In the movies, characters can just walk in and out of a tattoo shop sporting a new tattoo with no prep at all. Unfortunately for everyone, getting a tattoo takes a little more prep than that. Knowing how to prepare for a tattoo can reduce the process of getting a tattoo by hours, prevent unnecessary health complications, and ensure that the whole process is as pain-free as possible. You don’t want to make a run for aftercare tattoo lotion or lidocaine cream long after you need them. Here are all the steps you need to take leading up to getting your new tattoo!
CHOOSING A TATTOO DESIGN & ARTIST
We go into great detail about choosing a tattoo artist and design in some of our other articles, so we’ll let you peruse through those if you’re unsure about what you’re getting or where you’re getting it. The only things that deserve a second mention are: don’t impulsively get a tattoo, and be sure to check out the portfolio of the artist. This ensures you’re getting what you want, and you’re getting the quality you want. It’s difficult to define impulse, so let’s go ahead and define it like this: you want to know six weeks ahead of time if you’re going to get a tattoo. If it helps, wear a fake tattoo on your body where you’ll be getting the real one. Wear it for a few weeks to see if it feels ‘right.’ If it does, then start with all these other steps.
FOOD AND DRINK
First, you’ll want to drink tons of water. Literally chug as much as you can leading up to your tattoo appointment. Your recommended daily intake is between 1 and 2 liters, but it is okay to be on the safe side and drink more. Get lots of sleep and a steady sleep schedule. Going to a tattoo appointment while sleepy is asking for disaster, so make sure any appointments you make are congruent with your sleep schedule.
Next, don’t drink any alcohol, caffeine, or energy drinks the day before you get your tattoo. It is illegal for artists to tattoo someone under the influence, so that means no drugs, either. Even if you’re not drunk, alcohol can thin your blood and make a mess when your artist attempts to give you the tattoo. As for the caffeine and energy drinks, that’s just a courtesy to the tattoo artist and yourself. You do not want to move while you’re receiving the tattoo.
Lastly, eat a large meal before you get your tattoo. When I say large, I mean treat yourself to a 1,000 calorie meal of whatever you want (this is pretty easy to do at a restaurant). Along with the water, this will help your tattoo heal quickly and recharge your blood with some essential nutrients. It also keeps you from getting hungry during the tattoo session itself, which can take many hours. For larger tattoos, you will also need to bring snacks.
You absolutely cannot get a tan or a fake tan. A real tan will cause your tattoo to be dimmer than it could be. The damaged skin will prevent the ink from really seeping in. The fake tan will just make a mess as your tattoo artist removes it. The tanning solution can mix with the ink and cause some really ugly colors, so just skip it entirely. It takes six weeks for a tan to disappear and six weeks for your tattoo to heal, so expect to go tan-less for at least twelve weeks.
Along with that, do not get any sunburns, regular burns, cuts, scrapes, or other damage in the area of your tattoo for a month prior. Stop working out two days before your tattoo to ensure that the skin is completely strong and able to stretch to its healthy limits.
Shave the area yourself in the weeks leading up to the tattoo. If you get razor burn easily, then shave at the closest point in time possible that has you walking in with no razor burn. Otherwise, your tattoo artist will have to do it. Moisturizing lotions and body scrubs are important and help chip away the top layers of your skin, leading to a more vivid tattoo. Practice breathing, meditation, or sitting still for a long period of time. Prepare dinner and do chores ahead of time so that you can just reheat it and relax when you get home after the appointment.
If you are a girl and are getting a tattoo in chest the area, go braless for 24 hours prior so that your skin does not end up contorted (I’m sure you ladies know what I mean—those marks on the skin that your bra gives you can warp the tattoo if it isn’t ‘smoothed out’ ahead of time). There are certain times of your monthly cycle where you are more sensitive to pain and touch—you probably know when that is, so avoid scheduling a tattoo during that time at all costs.
WHAT TO BRING & DO
Go ahead and bring a fully charge phone or mp3 player, private headphones, and a pillow. Use numbing lotion on your tattoo area ahead of time. Load on some music, podcasts, and audiobooks. There are many classic audiobooks available for free online, and there are podcasts for virtually every subject on the planet. This will keep you from getting bored. The pillow is to keep your butt comfy, because you’re going to be sitting in some really weird positions for a while. Unless your artist uses the latest and greatest tattoo chairs or tattoo beds, you’ll end up a little sore afterwards.
Bathe beforehand and wear deodorant (unless you’re getting an underarm tattoo—then you can forego the deodorant bit). This is just common courtesy. Avoid strong perfumes and scents, as this might bother your tattoo artist if they are sensitive to smells. Wear your crappiest clothes—the ones with holes, stains, or otherwise. Your clothes will definitely get ink on them.
As for specifics, you’ll want a picture ID, a doctor’s note for any medical conditions you have, and any reference material. The conditions that require a doctor’s note include bleeding disorders, heart conditions, or auto-immune disorders. Certain skin conditions will require specific aftercare, so be sure to mention that as well. You will have to stop in ahead of time to get a permission form from the studio.
Verify the appointment time and cost ahead of time, and keep track of your health. If you followed the food and drink suggestions, then you should be feeling quite healthy. In the case that you do feel woozy, nauseous, dizzy, or under-the-weather, go ahead and reschedule. Your tattoo artist will understand, and they would prefer not to get sick.
Do not bring your family. Getting a tattoo is boring. Never bring in children or babies. Do not use numbing alcohol. You may choose to use Tylenol or Advil ahead of time to manage the pain or any other available Numbing Product.
Related Read: The Best Tattoo Numbing Cream
WORKING WITH YOUR ARTIST
Make sure you have enough money for the cost and a tip. If you are unsure, then call the studio and verify the appointment time and cost. Always show up on time or early and understand that artists might not be running late. Tell your artist if you’re nervous, scared, or frightened by anything. They are there to help! If you are scared of needles, ask the artist to show you the machine ahead of time. Tattoo machines do not look or act like hypodermic needles—they’re a different kind entirely! Looking at them could help you throw away that fear—at least when it comes to tattoo machines
Prepare to contort yourself a lot—the artist will try to stretch your skin in the tattooed region so that its shape holds for many years in the future. Warn the artist if you need to move. Itching, coughing, sneezing, laughing, and so on can move your whole body, despite seeming like a small movement. Let the artist know if your leg or arm starts to fall asleep before you have trouble, so that they can find a new position before you start losing strength and moving a bunch. Relax while getting your tattoo. The more rest breaks and movements you make, the longer it will take for your tattoo to finish. The more time goes on, the more your tattoo will sting, so you want it to be done as close to the artist’s regular pace as possible.
If you start feeling nauseous, dizzy, or confused, ask for assistance. Feeling faint is very common, even for returning customers, and the artist can help alleviate that or notice if the symptoms are unusual before things get extreme. Lastly, do not be a drama queen, whiner, fidgeter, or constantly demand to see your tattoo. It hurts, and they know it. Ask to look at your tattoo every thirty minutes at the minimum.
WHAT TO EXPECT AFTERWARDS
Plan to rest after your tattoo. You need several days for it to heal up. You will be surprisingly hungry and tired, so you can’t schedule anything for that day. Preferably, don’t schedule anything for three days. Don’t touch a fresh tattoo, and don’t let anyone else touch it. We go into much further detail in our Tattoo Aftercare article our Tattoo Aftercare Product articles, so be sure to check that out.
Learning how to prepare for a tattoo is simple, and a lot of these tips can be applied in other areas of your life. In example, drinking lots of water and eating lots of protein will keep your blood nice and healthy! As always, thanks for reading, and feel free to check out the other articles on the site for more information.
©Pictures by Fedor Schmidt