Many people saw the COVID-19 lockdown as an opportunity to take up new hobbies. For some it was bread-making or crocheting, and for others, like me, it was getting tattoos: seven of them over the course of one year, to be exact, bringing my current total to ten. With more tattoos in the works, I guess I’m an expert of sorts on the process of getting tattoos and what one should know if they’re thinking about getting them, so let me answer some of the most common questions people have when deciding to get a tattoo:
- What is the process like?
The first step is to do some research into artists you like. Everybody has their own unique style. Some lean more toward a traditional style, while others have a more modern approach. Some specialize in colors and details, whereas another might mainly focus on minimalist line work. If you already have a specific design in mind, take those things into consideration when deciding on an artist. Alternatively, you might like an artist’s original artwork and decide that it’s the tattoo for you! The best places to browse a tattoo artist’s work is their Instagram, their tattoo shop’s website, or via a link to their artist portfolio. I found my regular artist, Mina, through a hometown friend’s TikTok during the pandemic. You can find Mina on Instagram at minamoon.tattoo or on her website.
Once you’ve decided on an artist, the next step is to schedule a consultation with them. This doesn’t necessarily take place the same day as the actual tattoo appointment, but it’s important to talk with your artist at some length before allowing them to tattoo you, especially if it’s your first time. The consultation can be great; it’ll help you build a trustworthy relationship and ensure you are both on the same page as far as what you want design-wise. Your artist might also have you fill out paperwork at the consultation (if not before your tattoo appointment) as well as make you place a potential deposit to secure your time slot. You must remember to have your photo ID, your primary care physician’s name and number (if you have one), and money. You should also know of any allergies you may have (especially to latex or adhesives). Depending on the artist, they may charge you by the hour and/or by the amount of materials used—another reason why a consultation is so important. This way you’ll know what exactly you’re paying for.
The day of your appointment, remember to eat! Depending on the size and complexity of your design, you should be prepared to sit or lay down for hours at a time, so make sure your phone is fully charged. Your artist is going to print out the design stencil on special paper and position it precisely on your body before getting the ink out. It’s also important to make sure your artist is using NEW, UNOPENED, STERILE needles on you. Don’t be afraid to ask to take breaks if you need to! Also, please be sure to follow any and all aftercare instructions they give you to a T in the weeks following your appointment, otherwise you could risk getting an infection and ruining the design you paid for!
Getting a tattoo is an exciting experience, and the aftermath is so worth it that expected nerves are nothing to be ashamed of!
- How do you decide on what to get?
This is actually a tough question to answer because my morals may be different than your morals. My parents always told me that if I ever got a tattoo I should make sure it was something meaningful to me (aka, don’t get a random boy’s name tattooed on you), but honestly it’s 2022, and if you just want a little jellyfish because he’s a cute guy and you want to have a jellyfish on you for the hell of it, why not? Who’s to stop you and tell you otherwise? As long as it’s not something offensive to somebody or promoting hate, you do you and you get that jellyfish tattoo!
As I’ve gotten older, I obviously have more say in what I put on my body than my parents do, but I’ve still tried to stick to their instructions. Most of my tattoos are either of cartoons I’ve grown up with that mean a lot to me or matching friendship tattoos with some of my closest friends. In the nearby future, I hope to get some Disney Parks inspired tattoos in commemoration of my place of employment. If you want some inspiration for your next tattoo, you can see pictures of mine if you scroll down my Instagram page or click my highlight entitled “Tattoos.” What I struggle with deciding on is the location of where to PUT these tattoos without making myself look “asymmetrical,” which is where collaborating and consulting with your artist comes in handy!
- Does it hurt?
This is the question we “inked-folks” get the most! The answer really depends on a number of factors including your own personal pain tolerance and the “handedness” of your artist, i.e. if they’re light-handed or more heavy-handed. The best way I’ve heard the pain described is that it feels like a paperclip scratching your skin if you had a sunburn. Not so much “ouch” pain, but more annoying and irritating than anything, on top of the annoying noise the tattoo gun makes.
Location also plays a role in the painfulness of your tattoo; super bony areas (such as the wrist or sternum) or areas with thinner skin (like the inner arm) tend to be more painful than areas with more meat and muscle (like the bicep or calf). Some people also report that different colors produce different sensations on the skin as well!
Another factor that contributes to tattoo pain include design patterns. For example, Mina likes to add speckled, glitter patterns to her tattoos to make them stand out, and to do that, instead of treating me like a human coloring book, she basically has to poke, prod and stab me to get that effect. Not fun.
- Help! What do i do if I’m having an allergic reaction?
Stay calm! If you have any unnatural redness or itching around the tattoo site, immediately remove the bandages in the shower at first sight. I’m no medical professional by any means, but if it feels wrong, something probably is wrong. Follow any manual aftercare instructions and use any healing creams/gels given to you by your tattoo artist. If it becomes really bad and poses a health risk, be sure to contact your primary care physician or call 911 before it gets worse.
- What are your tattoo appointment must-haves?
I highly recommend stopping at a drugstore or convenience store and picking up two items: Bactine and Aquaphor!
Bactine (<$10 at Walmart and CVS Pharmacy) is a liquid spray that numbs the area in and around open wounds, such as a tattoo. Your tattoo artist should have something like this, in the form of either a spray or a cream. There’s a lot of unnecessary stigma in the tattoo community around using numbing cream, but to that I say: what do you have to prove and to whom? What a tattoo appointment shouldn’t be is hours of you making yourself suffer through intolerable pain for the sake or art and pleasure. If you need something to get yourself through it (believe me, I’ve gotten certain tattoos— sometimes multiple in the same session— where I’ve needed a little help to get my mind off of it) there’s nothing wrong with that!
Aquaphor ($5-$20, depending on size) is typically found in or around the baby aisle. It’s an ointment that will be very helpful in the aftercare process. I tend to sometimes get allergic reactions to the Dynarex bandages put over my tattoos, especially on my arms— plus the coagulated blood that congeals underneath after a few days is a different kind of disgusting —so once you decide to take those bandages off, you have to manually wash and take care of your new ink for the rest of the healing process, which could take weeks. Fair warning: the skin over your tattoo will be itchy and peel like a reptile’s, so its good that in my experience Aquaphor has eased that itch and preserved my tattoos’ colors better than just using plain soap and water would.
With those two items in the bag and a bangin’ music playlist to jam to, you’ll be ready to go get a tattoo!
Always remember to be safe and smart when deciding to have something permanently inked onto your body. Know that it’s true when they say that getting one tattoo is a gateway drug of sorts to getting more and more!