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Tattoo information
Tattoo information

I get asked pretty regularly about tattoos and there's some pretty sketchy advice that I've heard given. So here are some guidelines to help. Tat regret is never a pretty thing.

Do tattoos hurt?

Pain level chartThis varies a lot depending on the person, the location of the tattoo & the tattooer. Some people have a high pain threshold & getting inked doesn't bother them at all, no matter where they are tattooed. Some people find the pain excrutiating. In general, places where you have a lot of fat or muscle (thigh, arm) are less painful than over bones (top of foot, spine, collarbone). Also, linework often hurts less than shading/color because the needles used for shading/color are spread out more. Finally, some tattooers just have a great touch where it doesn't hurt much and some have apparently missed their calling as sadists.

Why are tattoos permanent even though skin regenerates?

A lot of people, including me, have wondered how the ink in tattoos stay even though the skin is constantly regenerating. Here's a short video explaining not just how tattoos stay in the skin, but why they fade. It fails to mention the blurring aspect of tattoo aging, but it's the same reason as the fading.

Where can I go to get tattooed?

There are SO many tattoo studios, but here are some things you should really look out for:

1. Make sure the studio/tattooer is licensed & is extremely clean. You should be able to see them open packages of brand new needles for each person & the ink should be put in small cups prior to any tattooing happening. The ink should NEVER be refilled from the larger container into the small cups after the cups have been used. New ink cups should be used. Checking with the Better Business Bureau is a good idea.

2. Look at tattoos done by an artist before choosing him/her. Tattooists have books filled with pictures of tattoos they've done. Different tattooers are better at different things, so make sure you choose well. For example, some people are better at portraits, some at letters, some at metals, some at landscapes, some at animals. NO artist is great at them all, no matter what they say. Here, for example, are some great and some awful portraits:

Good and bad tattoo portraits

3. It's a good idea to steer clear of any place that tattoos on people who are drunk. While it is sometimes actually easier to tattoo on people who are buzzed, putting a permanent mark on someone whose mental facilities are impared indicates a lack of integrity. The alcohol can also make the ink bleed out faster. And frankly, if someone can't deal with the pain, they probably shouldn't be getting a tattoo, anyway. The pain is a rite and part of the tattoo experience.

Some tattoo guidelines

I've found that people often want way too much stuff in their tattoo designs. While a tattoo looks great when it's first done, you need to remember that tattoos blur over time, as well as fade. A number of tattoos that I see on tv, tattoo design requests, and tattoos done in parlours look great now, but will just be an awful, dark mess in 30 years or more. Basically, any line tattooed will double in size over time. Just because a design can be drawn does NOT mean it will be a good tattoo. Artists who have not tattooed, tattooists who haven't done it for very long, or unscrupulous tattooists often don't really get that or choose to ignore it. This will vary quite a bit depending on where the tattoo is located, how well it's taken care of (amount of sun it gets, etc.), ink used, and your personal self. Some people flat out hold tattoos better than others, no matter how the tattoo is treated. The blurring is noticeable in text, especially. Here are some examples of tattoos at least 30 years old. They don't look terrible, but they all look different than they did when freshly tattooed.

Aged tattoo

I know that people love to get names of their loved ones on their bodies as a show of fidelity. There's a joke among tattooists that doing it is a jinx. When I used to tattoo on someone, I urged them to just get the names of children/parents/blood family instead of boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife. Of course, if someone still choose to do it, it's their body & their choice and you'd just do it anyway. It's just sad when people would come in needing a cover-up for a name.

Finally, and this is REALLY important: choose your tattooist wisely. (Yes, I know I've said this before, but it really REALLY bears repeating.) Tattooists are like any other artists, they have some things they do well and some they don't. For example, some are great at lettering or tribal, some are great at animals, some are great at portraits, etc. NO tattooist (or artist, for that matter) is great at everything. Any artist that says s/he is is either lying or such an egomaniac they can't see his/her own shortcomings. Great artists tend to cost a lot, too.

You get what you pay for
What about aftercare?

(You can download a copy of the aftercare by clicking here .) [MS Word document]

Things to do:
  1. About 2 - 4 hours after receiving your tattoo, remove the bandage and wipe off ointment and any liquid. If the bandage sticks to your skin, lightly use lukewarm water to remove it.
  2. Gently wash with mild (non-perfumed) soap and lukewarm water. Use just your fingers, not a washcloth or scrubby. You want to get all of the slime created by the body off (it's just plasma created by your immune system going to work). Not everybody produces the slime. Remember that it's an open wound, no matter how pretty it is, so be gentle. When you're done, it should feel not at all slick, just like normal skin.
  3. Pat tattoo dry. Use a good paper towel or washcloth. Don't use toilet paper or cheap paper towels or anything that will leave paper bits on your skin. Let airdry for about 10 minutes or until completely dry.
  4. After tattoo is dry, apply a thin layer of tattoo salve (preferably) (such as Ink Fixx, Tattoo Goo, Tatwax or Arctic Ocean) or no-fragrance, no-perfume, no-dye hypo-allergenic lotion (such a Lubriderm or Curel) at least three times a day to keep skin hydrated for at least thee to five days or until it starts to scab. DO NOT ALLOW TATTOO TO DRY OUT.
  5. Keep tattoo clean. Repeat steps 2-4 at least once a day for the first couple of weeks.
  6. If you've been using tattoo salve, after 5 days switch to one of the lotions mentioned.
  7. After the tattoo has scabbed, use of vitamin A & D lotion or one of the lotions mentioned above will help keep the skin hydrated.
  8. Reduce the intake of alcohol, drugs, caffeine & aspirin during the initial healing period.
  9. After the tattoo has completely healed, use sunblock while in the sun to preserve colours & prevent fading. The longer you wait to expose your tattoo to the sun, the longer it will look good.
Things NOT to do:
  1. Do not use aloe vera or Neosporin (or its generic alternative) — they heal the skin too quickly. Do not use baby oil or Vaseline until there is no longer an open wound — oil-based products clog the pores and lengthen the healing time as well as potentially collect bacteria. Do not use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol — they will fade the colour of the tattoo before it heals and may cause scar tissue.
  2. Do not over-saturate tattoo with too much salve.
  3. Avoid swimming, saunas, long baths, sweating a lot, and hot tubs for at least 3 weeks. If you don't, it can cause the ink to work its way out of the body.
  4. Also avoid contact sports & tanning salons.
  5. DON'T ITCH, SCRATCH OR PICK AT TATTOO SCABS. (Slap at itchy skin instead of scratching.)
  6. Don't wear tight clothing over tattoo until it heals. If clothing will unavoidably rub over tattoo, cover tattoo with a thin layer of gauze or band-aids, which will prevent scabs from being torn off while allowing air to get to the tattoo.
  7. Avoid skin-to-skin contact with people or pets until tattoo has healed.
** IF AT ANY TIME DURING THE HEALING PROCESS YOUR TATTOO BECOMES RED, PAINFUL, SWOLLEN OR BEGINS DRAINING BLOOD OR PUS, IMMEDIATELY SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION.
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