There is one main thing you need to be concerned with when it comes to tattooing – infection. The process of tattooing is basically just pushing an ink coated needle into your skin again, and again, and again. You will bleed, your body will be exposed to anything that is on that needle, and of course a fresh tattoo is basically just a fresh wound, it is susceptible to infection just like any other would. Infection won’t just make you ill, it will impact the healing process and may even leave you with a poor excuse for a tattoo.
Infection – avoid changes of picking up bacteria or blood borne pathogens by selecting your tattoo artist and studio with care. If you’re ill your immune system is weaker, so wait until you’re back in top condition before going to get your tattoo, and follow the aftercare procedures.
Reactions – some inks contain similar ingredients and pigments to cosmetic products, particularly coloured makeups. If you have had allergic reactions to cosmetic products in the past ask your tattoo artist to do an ink test; this will help them to identify any inks you might be allergic to, if any.
Scarring – sometimes if your artist tattoos too deeply, you can end up with scarring around the tattoo. This can slow the healing process, makes the tattooing and healing processes more painful and of course can result in a much less attractive tattoo.
Selecting the right Artist;
The art they produce is of course important to you, but you should ensure that the hygienic practices of your artist are one of the key factors you take into account when selecting your tattoo artist. Visit the studio, this should be a registered shop property, not part of the artist’s home, and should be maintained in a clean fashion.
Avoid “scratchers” – a ‘Scratcher’ is a tattoo artist who is not trained or registered and is more likely to produce poor results. This most commonly tattoo out of their homes and should be avoided at all costs, as the environment is not controlled or moderated, which means that it is unlikely to be a safe, sterile and registered environment.
Meet the artist – meet with your artist prior to your appointment. This is a standard meeting where you usually discuss your tattoo ideas and what you want, your artist should use this opportunity to discuss the procedure and hygiene requirements with you and usually don’t need to be prompted to ensure you are aware of the risks involved and the precautions you will have to take. If you are concerned about anything take this opportunity to ask your artist about it. If you don’t leave this meeting with confidence that you’re safe in the hands of the artist then cancel and find someone else who you will be able to trust.
Look at the studio carefully – while with your artist take a look around. The place should look and smell clean. Make sure that artists working are wearing gloves, that equipment is stored properly on clean trays. If anything causes you any concern it is okay to point it out or even just leave if you are particularly worried.
The Tattooing Process;
This is of course the scary part if you’ve never had a tattoo before, but don’t worry. If you’ve got this far then you should have confidence that your artist is going to take care of you. He should be wearing gloves, some wear a mask for an extra standard of hygiene but this is not required and not particularly common – don’t be too concerned if your artist isn’t. The artist will start by washing your arm with alcohol or another antibacterial cleaning fluid, then it starts.
Eat – make sure you have a good meal before the appointment, even if you don’t want to eat. A stomach full of food can help to increase your pain threshold and makes it less likely that you will pass out during the tattooing process.
Pain Relief – you can take a pain killer if you’re particularly worried about how you will handle the pain for the tattooing process. However, be sure that this is a non-aspirin based pain relief, as aspirin thins the blood and would increase the bleeding, potentially causing problems during healing.
No influences – drugs and alcohol can thin your blood, which will have negative impacts on the healing process, make the tattooing process more difficult and leave you potentially more open to infection. Besides which, most good tattoo artists will refuse to tattoo you on principle alone.
Morning tattoo session – if you have any doubts at all try to get your tattoo session on the morning. As humans our adrenaline is higher on a morning, which means your pain threshold is higher. It also means that if a problem starts to develop a few hours after the tattoo then it will be easier to get that dealt with straight away, so you won’t have to wait until the next day when the problem might be even worse.
There are all sorts of products and suggestions out there about the right sort of aftercare for your tattoo, these are important to keeping you healthy and your tattoo looking good.
Keep it covered – once your artist has finished your tattoo they will usually wrap it, with either a bandage or plastic film. This protects it from external bacteria. Leave this on for at least a few hours, long enough for the bleeding to stop. Plastic wrap should be left on for at most four hours, as it doesn’t allow the skin to breathe the way a bandage does. If your artist used a bandage you can leave this on for up to 20 hours after getting the tattoo without an issue.
Change the bandage – carefully remove the covering on your fresh tattoo and gently wash the tattoo. Lukewarm water and a very mild soap (something antibacterial but unscented) are some of the more recommended options. Use your hands rather than anything rough to gently wash the tattoo, removing the dried blood, plasma and ink around the tattoo. Then gently pat the tattoo and leave to air dry for half an hour to an hour before applying your ointment and replacing the dressing on your tattoo.
Keep it covered overnight – the first day is when your tattoo is most vulnerable to infection, and the most sore. Keep it covered for the first night or two, which will help to protect the tattoo while you’re asleep,
Wash 3-5 times a day – continue to wash your tattoo with warm water and soap gently 3-5 times each day until your tattoo is fully healed. This may take from three to six weeks, depending on your body and your tattoo.
No Swimming – don’t fully immerse your tattoo in water until it has fully healed. Swimming pools and baths are some of the most common places to pick up bad bacteria, so you should be careful not to expose your tattoo to these until fully healed.
Tattoos heal like sunburn – similar to the way sunburn heals by peeling or flaking the skin away when the new, healthy skin grown up beneath your tattoo may peel and flake. This is perfectly normal; just keep washing it a few times a day and once it has peeled it will normally have a glossy sort of look to it. This may have cloudy or white patches, but avoid peeling these off; they will take a few days or weeks to peel off by themselves, but are better off coming away naturally.
Kate Critchlow is a freelance writer, covering a wide range of topics from the latest technology to the most popular tattoo aftercare ointments.