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Tattoos are a fun, beautiful and creative way to express yourself and are a great way to have some dope artwork that you will carry on you for the rest of your life. However, many people are intimidated by the idea that their first tattoo will be unbearably painful or uncomfortable. As someone with quite a few tattoos (on my ribs, hips and thigh) here’s how I prep before each session so it goes smoothly.

Listen to your artist

When in doubt, ask the person who will be tattooing you! Many appointments will have a consultation either through email or in person so that the artist can get an idea of the design that you want. Most of the time your artist will tell you any prep work that they need you to do like exfoliating or shaving the area where your tattoo will be the night before you come in. However, this isn’t always universal and can vary depending on who you’re getting tattooed by! I’ve been asked to exfoliate and moisturize the night before but not the morning of by some artists, and other artists haven’t needed me to do anything extra at all!

Eat a Meal Before

I mean an entire meal too, not just a protein bar. Eating before your appointment will keep you comfortable and greatly decreases your chances of passing out. My go-to pre-tattoo meal is two hot dogs from Sheetz, some water and a Milky Way Midnight bar. I’ll also bring a bag of candy like skittles or sour straws with me just in case I feel the need to munch on something during a session.

Hydrate

Drinking water is super important before getting a tattoo. It goes hand in hand with eating a full meal.

No Alcohol or Blood-thinning medications

Unless you’re on prescribed blood thinners, steer clear of any pain medications that are known to thin your blood. Also, I try not to drink alcohol for 24 hours before my appointment. This helps to keep the excess bleeding down. If you’re worried about pain management, talk to your artist about what they recommend you take before hand! Some will offer topical ointments and others will have additional guidance.

Speak Up!

Before being tattooed, the artist will show you their design and place a stencil on you. If you don’t like something about the design they’ve drawn up, say that! You’ll have this piece of art on your body for the rest of your life and you deserve to love everything about it. The same thing goes for the placement of the tattoo. Your artist can always print multiple stencils, so if something doesn’t look lined up right, or you want to try a different part of your body, just ask! Maybe once you see the stencil on you love the placement and design, but you want it to be a different size. That’s okay, too!

PLacement and pain

Here’s the thing — we all experience pain differently. No one can tell you what part of your body is going to hurt the most. I had an extremely easy time with my ribs and sternum tattoos, but I know a lot of people who think I’m crazy for saying that those were my easiest tattoos to sit through. That’s why talking to your artist about what they recommend for pain management is important. They can clue you in about how to make your tattoo hurt the least.

Tip your artist!

Just like any person that provides you a service, you should leave a respectable tip. I usually give between 20 and 30 percent gratuity for tattoos (my tattoo artist is also a close friend, so sometimes I’ll leave even more than that). Not tipping or tipping a low amount isn’t cool, especially because the materials that artists must own in order to tattoo you aren’t cheap, and there is a lot of necessary waste that goes into tattooing. You can’t reuse needles or ink from customer to customer, and sometimes multiple needles are used on one client. Plus, there’s usually left over ink in the little ink caps, which means after you’re done it all gets thrown out. Tattoo guns are also not cheap. The cost of materials doesn’t even take into consideration other business expenses or the labor of creating the artwork. The point is: LEAVE A TIP.

After Care

Just like pre-appointment prep, this is going to vary artist to artist. So ask yours what they recommend! Taking care of your new tattoo is important so it not only heals nicely and stays looking fresh for as long as possible, but also to keep you safe and free from infection. A tattoo is, after all, an open wound. Your artist may put a clear adhesive bandage over your tattoo called a saniderm, tape some plastic wrap to you or use a large, opaque bandage. For the latter two, you’ll usually need to keep those on for at least an hour after your session is over; the saniderm bandage can stay on for several days, though! Your artist will clue you in on what needs to be done. After whatever type of bandage you get comes off, your artist will also tell you some additional steps to follow. I usually apply vitamin E oil to my tattoos a few times a day to keep them moisturized. Some artists recommend a light dollop of Aquaphor or a little bit of unscented moisturizer a couple times a day for a few weeks after you’ve been tattooed.

Be ready for your tattoo to be itchy and dry for a few days during the first two weeks of healing. It is so incredibly tempting to peel away at the dry skin, but don’t do that. Instead, treat the area with whatever type of moisturizer you were told to use.

Even once your tattoos are completely healed up and ready to go, it’s good practice to liberally apply (and reapply) sunscreen to them if you’ll be spending time in the sun with them uncovered. You should be using sunscreen anyways for your overall skin health, but now you have an even better excuse to use it! Using sunscreen will prevent excess fading and keep your tattoos looking fresher for longer.

Touch ups

After some time, you may notice that your tattoo isn’t as dark or vibrant as it was when you first got it done. That is completely normal and is supposed to happen! You don’t need to run back to your artist to go over every line again just because of this. However, if you noticed that during heeling patches of color fell out completely or that maybe a spot needs brightening up, do contact your artist so you can get a touch up! My sternum tattoo took three sessions to complete, two of which were just to get the yellow pigment packed into my skin. Colorful tattoos can be especially needy when it comes to touch ups, and which colors sit the best in your skin can vary due to your natural undertones.

I hope this short guide helps you feel a little bit more confident and excited for your tattoo!

I'm a mechanical engineering major with a passion for sustainability and green energy. In my free time I love to skateboard, drink coffee, and listen to music.