First Tattoo Tips for Beginners: Read This Before You Get Inked

—Urban Beardsman
First Tattoo Tips for Beginners: Read This Before You Get Inked

Getting your first tattoo is a big deal. At least it is to most people, and it’s not an undertaking to view lightly – as with anything that’s meant to last forever. There’s more to getting a tattoo than meets the eye. You may already know a thing or two about them, and the chances are good that you know someone who has a tattoo, especially in today’s world. Tattoos are more popular than ever and have a widespread acceptance that’s unprecedented.

Even if you do know something about tattoos, we think this guide and tattoo tips for beginners will help as you prepare for your first tattoo. We’ll cover everything from choosing a tattoo design and artist - to tattoo aftercare and the ways you can keep your design from fading before its time.

Our Carlos Costa has five tips for people getting their first tattoo, including the final step – getting your tattoo.

You probably have a lot of questions before the ink meets the skin, but you can ease your anxiety and confusion by taking the following steps:

1. The bottom line for picking a tattoo design that’s right for you

Picking a tattoo design is never easy, especially before you get your first tattoo. After all, a tattoo is something that’s going to be with you for the rest of life, so finding the right design and artist is of utmost importance.

It’s all about the research before your first tattoo

Although this might sound like a tedious task, you have to do your due diligence before permanently marking your body. Find the right artist and style of tattoo for you.

For starters, make sure that you’re 100% sold on your tattoo’s design. Think of all the details you want it to include. Always, always have the finished outcome in mind before the tattoo artist gets to work.

Does the design have a personal connection?

If not, it should.

It’s important for tattoo newbies to choose a design that has a personal connection to them. It’s not just about how a tattoo looks, but also if it connects with who you are, your personality, and if you can feel it in your heart. If you can look at your tattoo several years down that road and still love it, then you’ve chosen the right design.

The importance of choosing a tattoo design that meshes with your personality cannot be understated. But you’ll also want to choose a design that fits your personality and your everyday environment; if you’re a grade-school teacher you probably don’t want a tattoo of a skull – unless others can’t see it. Where you work is certainly a factor when it comes to choosing the right design, even if society and its perception of tattoos are changing.

Finally, your reason for getting a tattoo shouldn’t be “I just felt like it,” or “It’s always something wanted to try.” You need to be committed to the design and getting a tattoo, not somewhat into it and trying it as if on a dare.

Don’t forget to ask others before choosing your tattoo design

It’s never a bad idea to ask the opinion of someone who’s got his or her fair share of tattoos. They’ve been around the block, so to speak, and can probably point you in the right direction when you’re looking for the best tattoo shops in town. Check the shop’s website and social media pages for customer reviews. Or, better yet, talk to people who’ve had a tattoo done there.

Of course, consult with your friends, too. A good friend isn’t afraid to tell you the truth, such as being honest with you when they don’t think a tattoo design fits your personality and style.

Here’s the other thing: asking others where they got their tattoo(s) – at least the one you like – ensures that you won’t succumb to “false advertising” that may occur if an artist places a certain design in his portfolio that isn’t his work. There’s no harm in asking the artist for referrals, either.

You should also ask how the long the shop has been in business, and if they’ve had a lot of staff turnover. It’s usually a good sign if the same artists have worked there for a long time.

If nothing else, consult with your tattoo artist

All of us typically talk to the mechanic before we take our car in for repairs. It only makes sense that you’ll consult with a tattoo artist before you get inked. It’s perhaps the most important part of the process, because an artist not only helps you choose the right design but also helps you choose your tattoo placement. They’ll know whether a design works on a certain part of your body.

The best tattoo artists and shops may have a waiting list of several months, which isn’t a bad thing because it gives you more time to think about your design and your reasons for getting a tattoo.

A few more tips for choosing the right tattoo design

So, you thought choosing a tattoo design was simple? Well, think again, although choosing a tattoo design isn’t rocket science. But there’s more to it than one would think, especially if you’re new to tattoos. Here are some other things to consider when picking the right design for you:

  • Small, highly-detailed tattoos generally don’t age well. Your tattoos naturally fade as your body ages. Fine lines become thicker. Darker colors fade into less dominant colors. Crisp edges grow softer. Those changes look even more drastic on smaller tattoos that have a lot of detail, as well as on tattoos that are photorealistic.
  • During the design-choosing process imagine your tattoo being extra large. Take a smaller element of a larger design and make that your tattoo.
  • The simpler your tattoo design – especially your first design – the better. That’s especially true for smaller tattoos, but it’s a good rule for tattoos of any size. Don’t add too many things to the design, but keep it to one main subject, one secondary subject, and one background element.
  • Choose a design that includes your favorite colors, favorite images, and a style that you like.
  • Think it through and then think it through some more. Give yourself a few months to think about your tattoo design. If you still haven’t soured on the idea, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t get it.
  • On the other hand, spontaneity is sometimes a good thing (especially if you’re in a rational frame of mind) when deciding suddenly to get a tattoo.

You should never make a rash decision about something that’s as permanent as a tattoo, even if it’s a decision you make spontaneously. But many people who made a spur-of-the-moment decision to get a tattoo end up having regrets about it.

Choose a design that you won’t outgrow, such as political statements or pop culture references that will seem incredibly dated a few years from now. In today’s fast-moving world with its rapidly-changing tastes, some things seem outdated in even in a year.

Why your tattoo’s color isn’t always about the design

While it’s true that the style and design of your tattoo often dictate its color palette, your skin tone also plays a role. If you have darker skin, darker colors such as crimson red or blue hold better than lighter hues. That doesn’t mean you can’t choose lighter colors if your skin is dark, but they typically don’t appear as pigmented as darker colors.

People with fair skin display white ink better than other skin tones while colors such as red and purple will pop if you have dark skin.

No matter what color you choose, however, it will fade over time, including black. But you can find examples online of how your colors will hold up in the years ahead.

There are many, many tattoo styles and designs. To repeat, it’s vital that the tattoo artist you choose is adept in the designing the style you pick. Here’s a look at a few popular styles that may fit your personality and style.

  • RealismJust as you’d expect from its name, realism involves re-creating subjects by using shading and coloring as they appear in real life.
  • American traditionalThe American traditional style is characterized by clean, black outlines and a palette of primary colors. A tattoo of a rose or skull falls into this category. (Think Sailor Jerry’s).
  • Neo-traditional – This style uses shading and color to create a realistic portrait and represents a modern take on American traditional imagery.
  • Minimalism – The minimalistic (or geometric) style focuses on sharp black lines and is all about precision. It’s ideal for simple, symbolic designs.
  • Traditional Japanese – This style is inspired by traditional Japanese artwork and includes clean lines and minimal shading.

Again, the above represent only a small slice of tattoo styles, and don’t stress if you don’t know each style by name. However, some tattoo experts suggest that you stick with one style if you plan to get multiple tattoos, or at least maintain aesthetic similarity. Then again, Carlos Costa – whose tattoo journey began in 2010 – rocks a variety of tattoo styles and it’s hard to argue with the results. You’ll see what we mean if you check out his video.

Here are some other reasons why it’s important to consider tattoo placement

We’ve talked about the necessity of considering your work environment when determining tattoo placement. While many offices and other workplaces are more tolerant of tattoos than ever, others maintain a negative attitude toward tatts. If your employer wants them covered, then have your tattoo done on a part of your body that’s easy to conceal.

It’s still important to consider your tattoo placement even if you have no workplace restrictions. Do you want others to see it? Do you want it in a place where you can see it, unlike in a place where you can’t (like on the back of your neck)? Many people like having a tatt in a place that’s easy for them to see because it represents personal meaning and value.

The face is one of the most radical places to get a tattoo and not many do it, although shops around the world have had an upsurge in face tattoos. But face tattoos also come with some controversy as many people believe that they’re a sure-fire way to get turned down for a job. The face is a canvas of last resort and it’s not a great idea to place your first-ever tattoo there.

Why choosing the right artist is as important as choosing the design

Your research should also include the tattoo artist and their shop. It’s much easier to find helpful information nowadays, thanks to the internet, and it’s always in your best interest to find out everything you can about A) who will be doing your tattoo, and B) information on the shop where he or she does their work. But there’s more:

Every artist in a tattoo shop should have a portfolio of his or her work and there are some things to look for when scanning a portfolio:

  • Do the tattoos included in the portfolio have clean, crisp lines? Does the shading look smooth, or is it choppy?
  • All of the tattoo’s color should be solid and bright.
  • Check the shading for smoothness in any tattoos that predominantly feature black or gray.
  • Look for versatility in the artist’s portfolio.
  • Find out how long the artist has been in the profession.
  • Make sure you get along with the artist, at least reasonably well. Getting a tattoo is an intimate experience and getting tattooed by someone you’re not compatible with won’t make the experience very enjoyable. You’re excited about getting your first tattoo; don’t let someone else’s personality drain your enthusiasm.

Also, keep in mind that not all tattoo artists are proficient at every design under the sun. For example, one may specialize in abstract or watercolor designs, while others do their best work with black and gray tattoos. If you have a specific design in mind, make sure the artist you choose can create it in a way that won’t leave you disappointed in the finished product. Don’t walk into a sushi restaurant and order a pizza, so to speak.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, either. A good tattoo artist can answer all of them – or the majority of them. For most of them, it’s not just about making money but also looking for people who will carry their art around. Among the many other questions you can – and should ask – an artist, include whether they guarantee their work. Many offer a free touch-up appointment if small spots of ink or other minor blemishes occur during the tattoo process.

It’s always helpful to ask what brand of ink the artist uses, especially if you’re allergic to certain ingredients and materials. Don’t wait until the artist has started working on your piece to find out.

There’s no reason to walk alone on your quest for a new tattoo

A recent survey showed that the U.S. has more than 20,000 tattoo parlors and that the number continues to grow daily. Also, 36% of Americans between the age of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo.

They’re interesting statistics for sure, but also emphasize the fact that you’re not alone when you decide to get your first tattoo. There are many others out there who are looking for the perfect tattoo – first-timers and people who already have a tattoo or two, or more. There’s a ton of tattoo information available, not the least of which you can get by word of mouth.

Make sure the price is right, but don’t haggle

A common mistake tattoo newbies make is haggling over the price of the tattoo. Yes, it may be more expensive than you anticipated, but a tattoo parlor is not a thrift shop and you can’t expect a quality artist – or any artist – to work for less than they’d normally make. Negotiate, yes. Look for a radical discount? No.

If the price bothers you, keep in mind that a tattoo is a long-term investment. It’s something that lasts you the rest of your life. There’s no need to endlessly haggle over the price of something that will be with you forever.

Many artists charge an hourly rate and won’t begin work until you agree to that rate. No matter how long your tattoo takes – even 15 minutes – that’s the rate you’ll pay. On the other hand, some artists charge on a piece-by-piece basis.

If the shop isn’t clean, it’s probably time to look elsewhere

Always check for cleanliness when before choosing a tattoo shop. While a clean shop doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll get a kick-ass tattoo, it does say a lot about its inhabitants’ professionalism and regard of others.

Find out where the artist and his colleagues store their needles and whether they pull out a new needle from a sealed package. Your health is the most important factor in your research.

2. What to Expect When You’re Expecting (a Tattoo, That Is)

You may know a lot about the tattoo process or nothing at all when you decide to get your first tattoo. Others fall in the middle, knowing something about them but hardly at an expert level. But here are some helpful tips, facts, and suggestions before getting a tattoo for the first time.

Why you need to be honest with yourself about pain

We always need to be honest with ourselves - whether we’re getting a tattoo, embarking on a new relationship, or considering a career in juggling chainsaws. But you need to be honest with yourself about the pain of getting a tattoo.

Having ink embedded into your skin isn’t painless, although we’re not necessarily talking about the kind of pain you’d experience while, say, having a root canal without anesthetic. At least we hope not. But understanding your pain tolerance is important before you get your first tattoo. If your tolerance is low, then carefully consider the size and location of your tattoo. Indeed, when it comes to tattoo pain it’s not unlike the price of a new home – it’s all about location, location, location.

What parts of the body are most painful for getting a tattoo? Here’s a quick list:

  • The part of your foot just above the toes – If you hear someone crying out in pain when you’re browsing tattoo shops, it could be that they’re getting a tattoo on the top of their foot. There are a lot of veins there and the skin is thin.
  • The lower ribs – Good luck finding anyone with a tattoo on their lower ribs. The potential pain of having a tattoo there is enough to scare most people away.
  • The fingers – The skin on your fingers offers only a thin covering and the pain of having a tattoo done on your fingers is a direct assault on your nervous system.
  • Kneecap – Talk about thin skin. Few parts of your body have skin as thin as your kneecaps. Bring your ‘A’ game pain tolerance if you're insistent about having a tattoo on your kneecap.
  • The upper center of your chest – This is another region of your body covered with superficial skin and the pain has a direct route to your bloodstream.
  • Upper and lower bicep regions – There’s a sizable concentration of blood vessels in the lower and upper biceps.

The goal in examining the physical pain of getting a tattoo shouldn’t scare you away from having one done. Furthermore, if you’re insistent on having your tattoo placed where it’s going to hurt a whole helluva lot, then there’s nothing to stop you. But, you should know what’s in store if you decide to have that bald eagle tattooed on the top of your foot or kneecap.

The good news is that there are plenty of skin regions where the pain isn’t nearly as bad, and even downright tolerable, including:

  • The arm-shoulder joint – Many people who’ve had tattoos done on their arm-shoulder joint say the pain is more like a pinch, or at least so minimal that you won’t work up a pre-tattoo sweat.
  • The forearm  – This is the region between your palm and elbow. Minimal discomfort is one of the reasons you see lots of forearm tatts.
  • Top of the thigh – The top of your thigh has plenty of muscles under the skin, muscles that serve to absorb pain and shock.

Pre-tattoo: Getting ready for the big day

The days leading up to your tattoo involve some prep work on your part, and the following do’s and don’ts will help get you in prime physical and mental condition before getting inked.

  • Don’t. Get. A. Sunburn.

So, you walk into the tattoo shop with a sunburn on the area of skin where you’re getting your first tattoo. Here’s a tattoo tip: turn around, walk out of the shop, and don’t return until your sunburn has completely healed. The problem with tattooing over a sunburn is that the skin already is damaged, any pain you feel during the tattooing process is enhanced, and there’s extra blood near the surface of the damaged skin that can cause the tattoo ink to dilute and make your artist’s job tougher.

Because of the potential problems posed by sunburn, many men choose to get their tattoo during the fall and winter. Why? In many climates you’ll wear more clothes (and cover your skin) during those seasons and reduce your risk of sunburn.

Too much direct sunlight can also cause your tattoo to fade before it’s time.

  • Is your skin in great shape? Then you’re good to go
  • Cuts, scratches, scars, etc., create uneven patches of skin that make a difficult canvas on which the tattoo artist does his work. Do the artist, and yourself, a favor by making sure your skin is in the best condition possible before the big day. And don’t hesitate to moisturize the skin for a week beforehand, in fact, we suggest you do so. Your skin will be a healthy, even, and moisturized canvas for your new ink.

  • Lay off the booze the night before
  • Resist temptation, even if your buddies have an enticing round of revelry planned the night before you get your tattoo. Too much alcohol can thin your blood, which leads to excess bleeding during the tattoo session – which is never a good thing. Meanwhile, never show up for your session inebriated; tattoo artists are required by law to deny you “services” if they think you’ve had a few too many.

    • Don’t take aspirin the day before your session

    Aspirin and ibuprofen are off limits in the 24 hours before your appointment because they can thin your blood. It may be OK to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) before your session but confirm it with your artist first.

    • Get a good night’s rest

    You want to be sharp mentally and well-rested during the tattoo session, not grouchy and fidgety. “Fidgety” can affect the final outcome of your tattoo.

    • Ask yourself again: “Do I really want this tattoo?”

    Never get a tattoo unless you’re 100% sure it’s what you want. It’s too late to turn back once you have it and you don’t want to regret your decision for the rest of your life. Find a design that connects with you – which is especially important for first-timers. Look for a design that not only looks aesthetically good, but one that has a deeper connection to you – something that you can look back on and continually enjoy it.

    • Does your tattoo artist have all the details?

    Your artist needs every specification to complete your tattoo exactly how you want. Make sure to show them every reference page possible, and the sooner you can get them the information, the better.

  • If you have skin allergies, check with your doctor
  • You’ll want to talk to your doctor before getting your tattoo if you have a skin allergy, no matter how minor. Every person’s skin can react differently to tattoos, so make sure you’re not aggravating any pre-existing skin conditions you may have already.

    3. The Wait is Over – Now it’s Time to Get a Tattoo

    You’ve done the prep work, chosen a design, selected a tattoo artist and shop, carefully considered where you want your tattoo placed on your body, and now the big day is here. It’s time to get your first tattoo.

    Let the final tattoo preparations begin

    Don’t leave your house or apartment without taking a few final preparatory steps. You’re probably nervous, which is perfectly understandable, but don’t compound your anxiety by not taking care of a few things first.

    For starters, check your health – are you feeling sick? Do you feel a cold or another illness kicking into gear? If so, you need to reschedule your appointment. First, you’ll risk getting everyone else sick in the shop sick, too, plus you want to enjoy your first-time experience as much as possible. Save the coughing and sneezing for inside your own four walls.

    You may also want to bring a small supply of essentials, such as some snacks, water, and a fully-charged cell phone. Make sure you bring headphones if you plan to listen to your favorite music during the tattoo session.

    You’ll also want to make sure that you don’t show up on an empty stomach. Keep your blood sugar levels elevated, if possible, at least enough to keep you alert and not feeling sluggish or drowsy. Getting a tattoo may lower your blood sugar levels, which may cause you to become light-headed or feel nauseous. It’s even a good idea to bring a sugary snack with you to help perk you up as you’re getting inked.

    Take a shower and follow your normal grooming routine before you leave. While it won’t necessarily improve the appearance of your tattoo, you’ll do your tattoo artist – and everyone else in the shop – a favor by not having over-the-top body odor. You should also go light on your favorite cologne and aftershave, too; you don’t want to overpower anyone’s senses, especially not the person doing your tattoo.

    There’s no need to shave the part of your body that’s getting tattooed. Your artist can handle that for you and will probably do a better job of it. Besides, there’s no need risking a cut or razor burn before arriving at the studio.

    Here’s what happens to the skin when you get a tattoo

    So what really happens when an artist pulls out his tattoo needles and works on a person’s skin? For starters, the ink has to reach the dermis layer of your skin – the layer that lies just below the outer layer of skin (the outer layer is called the epidermis).

    The dermis consists of nerves, glands, blood vessels, collagen fibers, and more. The ink particles get dispersed in different parts of the dermis, including a dermal cell that’s vital for healing wounds. But the ink has to reach the dermis because skin cells constantly die and slough off on the epidermis. If tattoos just were in the epidermis, they would only last a short while. Exfoliation, a term you’ll frequently hear regarding skin care, is the process of manually scrubbing or washing off the dead skin cells that can make your skin look dull and less lively.

    Modern tattoo machines and needles must reach the dermis layer if the artwork is to become permanent. Tattoo machines can pierce the skin at a frequency from 50 to 3,000 times per minute, which sounds a bit daunting, but it’s simply part of the process.

    Your tattoo artist dips the needle into ink and then turns on the motor that moves the needle and applies it to your skin. Each tattoo needle is a piece of metal with several ends to it (anywhere from three to around 25). Needles that have fewer ends are used for outlining work, while those with more ends handle shading and coloring.

    The two most common tattoo machines are the rotary and the coil. A rotary machine, as its name implies, has a rotating circular bar that moves the needle up and down. A coil machine, meanwhile, uses a direct electrical current to move the needle. The artist controls the current with a foot pedal.

    Don’t suffer in silence when dealing with tattoo pain

    “Pain”. The word keeps coming up in our tattoo guide for beginners. The point of it isn’t that we’re trying to scare you, but it’s a thought that weighs heavy on the minds of most folks getting their first tattoo.

    That said, a tattoo session isn’t a test of pain tolerance and endurance. While pain often is part of the experience, the anticipation of pain shouldn’t keep you from getting a tattoo for the first time. Besides, there are plenty of ways to deal with pain if it becomes uncomfortable, and what’s uncomfortable for someone else may not be uncomfortable at all for you.

    But, how does a tattoo really work?

    Tattooing consists of making thousands of tiny wounds in the skin, which prompts your immune system to kick into overdrive. Blood cells called macrophages rush to the site of the tattoo and engulf ink particles – the body’s attempt to clean up, but it also plays a role in both making your tattoo permanent as well as causing it to fade over time. It’s a necessary trade-off.

    A tattoo needle acts more like the tip of a fountain pen rather than a syringe in that the ink is suspended from the tip of the needle until the artist pierces a hole into the skin. Capillary action then draws the ink into the dermis layer of the skin.

    How the ink stays in the skin has a lot to do the macrophages that consume cellular and foreign debris. They rush into action whenever your skin receives a wound, consume the foreign matter – in this case, the tattoo ink – and then store it. Macrophages eventually wither and die, only to get replaced by new cells that gobble up the ink left behind by dying cells. It’s a never-ending process involving the natural healing qualities of your body.

    Your outer layer of skin, the epidermis, also absorbs some ink during the tattoo process but becomes free of it as it heals. When it’s completely healed (when the scabs are gone) your tattoo really shines through.

    Stencils, outlines, and how some shops handle tattoos

    Most studios and artist let you try on your tattoo, so to speak, by using a stencil. The stencil drawing provides an outline for the artist to follow and give you one final look at the design before the needle meets the skin.

    The artist typically begins the actual tattooing process by outlining the actual design. Outlining doesn’t usually take long or involve much pain.

    One thing that may surprise you is how much ink is involved. There’s ink that goes into your skin, but also ink that never makes it beyond your epidermis layer. The excess ink may distort the image and give you some moments of panic, but when in doubt ask the artist to clean the area so that you can get a realistic look.

    Many customers say the shading is the hardest part of getting a tattoo. It takes more time, for one, but also involves bigger needles and creates more skin sensitivity. You’ll notice more blood during this part of the process but that’s completely normal because the shading covers a larger area of the skin. Hang in there during this process because the level of pain usually rises.

    Adding color to your tattoo is the last part of the process. The color and shades chosen depend on how they look on your skin and the size of the tattoo.

    Here are 10 ways of handling tattoo pain

  • Don’t get drunk beforehand
  • Jokes abound about people who decide to get a tattoo during a night of excess drinking. One of the main characters in the movie “The Hangover” hilariously ends up with a face tattoo like Mike Tyson’s during a night of out-of-control hijinks. Don’t be that guy, even if he wasn’t drinking to dull the pain of a tattoo.

    Showing up wasted for your tattoo appointment is a no-no for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that alcohol acts as a blood thinner. You’ll bleed more than normal which, if nothing else, can be a real buzz-kill.

    1. Make yourself comfortable

    Depending on your tattoo, you may be in the tattoo shop for a few hours while your artist does their work. You’ll get some breaks during longer sessions but do whatever it takes to make yourself comfortable during the session – such as wearing loose, comfortable clothing, or by listening to music or reading.

    1. Bring something to squeeze

    Women in labor often get something to squeeze to distract them from their pain. You can do the same as you’re getting your tattoo, whether it’s stress ball or a grip exerciser. Many tattoo parlors even provide you with something to squeeze.

    1. Numbing creams and anesthetics

    More good news: there are a variety of pain relief creams, solutions, and sprays you can use before and during your tattoo session. Not that numbing creams are a miracle “cure”; their soothing effects typically don’t last that long, and some can cause your skin to swell. Swelled skin makes the tattoo artist’s job tougher.

    Pain relief sprays that contain lidocaine provide temporary relief, as well, and most you can apply several times as you’re getting your tattoo.

    1. Don’t take stimulants before you get inked

    Getting drunk before your session isn’t the only really bad idea - taking stimulants ranks near the top of the list, too. Energy drinks and caffeine may increase your alertness, but they may also send your heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety levels through the roof, making it even harder to sit still as you’re getting your tattoo.

    1. Drink plenty of water

    Monitoring your hydration levels should begin the night before your tattoo session and continue until your tattoo appointment. Keeping yourself hydrated allows the skin to accept the ink more readily and can speed up the tattooing process.

    1. Take breaks – but not too many

    Always make sure to take breaks throughout the session. You should use this time to refuel, including eating and drinking something, as well as to give yourself a mental break. But taking too many breaks, or taking breaks that are too long, can cause your design to swell and may serve to kick your adrenaline/anxiety back to full throttle.

    1. Carry on a conversation

    Talking with someone during the session is a good distraction for many people, especially for someone getting their first tattoo. Whether it involves talking with the artist, someone else in the shop, or a friend (don’t bring more than one, however), a good chat can keep your mind off of the pain.

    1. Remain as still as possible

    Do whatever it takes to keep from squirming or otherwise moving about as you’re getting your tattoo. The less you move, the easier it is for your artist to be precise. Plus, your session will go faster if the artist doesn’t have to start and stop because of your movements. Warn your artist first if you do feel an uncontrollable urge to move during your appointment.

    1. Breathe!

    If you went through birthing classes with your wife or significant other, you understand the importance of (her) breathing during childbirth. The same concept holds true for coping with tattoo pain. Deep breathing oxygenates the blood and triggers endorphin production, slows your heart rate, and decreases the amount of stress hormones being produced in your body. Exhaling will help when you’re feeling the worst pain of your tattoo.

    Holding your breath or stifled breathing can make the pain worse. Relax, as much as you can, and let the air out.

    What you’ll also feel when getting a tattoo – besides some pain

    You’ll feel varying degrees of pain depending on the tattoo’s placement. But you may also feel other sensations depending on the tattoo, such as a burning sensation that’s common as the tattoo needle goes over the same spot several times.

    A sharp stinging feeling isn’t uncommon during detailing work, especially on areas of the body where the skin is tight (like on your wrist). Tattoos that require a lot of shading may cause a scratchy feeling. No matter what sensation you feel, however, all of the physical sensations should – hopefully – become a dull roar. And that’s how you want to feel as you settle into a comfort zone.

    Don’t hesitate to let your artist know if the pain becomes too much to bear. The good ones will reach a stopping point and allow you to take a break.

    4. Tattoo Aftercare: How to Keep it Looking Good for Years to Come

    How you take care of your new tattoo is crucial. Sloppy aftercare can ruin the look of your tattoo, both now and in the future, and can even lead to health problems. Getting a tattoo doesn’t mean walking out of the tattoo shop and assuming that you’re good to go. Here are some essential steps you need to take for protecting your new tattoo:

    Tattoo aftercare begins before you leave the shop

    According to WebMD, only seven states in the U.S. require tattoo artists to provide customers with written aftercare instructions (as mandated by the public health departments in those states). Dermatologists would love to see more states provide mandatory aftercare instructions, but if you live in one of the states that don’t, you can always ask your artist for his or her recommendations or take the following precautions on your own.

    • Make sure that your artist covers your new tatt with a thin layer of petroleum jelly and a bandage. Leave the bandage on for 24 hours before removing it, or ask the artist for recommendations. Some may not wrap it all, while the method of wrapping a bandage often varies from shop to shop. The purpose of a bandage is to protect it from dirt and bacteria. However, if you leave the bandage on too long you may cause the tattoo’s ink to bleed. Get your tattoo into the fresh air as soon as possible within the recommended time-frame.
    • Wash your hands before removing the bandage because you don’t want to transfer bacteria and germs to your newly-tattooed skin. Avoid the temptation of ripping the bandage off with one macho movement; instead, pull it off slowly and carefully so that you don’t damage your tattoo. You don’t need to re-wrap your tattoo once you’ve cleaned and moisturized it.
    • Wash the tattoo with lukewarm water and unscented antibacterial soap after you’ve removed the bandage. Don’t soak the tattoo in water, but massage it gently with your fingers to remove traces of blood or leaked ink. Don’t use a washcloth or sponge until the bacteria has healed completely. It’s OK to wash your tattoo several times a day but there’s no need to overdo it, either.
    • Let your tattoo air dry after you’ve washed it, or pat it dry with a clean paper towel. A standard bathroom towel can irritate the skin – especially sensitive skin – and bits of towel fluff can get stuck in your still-healing tattoo.
    • Apply a bit of antibacterial cream after your tattoo is dry. You don’t need to apply much - just a thin layer that absorbs into the skin quickly.
    • Also make sure that you apply a moisturizer to your tattoo daily. Your antibacterial cream may include moisturizing ingredients; if not, choose a separate moisturizer. It’s essential that you keep your new tattoo hydrated as it heals (and all the time, for that matter).
    • Your tattoo starts to scab as it heals. As you know, scabs can start to itch, but resist the temptation to scratch them while letting them fall off on their own. Picking scabs off before it’s time can leave light spots and holes in your newly-minted tattoo. Consistent use of a moisturizing cream will help relieve the itchiness.
    • How quickly a new tattoo heals varies from person to person and may take anywhere from two to six weeks.
    • Wearing loose-fitting clothing that isn’t tight or restrictive around the area of your tattoo is also a good strategy for warding off skin irritation. Clothes that stick to the skin may pull off scabs prematurely. Plus, the more oxygen that reaches your tattoo, the faster the healing process.
    • You’ll also help your tattoo heal if you avoid strenuous workouts, such as weightlifting, during the healing process. If you work in a job that requires daily physical activity, such as construction, you may want to give yourself a day or two off after you get your tattoo.
    • Refrain from swimming during the healing process and avoid soaking in the bathtub. Over-exposure to water can pull ink from your skin and damage your tattoo’s appearance.
    • Stay out of the sun for as long as you can, too. You don’t want to get a sunburn on top of your tattoo that is still healing (scab + sunburn… ouch!). This will allow your skin to heal without the risk of adding sun-damage, or possible ink fading, to the mix.

    Don’t ignore these warning signs during aftercare

    For most people, the healing process after a tattoo goes smoothly. The surface layer of the skin usually heals in a couple of weeks, although the rate of healing also depends, in part, on the quality of your aftercare. If you experience the following signs and symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

    • Continued swelling several days after you get your tattoo.
    • Skin that’s tender or warm, or has a persistent burning sensation.
    • Green or yellow pus, or a foul odor.

    The importance of protecting your tattoo from sun damage

    It’s hard to avoid the sun, unless you spend all of your time indoors, and many of us seek out sunshine at every opportunity. Many people like a good tan, and for those of us who live in wintry climates, the sun is something of a savior.

    But when you first get a tattoo, the sun isn’t your greatest ally, either. Your tattoo fades with prolonged exposure to the sun and will lose its sharpness and details. The sun’s UV rays break up skin pigments and the crisp, straight lines of your tatt slowly dissolve.

    The sun also subtly changes the colors of your tattoo, causing it to lose its vibrancy. Some of the new tattoo inks come in shades that are particularly vulnerable to prolonged sun exposure.

    Meanwhile, protecting your new tattoo from the sun is important for other reasons, including that sunlight slows the healing process that’s the foundation of tattoo aftercare. Too much sun exposure can also cause cracks and scarring in your new tattoo.

    Besides covering your tattoo with clothing – and even then the sun’s UV rays can penetrate thin material – your best option is to use sunscreen on your tattooed skin. Whatever you do, however, don’t apply sunscreen when your new tattoo is healing, a process that should take two to three weeks. Why? It comes down to a few reasons:

    • Commercial sunscreens often contain chemicals that are harsh to sensitive areas of the skin, and the part of the skin where you just got a new tattoo qualifies as sensitive.
    • Commercial sunscreens also may contain artificial colors and scents that aren’t suitable for sensitive skin. Even other types of lotion and soap may have artificial additives that can irritate a new tattoo.
    • The healing process of a new tattoo requires plenty of fresh air. Many sunscreens are thick and non-absorbent, however, and block the necessary oxygen needed for proper healing. If applied too generously, sunscreen also creates a thick layer over the skin that creates a warm, humid environment in which germs and bacteria can thrive – hardly an ideal environment for healing.

    But, by all means, apply sunscreen over your new tattoo once it’s healed. In fact, apply a layer of it on your tattoo before every time you go out into the sunlight. And remember, UV rays reach your skin whether the sun is shining or not. Sun damage not only affects your skin today, but it affects it even several years from now as overexposure takes its toll.

    If nothing else, remember to keep your new tattoo out of direct sunlight during the healing process. Again, keep your tattoo covered with dark clothing and stay in shaded areas as much as possible whenever you’re out in the sun. Are you planning a trip to the beach or another sunny spot immediately after you get your tattoo? If so, you should probably consider rescheduling your tattoo appointment.

    Oh, and avoid indoor tanning beds if you have a new tattoo or an old one. The concentration of UV rays is even greater in tanning salons and many people get too much exposure to them without realizing it.

    As this video explains, keeping your tattoo looking its best – whether it’s new or has been on your skin for a few years or more – means being ever-cautious about sun exposure. If you go for an outdoor swim, for instance, re-apply sunscreen after you’ve finished because the water will wash away the lotion that hasn’t absorbed into the skin.

    • Commercial sunscreens often contain chemicals that are harsh to sensitive areas of the skin, and the part of the skin where you just got a new tattoo qualifies as sensitive.
    • Commercial sunscreens also may contain artificial colors and scents that aren’t suitable for sensitive skin. Even other types of lotion and soap may have artificial additives that can irritate a new tattoo.
    • The healing process of a new tattoo requires plenty of fresh air. Many sunscreens are thick and non-absorbent, however, and block the necessary oxygen needed for proper healing. If applied too generously, sunscreen also creates a thick layer over the skin that creates a warm, humid environment in which germs and bacteria can thrive – hardly an ideal environment for healing.

    But, by all means, apply sunscreen over your new tattoo once it’s healed. In fact, apply a layer of it on your tattoo before every time you go out into the sunlight. And remember, UV rays reach your skin whether the sun is shining or not. Sun damage not only affects your skin today, but it affects it even several years from now as overexposure takes its toll.

    If nothing else, remember to keep your new tattoo out of direct sunlight during the healing process. Again, keep your tattoo covered with dark clothing and stay in shaded areas as much as possible whenever you’re out in the sun. Are you planning a trip to the beach or another sunny spot immediately after you get your tattoo? If so, you should probably consider rescheduling your tattoo appointment.

    Oh, and avoid indoor tanning beds if you have a new tattoo or an old one. The concentration of UV rays is even greater in tanning salons and many people get too much exposure to them without realizing it.

    As this video explains, keeping your tattoo looking its best – whether it’s new or has been on your skin for a few years or more – means being ever-cautious about sun exposure. If you go for an outdoor swim, for instance, re-apply sunscreen after you’ve finished because the water will wash away the lotion that hasn’t absorbed into the skin.

    Keeping your skin moisturized is another tactic you should employ to avoid sun damage. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and apply a moisturizer to your skin in the evening after you’ve showered and washed off the sunscreen.

    Also keep in mind that over-exposure to the sun poses even more serious risks than causing your tattoo to fade, such as the risk of skin cancer and diseases.

    If you’re someone who loves a good tan, just remember that the more you tan, the more your tattoo fades. That’s something to think about when you consider that your tattoo is a long-term investment that you want to keep looking its best for as long as possible. Consider using self tanning lotion - it will keep your skin healthy, moisturized, and damage free while providing a healthy glow.

    5. The “Pop” Factor: How to Make Your Tattoos Jump From Your Skin

    A new tattoo should look vibrant and fresh, like a burst of color and design that pops from your skin. How long it continues to look that way depends on a lot of things – and aging plays a significant role in your tattoo’s appearance – including how well you maintain it. We’ve already talked plenty about tattoo aftercare, but consistent maintenance in the weeks, months, and years after you first get a tattoo is extremely important.

    There’s no set timeline for when a tattoo begins to fade because it’s different for every person. People age at different rates, too; a quick scan of the room at your 20th high school reunion is all the proof you need. But other factors affect your tattoo’s vibrancy:

    • Placement – Again, location matters. Tattoos on certain parts of your body will fade faster than on others, such as on your feet, fingers, and lips. It’s not surprising that hands are on the fast-fade list given how often we use them each day. Also, the skin on your fingers is thinner than the skin in most other places.
    • Ink – The ink’s color and quality also affect your tattoo’s fade rate. As a general rule, lighter colored ink fades faster than darker ink, especially if it stands alone. The lighter ink in most tattoos is used to highlight darker colors, however.
    • Sun – Keeping your tattoo protected from the sun’s UV rays is crucial for it to maintain its vibrancy.

    Not that placement, ink, and sun are the only factors that determine how well your tattoo “pops” and continues to pop in the coming years. There are many other things you can do to keep your tattoo looking as good as new.

    Utility balm and why it’s important for tattoo care

    Our Utility Balm is an extremely versatile product you can use on your beard, hair, skin, and tattoos. It’s hard to beat as a tattoo – and skin – moisturizer and includes shea butter, which helps to rejuvenate the skin while providing key antioxidants. However, we would suggest avoiding Utility Balm for the first few weeks while your tattoo heals - the fragrance within can irritate your skin.

    But once you’re healed, Utility Balm is also excellent for treating dry, cracked skin, which is particularly important if you live in a dry climate or anywhere in which harsh, freezing winters are common. You can use it any time of the day, including at bedtime. Scoop out a small portion of the balm with your index finger and rub it between your palms before applying it. The more it absorbs into your skin, the more vibrant your tattoos, and it keeps your skin hydrated and fresh throughout the day.

    Some men shave their body hair to make their tattoos pop but as our Carlos Costa points out in this video, utility balm is an excellent alternative.

    What else can you do to keep your tattoo looking like new?

    The sun, aging, the quality of ink, the color of ink – all play an important role in whether your tattoo continues to pop for years to come or fades before its time. Still, you can slow the process through other methods:

    • Quit or cut down on your bad habits – We all know the harmful effects that smoking has on our health. But smoking increases the effects of aging, not the least of which is on the skin.
    • Moisturize – Products such as our Utility Balm keep skin moisturized, which is vital for making sure your tattoo looks like new.
    • Exfoliate – Exfoliating the skin means removing the dead skin cells left behind as the skin naturally rejuvenates itself. Your tattoo loses vibrancy as the layer of dead cells becomes thicker. A consistent routine of exfoliation and moisturizing will help keep your skin and tatts fresh. An important note, however: don’t exfoliate the skin on and around your new tattoo until it has completely healed.
    • Be wary of drastic weight changes – Dramatic weight gain – and weight loss – not only alters your body’s shape and skin tone, but also affects the look of your tattoo.
    • Exercise, diet, rest, etc. – The benefits of following a consistent exercise routine are well-known and affect both body and mind. The same is true of maintaining a healthy diet and getting plenty of rest. Keeping yourself in shape helps keep your tattoo in shape, too. Something to keep in mind, however, is that sweat may make the colors of your tattoo fade at a faster rate. It’s not a big deal, but make sure to keep your skin as dry as possible during your workouts (have a towel on hand as your kicking ass on the squat rack).
    • Stay protected from the sun – Yes, we’ve beat this topic to death. But protecting your skin from the sun is that important.

    A brief – very brief – history of the tattoo

    While tattoos have become more popular and relevant in recent years, their history goes back a long, long way. Some experts suggest that tattoos date to several thousand years BC, and that some mummies in Egyptian tombs – especially women – had tattoos. Speculation about the purpose of those tattoos includes that women used tattoos as good luck charms for pregnancy and childbirth. Other historians and archaeologists suggest that they were markings of the lower class.

    The history of the tattoo is colorful (no pun intended) and ripe with meaning. Greeks and Roman wore tattoos that represented their devotion to a particular cult or, for slaves, ownership of a particular master.

    Some religions, including Christianity, banned tattoos except to mark criminals and slaves. But the Maori natives of New Zealand practiced – and still practice – the art of face tattoos, while women in Borneo had tattoos that signified their particular skill, such as weaving, and that might make them more marketable to bachelors. Meanwhile, only high-ranking female members of the Polynesian culture were allowed to have tattoos.

    Needless to say, tattoos have had, and continue to have, endless symbolism as well as old-fashioned practicality. They’ve come a long way in the past couple of decades – one-third of all young Americans have at least one tattoo – and everyone from hipsters to gang bangers to doctors and lawyers have no qualms about getting inked. As a tattoo beginner, you can take pride in participating in a meaningful art form with a rich, diverse history.

    At this stage, as you prepare for your first tattoo, you’re probably excited and a bit anxious. While tattooing has a long history, it also continues to evolve and it’s easier than ever to find an artist who’ll excel at your chosen design. We hope this guide helps to both inform you and ease any anxiousness that you’re feeling.

    We also welcome your feedback. What made you decide to get your first tattoo? What kind of design have you chosen? We’d love to hear from you.



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