How To Make Your Tattoos Look Better Than Ever

Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Your body is a blank canvas, and choosing a design to display on it forever can be fun, exciting, and even a little scary — in the best way. But, if done wrong, your fresh ink could become something you’re ashamed of — and that’s quite labor-intensive (and expensive) to get rid of.

That’s why learning how to choose a tattoo artist you’ll love, along with proper aftercare, is so essential prior to getting inked. Before you step into the parlor, read up on these fail-proof tips for getting and maintaining ink that’s healthy, vibrant, and something to be proud of for years to come.      
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Choosing An Artist
“The first and most important step is to choose the right artist for the job,” says Lalo Yunda, a tattoo artist and painter based in New York City. “These days, it’s easy to find one, thanks to the Internet. Look through different portfolios online until you find someone you really like, and trust their taste, technique, and artistry to materialize your idea.” Once you’ve found the artist for you, try not to micromanage. “Explain your ideas, and trust them with the execution,” Yunda says. “It’s like going to a really good restaurant and standing behind the chef, telling him or her what to do.”

Choosing a parlor that follows proper hygiene protocol is just as important. Besides the studio and artist being licensed by your local health department, “all your questions about hygiene should be answered clearly,” Yunda says. “The needles used should be new and disposable, and come in a sealed, sterilized package. You can ask, before the artist sets up, to have them opened in front of you.” The artist should also wear disposable gloves — and put on a fresh pair every time they touch something, like if they answer the phone — and ask you to sign a form detailing the risks involved in getting inked.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Proper Aftercare
The first few weeks — and, especially, the first few days — following getting inked are critical. While artists often differ in aftercare techniques, they'll most likely cover your tattoo in Saran wrap or something similar immediately following the process. A safe bet is leaving it on until the next morning, as the tattoo’s ink can bleed and stick to sheets.

“The most important thing somebody needs to pay attention to is washing the tattoo as much as possible,” says Megan Massacre, a tattoo artist at Grit N Glory in New York City. “I usually recommend people wash it every morning when they wake up, every night before bed, and if they can, a few times throughout the day.” Make sure you use an antibacterial soap, like Dial's. And, while many artists recommend using an ointment — like Aquaphor or A+D — post-wash, Massacre suggests a fragrance-free hand lotion instead, as ointment can be too heavy and cause ingrown hairs or pimples that will prolong healing. Aveeno and Lubriderm make stellar lotion choices. Continue to wash and moisturize the tattoo for about two weeks.

A few other things to keep in mind during the first two weeks: Avoid getting fragrances on the tattoo, keep sun exposure to a minimum, and don’t submerge the area in water. Showering is fine, but avoid baths, pools, and bodies of water.
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
Keeping Your Ink Vivid
The best way to slow down your tattoo’s natural fading process is applying a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 whenever it’s exposed to the sun. Some artists claim that continuing to moisturize it daily after the two-week mark works wonders as well. The brand Billy Jealousy has a whole kit dedicated to scrubbing, hydrating, and enhancing your ink.

At the end of the day, though, be realistic. “People age, skin ages,” says Jeffrey Meyer, an artist at Unbreakable Tattoo in Los Angeles. “It’s the one thing about tattooing that’s inevitable. But, tattoos, when they’re done well, and they’re timeless — even though they’re 40 or 50 years old — they’re still going to look beautiful in their own way, just like a pair of vintage boots.”
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Illustrated by Mary Galloway.
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