Tattoos have become mainstream. You see parents carrying babies with full tattoo sleeves. There are willowy girls with a badass neck tattoos. But regardless of how acceptable tattoos have become, they are still permanent. After all, who can afford the thousands of dollars to have them lasered off only to end up with a gnarly discolored butterfly-shaped piece of flesh?
If you want to ensure you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery and show what you think with some ink, here are some things to think about when you’re ready to go under the needle. Whether it’s planning, artist selection or aftercare, we’ve got you covered.
1. Location Location Location
People think prepping for a tattoo is just deciding the design. The real key is to pick the part of your body. Think about your wardrobe … forever. Will it be visible outside of clothes and at formal events? Are you OK with that? Think of wear and tear. Will it be on a part of your body that will stretch? Everyone’s weight fluctuates, so you don’t want to get a spot that may stretch or sag due to weight gain/loss. Check out the skin and see how it moves. Certain spots on your body may stretch and could distort your new tat. Fading can also be an issue on parts of your body like your hands and feet or areas that get a lot of sun.
2. Use Flash Cards Not Flash Sheets
Flash sheets are those pre-drawn designs that cover the walls of tattoo parlors. Think to yourself: “Do I really want to have the same tattoo as some random drunk person who walked in there at 2 a.m.?” Or worse, some teenager with a boundary-less mom? A tattoo should be meaningful and unique. After all, you are a dynamic individual, so why shouldn’t your body art match? Flash sheets are great if the tattoo parlor is having a promotion and you want to get something simple, but your first tattoo should not be something stupid or simple or you may always regret it.
3. An Ounce of Pretension is Worth a Pound of Manure
Do you speak Aramaic? If so, please retranslate the Bible and skip the tattoo. Realize that whatever you get tattooed will be a story you have to explain to anyone who sees it. If you get a tattoo in a language you don’t speak or a super-obscure band logo, you will inevitably have to talk about it ad nauseam for the rest of your life.
4. Vet Your Artist
You should obviously screen the person who is about to indelibly mark up your body. Sure, you want to make sure you have the same artistic sensibility, but you should also see work they’ve done on actual skin. They can still be a good artist even if they can’t tattoo for shit. A professional will usually insist on a consultation, oftentimes with a deposit. This is so that you can come to an agreement on the design. You can also skip this step if you have the design all set to go and just need them to trace it on you. Either way, make sure you mesh in personality and sentiment. You don’t want your tattoo to forever remind you of some douche you were forced to spend four hours with. Personality counts. After all, no matter how great they looked, you wouldn’t buy one of Hitler’s watercolors, right?
5. Protection from Infection
Make sure the place looks clean. Everything should be properly sterilized, and the general work area should look clean. If you wouldn’t want to eat off the table they’re using, would you want them exposed to your bloodstream? Make sure your artist avoids cross contamination and changes their gloves if they touch anything outside the sterilized area.
6. If You See Something, Say Something
This saying is not just for kids. If you have an issue with something the artist does, speak up. If you don’t like a stray line, have an issue with a drawing or, worse yet, if something hurts, don’t keep it quiet. Not only are you a paying customer, but this is forever, baby. Yes, many tattoo artists can be intimidating with their resting bitch face and face and neck tattoos that scream “I have nothing to lose,” but you are still the one in control.
7. Straight Edge Razor
Since you are about to bleed, it’s a good idea to stay sober. This means keep your body free from anything that could affect your mind, body or circulation. Avoid alcohol and caffeine because they can affect your blood flow. You shouldn’t take any painkillers because then you won’t know if your artist goes too deep. If an artist pushes too deep, it could cause the color to bleed or the area to scar. You want to make sure that you are sober of mind to focus on the process. Plus, it ultimately feels more cumbersome than painful and some people get off on the euphoria of the shock to your system.
8. You May Not Know …
There are certain things you may not know as a tattoo virgin. The colors red and yellow can sometimes affect certain people’s skin. Now this does depend on the brand of ink and the person’s biochemistry, but it is possible to have a weird reaction that could ruin your tattoo. Try getting a test dot of that color to see how you react. Tattoos also make it harder to detect skin cancer, so you will want to keep that in mind. Finally, some artists will not tattoo hands and feet. This is because many tattoo artists will offer free touch-ups, but since hands and feet areas fade, they will want to avoid over-committing themselves.
So you got your tattoo and you didn’t die! Congrats! When leaving the parlor, a good artist will wrap it for you. Different artists give different estimates for how long to keep it wrapped. You definitely want to keep it wrapped so that it will start healing, but you don’t want to keep that area covered too long or moisture will build up which can breed infection. A good idea is to keep it covered for a few hours, maybe even overnight, but uncover it first thing in the morning. To clean your new tattoo, you will want to use basic unscented soap. Dial antibacterial is a good one. Afterward, you’ll want to apply some sort of ointment either vitamin D, Aquaphor or a basic unscented lotion. Apply a thin layer just for moisture and general protection — don’t go nuts.
10. In Case of Infection
Now with any open wound, things can go wrong. For most, a tattoo just ends up like a sunburn. It will get a little scaly and flake off, revealing the tattoo underneath. For others, it can get inflamed or swell a bit. If that doesn’t go away after a day or two, go to your tattoo artist or doctor. Or you can spray it with some Bactine and see if it resolves itself within a couple of days. If the area stays red or inflamed, starts oozing or hurting or itching, you it could be infected. You will want to take care of that ASAP. Tattoos take about a week or two to heal superficially, but your body will still be recovering for about a month or so. It’s a good idea to take care of your immune system for the next few weeks as your body recovers.
Christian Cintron is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.