I walked in to get my first tattoo with five of my best friends, a grainy photo of an infinity sign from Pinterest, and zero idea what I was in for. Spoiler alert: That wasn’t the right way to play it. Knowing what to do before getting a tattoo is as important as knowing what to do after you get one. After all, you want to make sure that you won’t wind up with permanent body art that you’re going to regret five years (or five minutes!) after the ink has dried.
While the Internet is chock full of knowledge about what to do before getting a tattoo, it can admittedly be hard to wade through all of that intel. To make things easier, we went straight to the pros, and asked celebrity tattoo artist Winter Stone (who’s responsible for inking some of your favorite celebs, like Mandy Moore and Lady Gaga) as well as tattoo removal specialist and owner of The Finery, Carmen Brodie, to share the inside scoop. Read on for what they wish every client knew before going in to get inked.
Think it through
While it might be tempting to get, “I HATE JASON” tattooed on your arm immediately after a breakup or “RIP, Spot” on your leg after your dog dies, Brodie urges you not to do it. Instead, she suggests giving yourself some time between any major life event and getting ink to commemorate it. “You want to make sure you’re in a good space mentally,” she says. “If there’s a lot of change, either good or bad, wait it out. You to make the decision when you’re stable and happy.” For example, she’s seen a lot of people regret getting the date of a loved one’s death tattooed on themselves, because instead of being a commemoration of life, it turns into a constant reminder of a tragic day. “Wait it out,” she says.
Do your research
Walking into a random shop off of the street and trusting a complete stranger with something that’s going to be on your body for life probably isn’t the best idea, so it’s important to come armed with information. “You have to do your research and understand what you want and how to get it,” says Brodie. She suggests starting the process by looking through Instagram and figuring out what specific designs and styles you really love. From there, you can choose an artist whose work best fits with what you’re looking for. In other words, maybe don’t get someone who specializes in minimalistic line art to do a photo-realist tattoo.
Peep the pain chart
It’s not exactly a secret that getting your skin injected with ink by way of a teeny, tiny needle is a painful endeavor. How painful exactly, though, depends on what part of your body you’re getting tattooed on. This diagram lays out the most-to-least ouch-inducing spots, using a scale of “zero to pass out,” and may be worth checking out so you know what you’re in for. The least offensive locations? Your upper arms, forearms, calves, thighs, and the back of your neck.
Once you’ve determined exactly what you want and who you want to get it from, patience is a virtue. But, says Brodie, the wait will be worth it. “You may have to travel to get to the artist, there may be a wait list, but just walking into a shop and sitting with the first guy that’s up on a rotation, [usually isn’t the best idea],” she says. When people aren’t willing to wait, she adds, they often wind up with tattoos they’re not happy with. So do your research, find the proper tattoo artist, and then book an appointment (whenever that happens to be).
Check out the shop
While there is a lot of regulation surrounding tattoo shops, you’ll still want to be sure that the one you’re going to is, in fact, legit. “Research the shop that the artist is working at ahead of time. Is it well known? How many awards do they have? Are they an Ink Master? Are they somebody who’s recognized? That’s the way that you vet them,” says Brodie. When you make it to the shop in person, you’ll want to peek around for tell-tale signs that will let you know it’s clean, which you should be able to get a sense of pretty quickly.
Be aware of aftercare
Once you’ve gotten a tattoo, it’s time to let it heal. “The recovery process also varies from artist to artist, and of course the style of the tattoo that the person is having done,” says Stone. “My healing process is fairly simple: two days with a clear wrap to protect the skin from the air and it drying out.” After that, he suggests slathering on a moisturizing balm twice a day for a week.
Understand that removal is possible… but it isn’t easy
These days, thanks to advances in tattoo removal technology, it’s easier than ever to have that regrettable butterfly erased from your lower back. But, it’s worth knowing, “easier” still doesn’t mean easy. “The removal process doesn’t happen overnight. Generally, to have something all the way removed will take about a year,” says Brodie. The laser tech used to erase regrettable tats, she explains, works by hitting the particles of ink and breaking them down until they’re small enough for your body to attack and carry away. Treatments are spaced out over the course of six to eight weeks, and it can take between eight and ten treatments for a design to be totally removed. While tattoo removing laser technology has gotten a whole lot better over the years and can now be used on any skin tone, it tends to take longer to treat darker skin tones because there’s a higher risk of discoloration, so technicians are more cautious with the level settings of the laser.
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