7 Mistakes To Avoid When Getting A Tattoo

Photographed by Beth Sacca.
It took me seven years to build up the courage to get my first tattoo. I knew I wanted one, but I agonized over where to put it, what design would look best, and which artist to go with. I spent years doodling designs on my wrists in permanent marker, building Pinterest pages of minimalist tattoos, and saying I was going to do it — only to back out at the last minute every single time.
Let's face it: Getting a tattoo can be scary! It's not exactly a life-changing choice (as long as it's done safely), but it is one that's painful and very difficult and time-consuming to remove if you ever change your mind. So, I wanted to be sure I was doing absolutely everything by the book. When I finally decided to go for it a few months ago, I reached out to three of the best tattoo artists I know for what not to do when getting your first tattoo. With their help, I finally did it — and I'm so glad I did!
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Read ahead for their surprising answers.
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Picking The Wrong Studio

“Most tattoo shops that are operating publicly at this point are really good about being clean,” says tattoo artist Scott Campbell. “That really hasn’t been a problem since the 90’s, where people were reusing needles and not sterilizing properly.” Still, safety is by far the most important thing when it comes to doing anything to your body. Plus, ensuring safety can help calm your pre-tattoo nerves.”Just make sure you’re getting it with obviously new needles in a clean environment where you don’t have to worry about any cooties or hepatitis or anything,” suggests Campbell.

Translation: Both your needles and ink should be brand new and fresh out of the plastic, and fresh gloves should always be worn by your artist.
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Skimping On Artist Research

Research is key in finding a tattoo artist. “Find somebody that you like their work, look at the work they’ve done in the past, and talk to them,” says Campbell. “Have a conversation with them, either in person or via phone to the point where you basically get to know them as much as you need to trust them.” Do your homework, stalk them on Instagram, Yelp, and Facebook, ask all the questions you need to ask. Once they pass your test, artist Daniel Winter says to make the final select based on their artistry.
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Pressuring Yourself

“I feel like people a lot of times, especially with their first tattoo, put so much responsibility on that tattoo,” says Campbell. “They feel like they have to summarize their entire being in one little symbol. That’s just way too much responsibility to put on any design process.” Likewise, Sweet Sue of East River Tattoo says there’s nothing wrong with getting a tattoo just to mark the passage of time. “Your first tattoo is just one moment in your life,” reminds Campbell, “It’s not your entire life.” Winter suggests staying with something small and delicate and avoiding color for the first tattoo.
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Not Prepping Your Skin

It might seem counterintuitive, but make sure to thoroughly wash, exfoliate, and moisturize the spot you want a tattoo before getting it. By taking care of the skin, it makes it easier for the tattoo artist to visualize the tattoo and tell you what to expect, says Sue.
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Overbooking Yourself

Your state of mind and how you’re feeling that day relates to how good your tattoo experience will be, so Sue suggests making a day out of it. If you’re commitment-free and spend the day doing your favorite things, “believe me, by the time you actually get to the tattoo parlor, you’ve treated yourself really well and you’re not rushing or stressed out or worried, your whole demeanor will be different,” she says.
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Arriving Alone

By bringing along a friend or trusted companion, Sue says first-time tattooers can avoid what she calls the “‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ syndrome.” Basically, first-time tattooers get so nervous that they end up saying, “yeah” to just about anything the artist suggests, even if it’s not what they originally had in mind. By bringing a friend who knows what you want beforehand, you can make sure someone else has your back.
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Forgetting A Distraction

The sensation of getting a tattoo is manageable, but it can hurt even more due to our natural flight-or-fight response. Sue suggests that you chew gum or eat candy right as you start getting the tattoo if you’re feeling extra nervous. “That’s going to cut your fight-or-flight response down, because your body doesn’t feel like it’s under attack when it’s eating,” she says.
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