Think Before You Ink

Published: 28 June, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 187, June, 2010

Everything you ever wanted to know about getting your first tattoo but were too afraid to ask...

If you are reading this before you have had your first tattoo, CONGRATULATIONS! You are on the right step to getting that perfect piece of ink that will give you the most enjoyment from your tattoo for the next oh, sixty years or so. Don’t forget, tattoos are for life, so don’t enter into the world of permanent body art on a whim – lasering is not a pleasant experience! Get as much information as you possibly can before you have any work done. The more you know about tattooing and its processes, the more confident you will be in choosing the right design and artist. 

It’s a very daunting experience, walking into a tattoo studio for the first time, not knowing what to expect, what to ask, what to do? Hopefully with this informative guide in your back pocket and having read it, you will be confident enough to ask the right questions. After all, ‘forewarned is forearmed’.

The history of tattooing spans back centuries and has a very colourful past; tattooing has been practiced in all corners of the globe from Polynesia to The Americas. Humans have felt the need to ‘individualise’ themselves for tribal and spiritual reasons, and these indelible markings could chronicle the coming of age or empower the wearer with the extra strength and courage to survive a battle or an arduous journey or task.

Tattooing continues to explode in popularity and there are more tattoo studios in Britain than ever before, so considering the choice that is now available to you it’s even more important for you to get it right first time.

This is just a guide, not a bible, so use the information wisely. 

As the heading to this supplement says, ‘THINK BEFORE YOU INK!’

So do you really want a tattoo?

You must ask yourself the above question constantly prior to getting your first ink. This is a huge step for you and your body. If you think to yourself ‘Oh, I can get it removed if I don’t like it’, DON’T GET IT DONE! This will be with you for the rest of your life and if you pick the right design and have the work done by the right tattooist, you will wear that design with pride, and still be happy with it as you shed this mortal coil.

You must be 18 to have a tattoo in this country, and there’s no parental consent plea that will change that! It’s not worth trying to make yourself look 18 either as you will be asked for ID. Besides, you don’t want to get your chosen tattooist in trouble for tattooing minors, do you? Especially if they are someone you might want to go back to in the future.

What sort of design do you want?

Once you have decided to take the plunge into the world of the tattooed, you’ll need to sit down and have serious think about the design. There are literally thousands of images that have been used as tattoo designs. With the current interest in tattooing, more and more artists can now put just about any image on your body. The only limit is your imagination.

Many tattoo studios have pre-drawn designs stuck on the walls and in books. These are generally known as ‘FLASH’. You can also find plenty of books available that are packed with designs to get the creative juices flowing. Again, the limit is only down to the artist’s capability and imagination. You can choose one of these designs and have it tattooed ‘as is’, or you can use these images as inspiration or a starting point for your design. Tattooing is about individuality, so speak to your artist and he or she should be able to create you a unique piece of artwork so you aren’t walking around with a tattoo that hundreds of other ‘individuals’ are wearing.

So where do i get my inspiration from?

Basically, anywhere you want. It’s your tattoo and you can take inspiration from your hobbies, your loves/passions, in books, paintings, and fabric designs, even wallpaper! If you like it, then go for it. Try to steer clear of band and lovers’ names, or images that are time-specific. What may look great and be relevant at the time might seem old-hat and dated further down the line. And I can guarantee that your tastes will change and people move on.

If you are considering a ‘Tribal’ or Ethnic design, take some time to research the origins of these images. These designs have become extremely popular recently but many of these have very specific meanings within certain cultures and you could risk upsetting some people by wearing something that is deemed as sacred. It will show other people that you have researched your design properly if you can explain the origin of it and it will show that you have some respect for the culture that created it.

What size and where?

These are quite important factors. The placement on the body can make or break a design, and if it is correctly placed and fits with your musculature and body shape, it will look all the better. For your first tattoo, try and go for somewhere on your body that can be covered by a piece of clothing (upper arms, shoulders and back). This way you can cover the tattoo if needs be. It’s great to show off your new ink but not everyone is as open-minded as you, so you might not get the reaction you require. Also if you can cover the tattoo, who’s to know that you have one? This is particularly useful for job interviews and times when tattoos are frowned upon (yep, unfortunately there are still places where tattooed people are looked upon with disdain). Big tattoos are becoming more popular theses day but again, think seriously before having so-called ‘Public Skin’ (neck, face, hands) tattooed.

The right man/woman for the job.

Okay, so let’s presume that you now have the design. So where do you go and who do you go to?

Firstly all tattoo studios must be registered with their local health authority. They will have a certificate hanging on the wall in the studio somewhere. If you can’t find it, ask to see it. If the studio can’t produce it, turn around and walk away. Have a good look around the interior. Is it clean and hygienic? Have a look or ask to see the tattooist’s Autoclave. This is a machine that sterilises all the re-usable equipment that is used in the tattooing process, and looks a bit like a microwave. If you can’t see it, don’t be afraid to ask. This is a vital piece of kit and can make the difference between a hygienic and sterile tattoo and a blood-borne disease or infection and your tattooist will show you this gladly if you ask. 

If you see his pie and chips in it, it is probably the microwave!

Whatever you do, don’t go to someone working unregistered out of their bedroom/kitchen/garden shed just ‘because it’s cheap’. It’s just not worth it. Apart from the very possible risk of infection, there’s also a damn good chance that the ‘scratcher’ won’t be a very good artist, so your tattoo won’t be of the best quality either. You have been warned!

Equally, you may have walked into a swanky tattoo studio with all the ‘whistles and bells’, but this doesn’t make the proprietor a good tattooist. Be sure to look for actual photographs of the artist’s work in their portfolio, and if you can find some living examples of the person’s work ‘in the flesh’, so to speak, all the better.

A good source of reputable tattooists can be found at the many tattoo conventions that are held all over the UK. Skin Deep publishes a list of these in the ‘Tattoo Tour’ section of the magazine each month. At any of these shows you can see for yourself first-hand your chosen artist actually working on someone. At many conventions, there will be a lot of foreign artists in attendance too, so if you fancy some ink from an overseas visitor, this could be the way to go and save you a possibly costly airfare. It is also a good source of inspiration and you’ll meet many, many tattooed people who are always ready to talk about their tattoos. Tattoo conventions really are a
great day out.

With the Internet age firmly upon us, loads of tattooists have websites showcasing their finest work. This is another great way of seeing artists’ work before having to travel great distances, so get surfing. Skin Deep also has a very lively forum, where you can ask for help or advice.

Although you may be able to meet the artist of your dreams at a convention, don’t be tempted to go to the bloke down the road just because he is cheaper and or closer. Cheaper isn’t better, so if you have seen a tattooist’s work that really appeals to you, save up - you won’t be disappointed if you have done your homework properly. Remember this oft-seen quote: ‘Good tattoos aren't cheap and cheap tattoos aren't good!’

A top quality tattoo isn’t cheap. The cost depends on the size, style and the amount of time it will take. If you have seen a piece of artwork on a Flashboard, there’s a good chance that it will have a fixed price by the side of it. Many tattooists these days are opting for custom ‘one-off’ pieces of work for which you can expect to pay an hourly rate. Have a chat to the artist and for God’s sake, don’t try to haggle. You probably won’t like the reply!

Also if you are a lady, you may be a little daunted by the prospect of getting a tattoo from a man, especially if your tattoo is going to be in a ‘private’ area. There are more and more female tattooists who can hold their own against the blokes and Skin Deep runs many adverts from female artists, so again, a little research goes a long way.

Hmm, a question asked by virtually everybody who hasn’t had a tattoo. Pain is a very personal thing. Some people have a high pain threshold, others whimper at a splinter in their finger. The very process of being tattooed means that a single or series of needles will be puncturing your skin, albeit at a reasonably fast speed, and not going too deep beneath the skin. So yep, you’re certainly going to feel something, that’s for sure. The position on your body where the tattoo will be placed will have a direct bearing on the amount of discomfort that you will feel. Basically, the more flesh that you have in an area, the less it will smart. Upper arms and buttocks are less uncomfortable than say, shins, the spine and armpits. Many people say that the outline is the most uncomfortable part of a tattoo and the shading is the easiest and speaking from experience, I find this to be the case. Whatever you do when sitting in the tattooist’s chair, don’t fidget and move about; it’s harder for your tattooist to hit a moving target!

Some studios now offer a ‘Numbing’ service. This will consist of the tattooist applying the numbing cream and giving the cream time to work before the tattoo is started. Talking to folk who have opted for this option, they say that it helps quite a lot for the outline of the tattoo, making it an altogether more pleasant experience.

If a session gets that little bit ‘too much’ there are solutions that tattooists can apply to the skin as they are working. Super Juice and Vasocaine operate by constricting blood vessels close to the skin’s surface and can be applied as required during the session, although it’s best to read up about these products before giving them a road test so you know what to expect. Mac from Punctured Body Piercing supplies both of these formulas and you can read more about them in Mac’s blogs on his MySpace and contact him through there. 

You may also want to consider what type of clothing to wear when going for your appointment. If you are having your upper arm tattooed, wear a vest. Ladies, if you are having the top of your thigh tattooed, you might want to think about wearing a skirt unless you want to be sitting there in your knickers for the duration! It is common sense really. And there’s a very good chance that you will get some ink or blood on your clothes, so don’t wear your favourite Gucci number.

You may be tempted to have a drink to steady your nerves. Don’t. It could make the process more uncomfortable and could possibly make you bleed a bit more than normal, as alcohol thins the blood. Also, if you are any form of medication, let the tattooist know. Again, medicines such as aspirin, warfarin and other anti-blood clotting substances might make you bleed more. If in doubt, just tell the tattooist about any medication that you are taking.

It is worth having something to eat at least two hours prior to your appointment to keep your blood sugar levels up during your tattoo.

As I mentioned earlier, you will feel some sort of discomfort and if at any point you start to feel faint or sick, let the tattooist know and he/she will stop and give you some time to recover your composure. They won’t be too chuffed if you decide to empty your breakfast over them. I find that if the pain gets intense, I relax by breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, which always works for me.

What happens once the ink is in?

After your tattooist has applied your design, they will wash off the excess ink with a spray and depending on the artist some will cover your new ink with cling film, others will use a paper towel and tape in over the new tattoo. You will be given aftercare instructions from the tattooist, which will list a healing procedure. This list will give you valuable advice for the care of your ink, so follow it to the letter. The tattooist didn’t give it to you just for fun; the information is good, sound advice based on years of experience. The more you look after your new ink over the healing process, the better and brighter your tattoo will look. 

What ever you do, don’t scratch it! Your new ink will form a light scab after a few days and can itch like a bugger. If you scratch or pick at the scabs you will be pulling the fresh ink out of your skin and your tattoo will end up looking faded and blotchy.

Don’t go swimming or soak your new design until it is fully healed, so if you are thinking of getting some ink to show off on the beach on your hols – think again! It’s worth waiting until you get back to have the work done.

We all take different times to heal but as a rule of thumb it will heal in about a week to ten days after which you will experience a form of light skin peeling (a bit like sunburn) after this has gone your tattoo’s colour will come through and be bright and vibrant as the day it was applied. 

Now you can show it off.

Once it is healed you will need to look after your ‘killer tatt’ with a moisturiser and if you go out in the sun, use a high factor sun block. The sun and indeed, sunbeds can really kill your artwork and make it look old before its time!

Hopefully we have covered most of the frequently asked questions in the above text that will guide you to getting the best ink by the best tattooist that you will be happy with for the rest of your life – enjoy!

When it comes to aftercare, there are many schools of thought. Next is a small list and brief descriptions of some of the more popular lotions and potions to aid the healing of your tattoo.


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.

01244 315486

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 

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 and the Belly Bar:

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



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.

Tattoo Goo:

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:


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