Everything you ever wanted to know - and some stuff you didn’t - but were afraid to ask.
Let us begin...
As you would expect, at Skin Deep we get extreme amounts of mail from people thinking about getting their first tattoo. That mail covers everything imaginable from asking us to recommend studios, artists, aftercare - and curiously sometimes even going so far as to ask us to suggest designs.
To try to answer those emails in every single issue of the magazine would be foolish - after all, once you’ve popped your tattoo cherry, you probably won’t want to read about it ever again. Thus, once a year, we like to pay homage to those of you starting your journey. We hope you find all you’re looking for in it, find out some things you didn’t already know and take on board the advice given out here.
No matter how big or small your tattoo is going to be, let’s not forget, it’s for life. Getting divorced from an unwanted tattoo with laser treatment is not pleasant. If you think getting your tattoo will smart a bit in the chair, the laser takes no prisoners! On this basis alone, it’s worth putting serious thought into what you’re about to undertake. Sure you can cover it up - maybe, but wouldn’t it be much cooler all round to simply get it right first time?
Any tattooist worth their salt will be happy to talk the process over with you but ultimately, the more you know about the process before you start, the more confident you will be about making your own decisions. Forewarned really is forearmed and hey... let’s not end up as one of those nightmare newspaper headlines that everybody except you is laughing at.
This last couple of years has seen us reach another pinnacle in tattooing. It has never been so popular as it is right now. Consequently, your choices have increased dramatically and so have the pitfalls. Your first tattoo has the ability to empower you if you choose wisely. Conversely, if you choose wrongly, your first tattoo also has the ability to disable you.
Let’s get it on and see what’s what!
Do you really want that?
The question has to be asked. It’s a huge step for both you and your body. If you’re thinking along the lines that it will be small enough to undergo a cover up tattoo or have it removed by those aforementioned friendly lasers, don’t do it. Your tattoo should be treated with respect - and that respect is to wear it for the rest of your life as a good and informed choice that marks out why, where and who you got it tattooed by. This means the right design put in the right place by the right tattooist.
In the UK, you must be 18 to have a tattoo. There’s no get-out clause like a letter of permission from your parents either. If you look young, don’t be afraid to show your ID card and do it by the book. Treat your chosen tattooist with some respect - they can get in a heap of trouble for tattooing minors. Nobody likes to have the mickey taken out of them.
Marked for life
If you’ve thought about getting a tattoo, then you’ve probably thought about a design already - and then another design - and then another. And then you’ll go and buy an truckload of tattoo magazines to see what else is out there and you may well change your mind again and again and again. Don’t panic. This is perfectly normal behaviour - and good behaviour too. By taking your time to choose what you really want, you’re already increasing your chances of not being sorry about it!
Simply buying all those magazines for inspiration is already a step in the right direction when it comes to self education. As we sit here in 2011, there is almost nothing that can’t be turned into a tattoo - the only limit is your imagination. Many studios have pre-drawn designs available either in poster racks or books for you to look at that are known in the trade as ‘flash’. There is no shortage of books on the shelf either whose content ranges from traditional designs to the most bizarre you are ever likely to see. Tattooing however, is all about individuality. Without telling you what to do, most of us who are tattooed already will tell you every time that the best road to go down is with a unique piece - or a ‘custom design’. Speak to your chosen artist and even if you are using flash or a picture in a book as a basis, it can always be modified in some way.
It’s your tattoo we’re talking about here. You can take your inspiration from wherever you want. From your hobbies, passions, history, art - that list is truly endless. Again, what a lot of us more experienced tattooed people will agree on is that it’s probably not a great idea to work with lovers names, band names... things change. It may not seem like it, but these things sometimes have a habit of coming and biting you on the ass! Time specific themes are also not a great idea. That commemorative Royal Wedding tattoo you were thinking about? Well, a month or two on it won’t seem like quite such a good idea no matter how funny it was at the time! You may laugh, but I could find you a picture of that if I tried hard enough. Also, don’t be afraid to get the Sharpies out and draw your proposed design onto yourself to be able to check it out in the mirror.
Whatever your choice, be happy with whatever it is before you even step through the door.
How big, and where is it going to be?
Popular choices for a first tattoo are the back, shoulders and upper arms as these can be easily covered up with clothing - it’s probably also one of the most ‘comfortable’ places on the body to start out. Relatively speaking of course. Sure, you will want to show it off to as many people as possible, but there may be occasions when you want to hide it temporarily. Not everybody is as open-minded as you are and you might not get the reaction you think you will. Job interview anybody? It’s probably not a smart idea to get your first tattoo on the back of your hand or your neck.
At some point in time, we all find ourselves in situations where the tattoo becomes the focus - if it’s your first one, it really is handy to be able to cover it if you need to. Big tattoos are very popular right now, but you can still achieve this and partake in the rest of your life as well as please yourself.
In the real world, more often that not, this is normally dictated by how much money you have to spend - and that’s the wrong way to go about it. You should be getting what you want, not what you can get, but once you’re all fired up and ready to go with your design and placement, the next stage is to choose who is going to do it for you.
To begin with, any tattoo studio/shop/parlour (all these words are in use at the moment) will need to be registered with the local health authority. By law, they will have a certificate hanging on the wall stating this. If you can’t see it - ask. No legal studio will mind you doing this. If they haven’t got one or can’t produce it, simply turn around and walk straight back out again. Even so - if there is a certificate but you feel uncomfortable about the surroundings you’re in for whatever reason, do exactly the same. You need to be comfortable with this before you start. Many of us have been in that same boat and an awful lot of us choose to stay with the same tattooist for life.
You should also be able to see the autoclave - it looks just like a microwave and is used to sterilise re-usable equipment. Again - if you can’t see it, just ask. This is an important bit of kit in the studio and makes the difference between getting a tattoo in a safe environment and blood borne diseases and infection. This is why it’s important to choose a studio wisely and not opt for the option of getting tattooed by your mate in their kitchen just because it’s cheap. It’s a dumb idea and I guarantee you will pay for it one way or another - either by getting a cover-up pretty soon afterwards or worse...
On the flip side of the coin, don’t fall for the cosmetic option either. Just because the proprietor of the studio had enough money to buy all new kit and get their certificate, doesn’t mean they’re a good tattooist! Check out their work from pictures and personal recommendation as well. Skin Shots magazine is full of great tattoo artists, but don’t take our word for it - get down to these places and see what they can do for yourself.
As I said earlier, the amount of money you’ve got in your pocket shouldn’t dictate what you have tattooed. Here’s a crazy thought for you. If what you really want is expensive and you think a tattooist in Poland is the one who can do it best, save up. At the risk of sounding like your old folks, it’s actually good advice. Get what you want, not what you can afford. With so many conventions all year round at the moment, chances are your favoured artist will be attending one of them sooner or later - and if not, take yourself over there and make a story you can tell for the rest of your life.
To wrap this little section up, use your common sense. If you’re a young lady who feels intimidated by men, there are just as many talented females working those machines these days. In fact, there is no mountain you can’t get around to get exactly what you want. There’s no rush. Do it right.
Does it hurt?
In a nutshell, yes. It does. How much rather depends on your personal threshold for such things. You’re going to feel something that’s for sure!
What is actually going on while you’re sitting there is a single needle or a series of needles (depending on what part of the design is being worked on) will be puncturing your skin at a reasonably fast speed. It’s not too deep but there will be puncturing and there will be some blood. The bigger the tattoo, the longer you’ll have to sit there - but like any job, different tattooists will take different amounts of time to do it in.
To get some kind of guide as to exactly how much it will hurt, check out our sexy little diagram here. I’ve seen people sit through eight hours in a single session before now but the only way you’re ever going to find out exactly how much it hurts is to go through it. It’s all part of the deal - and strangely, a feeling you may even grow to like for what it represents.
Some studios will offer to numb you first. This basically consists of a numbing cream that once absorbed by the skin, will constrict the blood vessels and offer some degree of comfort. Having not ever tried this route personally, I won’t comment on exactly how effective it is but a little research on many of the online tattoo forums will soon turn up some people who will tell you all about it. Our own forum at bigtattooplanet.com will no doubt have many willing to give you advice on this.
Stupid question - what should I wear?
That’s not such a stupid question. It’s a pretty good question. Here’s some things to bear in mind:
Whatever you wear should be loose. You won’t want anything too tight sitting on top of your tattoo when you leave.
There may well be spillage! I have a pair of jeans that I still wear from my last tattoo with three black inkspots on them. That’s OK - I edit a tattoo magazine - you probably don’t. What I’m saying here is don’t wear your favourite gear down there. It’s not messy but things like this do happen.
Think about what you’re going to have to sit in the studio wearing. If you’re having a thigh tattooed, you might not want to sit there in your knickers or pants. This is why the fashion Gods invented skirts and shorts.
Sure - lots! Don’t drink alcohol beforehand. It could make you bleed more heavily than you would normally. Some studios will turn you away if you have. It’s your own deposit you’re throwing away.
You should let the studio know of any medication you’re on too. If you’re in any doubt at all, speak to your tattooist and they’ll be able to help you out. Don’t forget to eat a couple of hours beforehand. This will help stop you from feeling too “woozy” in a long session as it will keep your blood sugar levels up.
It’s OK to ask for a break. Really it is. Even just 5 minutes can put you back in the frame of mind for another two hour sitting if that’s what it takes but you also need to let the tattooist do their job. If you’ve got a big piece on the cards, be prepared to sit for a good couple of hours before you start thinking of ‘stretching your legs’.
At conventions, you’ll see a lot of people sucking lollipops while they are being worked on - this is a good way to both keep your blood sugar levels up, take your mind off it for a little while and also look cool.
What happens when it’s all over?
Once your tattoo is finished, you’ll get cleaned up. Any excess ink and blood will be washed off with a spray and wiped down. What happens next depends on your tattooist. Some will cover your tattoo with cling film, some will cover it with a paper towel and tape - either way, you will be given aftercare instructions from them which will tell you how to help yourself to heal the fastest. It’s not a guarantee like you’ve just bought a car. This is your responsibility now to look after it and keep it clean.
Here’s what we know for a fact:
Don’t scratch it. It will be tempting but don’t. Not even a little. After a day or so, it will scab over as it begins to heal itself. It may itch, it may peel, but don’t scratch it. Or pick it. Or poke it.. or anything similar. Let your body heal itself for pristine results. Picking it will basically pull the ink out of your tattoo and it won’t be anybody’s fault but your own.
Don’t soak it in the bath or even think about swimming - there are many who will say that it’s OK to go swimming after two weeks - but if it’s not totally healed up by then, just don’t. I’m no expert on swimming pool chemistry but public pools generally harbour all kinds of bacteria from sweat and urine generated by rather a lot of people all at once. Couple these facts with the amount of chlorine normally dropped into public pools to combat these things and you begin to get the picture without me going into too much detail.
Likewise, don’t get a tattoo to show off on your summer holiday. You need to take extra care with your tattoo in the sun, but we live in an era where this is common knowledge anyway, so you should be using sun protection as a matter of course. A massive percentage of my tattooed friends still protect their tattoos with factor 50+. I would suggest you do the same.
As a general rule, it will be a week to ten days before you can say it’s healed properly. After all the scabs have healed and the peeling (that’s a little like sunburn) has all flaked off, then you can go back to your normal life.
Your tattooist will tell you how he wants you to take care of it. You trusted them to mark you for life. Trust them to know what they’re talking about afterwards.
The Aftercare Company
Jim and Shirley have been manufacturing Tattoo Aftercare for nearly six years now. Tattoo Aftercare is 100% natural, being a mix of beeswax, olive oil, Calendula oil and vitamins that allow the skin to breathe freely. THC can be applied immediately after tattooing which instantly starts to soothe the skin and can help to reduce the swelling that you might encounter after the tattooing process. I have used this on several occasions and find the new ink healed very quickly with little or no itching. It also has many other uses including the treatment of eczema and other skin complaints.
This is the only aftercare product approved by the Humane Cosmetics Standard. It’s available from many tattoo studios or direct from the manufacturers, and The Aftercare Company have produced a very informative aftercare brochure giving guidelines to the aftercare of your new ink and what’s more, it’s free! You can download this from Jim and Shirley’s updated website.
After inked goo aftercare
From the USA comes After Inked, and it contains no parabens or petroleum, is suitable for vegans, and is enriched with the natural antioxidant grape seed oil. It is claimed that the product heals tattoos in record time and reduces trans-epidermal water loss whilst preserving the skin’s natural moisture.
After Inked retails in 50ml containers for £14.95 in the UK and is available from www.body4real.co.uk.
Medical body art easy tattoo/piercing aftercare
Medical Body Art are a French Company specialising in aftercare products for the Tattoo and body piercing industry.
They have just released a complete aftercare kit aimed at folk who have just had a tattoo or piercing. In the very stylish kit, you’ll find Easypiercing mouthwash for those who have just had say, a tongue piercing. The wash is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and decongestant properties to care for any piercing you may have in your mouth. The formula means that you can use it frequently without upsetting your mouth’s delicate balance.
As well as the mouth-wash, Medical Body Art have included some physical saline solution for rinsing fresh piercings as well an anti-bacterial solution, which will help to fight off any secondary infections for up to two weeks after the piercing.
Not forgetting the tattoo side of things, in the aftercare kit there is a bottle of Easytattoo, a mild cleansing gel to keep your new tattoo clean.
The Gel is hypoallergenic, bactericidal, fragrance-free and has a neutral PH, so should be fine for all skin types helping your new ink to heal. It also has moisturisers included to help the colours in the tattoo stay bright and vibrant. The gel has a shelf life of 29 months after opening.
Also included in the kit is Easytattoo repair cream, specially designed for tattoos. Again as with most of their products, it’s hypoallergenic, moisturizing and rich in vitamin A, B, C and D. Easy Tattoo repair cream enables tissue to reform quickly. It’s non-sticky and won’t stain your clothing. This year MBA are proud to announce some new products: A larger Easytattoo cream in 100ml size and a mild cleansing gel and a new repair cream.
All these products come in a very stylish, environmentally friendly paper carrier bag and it’s the first complete kit on the market to care for your new piercing or tattoo.
Medical Body Art can supply all the products to studios separately or as full kits.
UK distributors are the Wildcat Collection Limited www.wildcat.co.uk and the Belly Bar: firstname.lastname@example.org
Palmer’s cocoa butter formula with vitamin e
This is an advanced moisturiser that softens, smoothes and relieves dry skin so is pretty good at revitalising older tattoos. It also tones skin and apparently helps to remove stretch marks. I have applied this to a ten your-old tattoo and over a period of time and it has brought some of the faded colour back to the tattoo. It is very good for healing fresh tattoos, and it also smells of cocoa – which is nice.
Available from: FUEL, 3 The Cloisters, 8 Battersea Park Road, London. SW8 4BG Tel: 020 7498 82 11 Email: email@example.com
Not strictly a tattoo emollient, Bepanthen is marketed as a nappy rash cream and a cure for chapped nipples. I don’t know who came up with the idea to use this cream on fresh ink, but boy, does it work well. Apply this sparingly to your freshly worked tattoo and Bepanthen keeps the scabbing to an absolute minimum, which allows your skin to hold more of the ink. It also stops the annoying itching sensation some people get whilst their tattoo is healing. It also heals fresh ink extremely quickly.
Available from branches of Boots, Tesco's and other large supermarkets.
Aftercare for your new tattoo has been a subject of debate in the tattoo community for many years. Tattoo artists have had to recommend a variety of products available from your local chemist. These products were intended to prevent cuts, burns, scrapes and abrasions from becoming infected and not for the healing of new tattoos. The majority of these products contain petroleum or lanolin which, when applied to a new tattoo, can clog skin pores and actually retard your body's healing process. There is also the possibility of allergic reactions to these products, and, application to a new tattoo can cause skin reactions leading to loss of ink and permanent damage to your tattoo.
Tattoo Goo was developed to provide the best available aftercare for your new tattoo.
A unique formula designed exclusively for the treatment of new tattoos. Eight different herbs, oils, and vitamins known for their natural healing properties allows the skin to breath and helps to "soothe" the tattoo as it heals. Tattoo Goo has been used on thousands of new tattoos with positive results and faster healing times.
Tattoo Goo has a broad range of products with over 12 different product lines and formulations from first application for a new tattoo through to SPF30 protection for a healed tattoo.
Tattoo Goo’s all natural formula uses the highest-grade oils, emollients and herbal ingredients, while others have changed or use different oils to reduce costs. Keeping our standards high provides our customers with the finest product available for healing and body art aftercare. You can also use Tattoo Goo for everyday skincare. A great way to help sooth the skin from sunburn windburn, minor cuts and scrapes.
Tattoo Goo Ointment
When it comes to aftercare there is no better product than the original Tattoo Goo® Salve until now. Introducing new Tattoo Goo® Ointment. This is exactly the same formulation that is in the salve, only softer for those a little squeamish of applying a slightly thicker formula. The tube applicator is the same as found on all popular ointments so there is no cross contamination of the product should you choose to share it with a friend.
For further information on these products go to:
A brand new product called ‘Ink Slinger’, formulated specifically for those who have a new tattoo or piercing to care for is now available in the UK. Thanks to emu oil’s natural anti-inflammatory properties it saves on the need for re-touching of tattoos due to scabbing, caused by scratching and rubbing, as well as helping to reduce incidence of infected piercing sites!
Ink Slinger sinks without a trace into the deepest layers of your skin where it not only re-hydrates your collagen; it also enhances colours of your tattoo. It is free of odour so it won’t clash with your perfume or aftershave choice, and it’s crystal clear. A tiny drop of Ink Slinger goes a long way, so it’s only supplied in small quantities of 60mls and best stored at body temperature.