Additional study

Future work is needed to explore the relationship among mosquito repellents, amphibians, and other ecological factors, and to better assess the severity of repellents’ impact in the wild.

Almeida concludes, “The effects of repellents containing DEET and picaridin need to be studied further to determine the extent to which these chemicals disrupt aquatic ecosystems and potentially increase mosquito-borne disease risk worldwide.”

Three percent of children hit daily activity target

Only one in 30 children does the recommended amount of daily physical activity, new research suggests.

Guidelines from the Chief Medical Officer say people aged five to 18 should do at least 60 minutes of “moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity,” every day.

Previous research has often used less than seven days of data on children’s activity and created an average based on that.

But a study by the universities of Exeter and Plymouth of Year Five children (aged nine or ten) found that although almost a third (30.6%) achieved an average of 60 minutes per day, just 3.2% did so every day.

Activity levels among girls were even lower, with just 1.2% hitting the 60-minute daily target — compared to 5.5% of boys.

“Previous studies based on average activity are likely to have overestimated the percentage of children meeting the recommendations,” said Dr Lisa Price, of the University of Exeter.

“Our findings suggest that just under a third of children are achieving an average of 60 minutes per day, but only 3.2% meet the 60-minute target every day.

“We were surprised to find such a big difference.

“We don’t know whether averaging 60 minutes a day will be different in terms of health outcomes compared to 60 minutes daily — more research is needed to look into this.

“We do know that most children aren’t doing enough physical activity, and that this has consequences not just in childhood but in adulthood too.”

The data was gathered from 807 Year Five children from 32 schools in Devon, with a full seven days of data gathered on each child using an activity tracker watch.

Previous studies collecting activity data have been limited by the ability to obtain a full seven days of data, so this study has some of the most robust data on nine and ten year olds’ activity.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Exeter. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Babies born at home have more diverse, beneficial bacteria, study finds

Infants born at home have more diverse bacteria in their guts and feces, which may affect their developing immunity and metabolism, according to a study in Scientific Reports.

Understanding why babies born at home have more diverse microbiota for at least a month after birth, compared with those born in a hospital, could help prevent disease later in life. The human microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live on and in our bodies, many of which benefit our health and prevent chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma and gut inflammatory disorders. Microbes transmitted from mother to baby help prevent chronic disease.

“The reasons for the differences between infants born at home versus in hospitals are not known, but we speculate that common hospital interventions like early infant bathing and antibiotic eye prophylaxis or environmental factors — like the aseptic environment of the hospital — may be involved,” said senior author Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a professor in Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Department of Anthropology.

In the study, researchers followed 35 infants and their mothers for a month after birth. Fourteen infants were born at home (four of them in water) and 21 in the hospital. All 35 infants were delivered vaginally without interventions (including no maternal antibiotic treatment) and were exclusively breastfed. All infants were delivered by midwives who supported mothers, and they all had skin-to-skin contact with their babies, and began breastfeeding shortly after birth.

In a related analysis, fecal samples of month-old infants born in a hospital showed greater inflammatory gene expression in a human epithelial cell model, compared with infants born at home. Epithelial cells cover organ linings, skin and mouths.

While more research is needed, the study suggests that revamping the hospital environment for non-high risk births, so it more closely approximates home conditions, may be beneficial.

The study included researchers from Rutgers, New York University, Sejong University in Seoul, South Korea, and the University of California San Francisco.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Rutgers University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Benefits of Being Bilingual: Delay Alzheimer’s?

I’ve heard that learning a second language can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Is this true?

Answer From Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

Possibly. Studies on the connection between bilingualism and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease have had conflicting results.

Some studies have shown that if you know two or more languages—and you have risk factors for Alzheimer’s—you may experience a delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. Some researchers believe being bilingual or multilingual helps develop your brain’s cognitive reserve in the same way that engaging in other mentally and socially stimulating activities does.

However, other studies have not found a clear connection between being bilingual and having a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed before it’s completely understood how cognitive reserve works to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

It’s thought that activities that develop cognitive reserve work because they increase the robustness of your brain’s architecture—enriching blood flow, enhancing the activity of neurons, and putting more of your brain to use. This may make up for the loss of diseased parts of the brain.

Engaging in a variety of activities, especially those promoting mental and social stimulation, may help people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia slow or delay its onset.

And if you’re interested in learning another language, go for it. However, more research is needed before it’s known whether learning a second language later in life has the same protective effect as might a lifetime of speaking a second language.

Updated: 2017-11-03

Publication Date: 2017-11-03

Childhood antibiotics and antacids may be linked to heightened obesity risk

Young children prescribed antibiotics and, to a lesser extent, drugs to curb excess stomach acid, may be at heightened risk of obesity, suggests research published online in the journal Gut.

These drugs, particularly if taken for lengthy periods, may alter gut microbes that have been associated with weight gain, explain the researchers.

The composition of gut bacteria (the microbiome) has been linked to various aspects of human health, including obesity. And certain drugs, such as antibiotics and acid suppressants-histamine 2 receptor antagonists (H2RA) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)-can alter the type and volume of bacteria in the gut.

To try and find out if exposure to these drugs in early childhood might increase the risk of obesity, the researchers looked at the medicines prescribed to 333,353 infants, whose medical records had been input into the US Military Health System database between 2006 and 2013, in the first two years of their lives.

In all, 241, 502 (72.5%) had been prescribed an antibiotic; 39,488 (just under 12%) an H2RA; and 11,089 (just over 3%) a PPI during this period. Some 5868 children were prescribed all three types of drug.

Some 46,993 (just over 14%) children became obese, of whom 9628 (11%) had not been prescribed any antibiotics or acid suppressants.

Boys, those born after a caesarean section, and those whose parents were below officer rank were more likely to become obese.

But after taking account of potentially influential factors, a prescription for antibiotics or acid suppressants was associated with a heightened risk of obesity by the age of 3 — the average age at which obesity was first identified in these children.

A prescription for antibiotics was associated with a 26 per cent heightened risk of obesity. This association persisted, irrespective of antibiotic type, and strengthened with each additional class of antibiotic prescribed.

Acid suppressants were also associated with a heightened obesity risk, although to a lesser extent, and this association strengthened for each 30-day supply prescribed.

Although the largest study of its kind, it is nevertheless observational, and as such, can’t establish cause. And potentially influential information on how much the children’s mothers weighed, and whether they smoked or had other underlying conditions wasn’t available.

And the researchers emphasise that the links between the individual, the environment, and obesity are complex, highlighting the “current difficulty of drawing clear conclusions about the interplay between exposure history, gut microbiota and propensity to develop obesity.”

They add: “There is an important therapeutic role for microbiota-altering medications. The long term risks to health must be weighed against the short-term benefits.”

But they also point out that over prescription of both antibiotics and acid suppressants, including in young children, is “a significant problem.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by BMJ. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.