Taking the plunge on your first tattoo can be intimidating. You might be worried about how much it will hurt, or whether you'll regret having your design-of-choice as a permanent part of your body. But if you go in with a plan (i.e. not spontaneously after a night on the town) and you're in love with your art choice, it'll be worth the stress.
You'll hear different things about how much the needle will hurt — and it does vary based on where you're getting the tattoo and how colorful it is — but the short-term discomfort will likely be worth the joy of an ink job well done. So, if you're considering getting a tattoo, you're going to want to keep reading. We asked around the office to find out what R29 staffers wish they had known before getting their first tattoos. Some of them are more practical (a sanitary shop is crucial), while others are a bit sillier (ink is a gateway drug to more ink), but we think you'll find comfort in knowing that everyone worries about the same things. Click through to read our advice.
This will be a part of your body
for life, so spend more than 15 minutes deciding who will create it. Do some research into whether other customers were happy at various tattoo shops near you. Pay attention to comments about the tattoo artists' customer service to get a better sense of how you'll be treated at each location.
Better yet, browse
to find the right artist for you. If you want him or her to create a custom design, you'll need to choose someone whose aesthetic matches yours. And if it means traveling to another city, do it.
If you do find an artist whose work you love, know that there might be a wait before you can book an appointment. Those artists have built up impressive followings for a reason. But if you're set on a particular artist's style, it will be worth the wait.
Yes, paying more for a good tattoo is worth it — but you don't want to go in blind. Source pricing information from friends and online reviews, and always get a quote before you start.
We all love a good bargain. But tattoos are works of art that you wear — and you
do get what you pay for.
If you're worried about chickening out, telling someone (or multiple people) can be a good strategy. But if you
do change your mind, no shame. You should never feel pressured into getting anything on your body you don't want.
Even if you're not choosing something with a deeper meaning, you still want something that's
yours. One Refinery29 staffer — with almost 40 tattoos — says to "never choose something off the wall of a tattoo shop."
Many people choose tattoos that have a significant, often sentimental meaning. And that's great — but it's okay to just get a
tattoo for aesthetic reasons
Whether or not you go into your consultation with a detailed plan, it's best to listen to what your tattoo artist thinks of the idea. They might have a different suggestion for your tattoo's placement or colors. Of course, at the end of the day, you're the one who will live with the design — but be open to expert feedback, too.
We've said it before, but it bears repeating: This is a decision you'll live with for the rest of your life, and you want something you'll
truly love. If you're going with a custom design, take some time to think about the details to make sure it's perfect before committing to it.
Yes, you should take your tattoo artist's opinion into account. But if there's a detail you don't like, don't be afraid to voice your concern and talk it through with your tattoo artist. The same is true for repositioning the stencil on your body. You're the one who's going to be showing off the tattoo, so it should be exactly what you want.
If you don't know why you have to sign a certain waiver or how to take care of your tattoo, don't be afraid to ask questions. Getting inked is a big deal, and your tattoo artist should be happy to answer any queries, big or small, that you might have about the process.
If you've put a lot of thought into the tattoo design you want, don't overlook the shading and colors you want the tattoo artist to use.
"I wish I had known just how important decisions about color are," says one Refinery29 staffer. "There are many factors to consider, including your skin tone, how tan you may or may not be, and how the color will change over the years."
This can vary based on your personality — but don't think of it as a hard-and-fast rule that you shouldn't get a tattoo alone. If you're by yourself, you just have to suck it up and go through with any fear you might be experiencing, and that might not be a bad thing.
Many tattoo shops ask you to sign multiple waivers saying that you've seen sanitization measures such as a clean needle before the process begins. It's not overkill — the last thing you want is an infection from unsterilized equipment. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the shop's cleanliness. If it has the proper measures in place, the staff will be happy to explain them to you.
Even if you think you're not afraid of your first tattoo, something small might set you off. (For me, I freaked out when the tattoo artist brought out a razor, but it turned out he was just shaving the hair off my arm for an arm tattoo.)
There are a lot of factors that go into how much a tattoo will hurt. But if you're getting something simple in black ink that's not on your hands, feet, or joints, the pain will probably be less than what you expected.
If you find yourself wincing in pain during your first tattoo, take a deep breath. Remember that it's temporary. (And if the pain really does get to be too much, you can ask your artist to give you a quick break before finishing the tattoo.)
Your tattoo needs to heal, and you definitely don't want it to get infected while it's still fresh. Your tattoo artist should explain how often to wash it, and which lotions and ointments to use on it, and when. Those steps aren't optional — it's essential for making sure your tattoo heals properly and looks its best.
You'll need Aquaphor or a similar ointment to help with the skin's healing process after a tattoo. You could make a run to the drugstore after your appointment, but it's easier to just buy some beforehand.
If you don't know what to expect when you peel the protective covering off your tattoo, you might be shocked to see what's there. It won't instantly look like part of your skin — the tattoo area might be raised or have redness around it while your skin heals.
Washing your new tattoo is essential — but submerging it won't help with the healing process.
"I wish I'd known more about aftercare," says one Refinery29 staffer, who got a tattoo while working as a lifeguard. She went to work the day after and says the chlorine "immediately made my tattoo more faded than it should have been." Your tattoo artist should give you a list of detailed instructions about what to do, and what not to do.
Direct sunlight can fade tattoo ink. Your artist might recommend avoiding direct sunlight after you get inked. And after it's healed, it's a good idea to put sunblock on your tattoo so it won't fade as quickly.
Some tattoo shops might make you sign a waiver about your alcohol usage the day of the tattoo. And you might be refused service if you're visibly intoxicated. No artist wants to be responsible for a tattoo someone will regret when they're sober. Plus, alcohol use
may cause more bleeding
, which isn't fun for you or the tattoo artist.
No, you shouldn't drink alcohol, but you shouldn't get inked on an empty stomach, either. Especially if you're nervous, you don't want to go in with low blood sugar and end up fainting.
Your tattoo artist is providing a service — and they'll likely expect a tip in addition to the standard price for your new ink.
Real Simple suggests
tipping 20% of the cost, but you might want to give more than that if your tattoo is custom. (And you love it. Which hopefully you do.)
If you have a tattoo with vibrant colors, you
might need touch-ups
to keep it looking fresh. Some artists and shops will do touch-ups on their own work free of charge. One thing to keep in mind is that a tattoo on a body part that's exposed to sunlight more frequently may fade faster, which makes using SPF that much more important.
A number of Refinery29 staffers with tattoos echoed this sentiment. Some people refer to the first tattoo as a "gateway drug," and that can feel true. You might want more ink if you love your first tattoo (and realize it hurts less than you expected).
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