Tiny Tattoo 101: Everything I Wish I'd Known About Getting My First Tattoo
If you follow my Instagram, you already know that around the end of September I got my first tattoo! I have three birth marks in a triangle on my left calf, and I mirrored those birth marks with the stars from the corner of the Harry Potter pages on my right calf.
A lot of thought and personal symbolism went into this tattoo... it's sort of a tribute to my grandparents, a reference to my love of magic and fantasy, a reminder to always stay young at heart, a representation of the three major cities I've called my home, an homage to the musicians and actors that influenced me and my love of reading all wrapped up in one.
That being said, here are a few things you should know before you take the plunge... things I certainly wish I knew (DISCLAIMER: I am ABSOLUTELY NOT a professional, any questions should 100% be taken to your tattoo artist. This is only advice I personally followed to heal my tattoo.):
1. Do your research. Make sure you know which tattoo shop is the most reputable in your area, and once you decide on a design you want... I'd sit on it for a year. It helped me make sure that the design was what I REALLY wanted, and got me to avoid serious buyer's remorse. Who wants something permanent that they wish they could take back?
Once you decide on a place, check out their artists' portfolios. It's easy to do now, because every artist has an Instagram account to display their work. That way you know that you actually like and trust your artist before you even set your foot in the door.
2. Go with a friend. I'm so glad I went with two of my friends. It was not only helpful to have someone there to talk to me while I was getting my ink done, but they helped ensure the design was placed correctly and helped ease any "oh my goodness what am I doing" jitters.
3. It's not as bad as you think it will be... depending on the location. I thought I'd be crying when I got mine, but it really only felt like a pinch. If you're getting something directly on a bone, chances are that will be WAY more painful. I've heard plenty of people crying getting those kinds of tattoos. Feet, wrists, fingers, rib cage, spine, etc. are all pretty painful areas, so be prepared and come with your favorite distraction. Also, any good artist will happily stop if you ask them to, just to let you catch your breath and prep for the next wave.
4. Follow your artist's aftercare instructions. Mine wrapped my design in Tatuderm, which I was told to keep on for three days before taking off. I was told that the design would look really funky those three days, but it didn't stop me from having a mini panic attack and calling the shop just to make sure it was supposed to look like three little blobs. They assured me that yes, this is normal and it's just the excess ink seeping out of the tattoo while it heals. PHEW!
Once the three days was up, I took the bandage off, washed and dried my hands (and then washed the tattoo) with Dial Gold, an unscented, antibiotic formula, waited for the design to air dry and then applied a VERY thin layer of Aquaphor Healing Ointment on it. I repeated this three times a day for a month. I'm currently washing the design once a day and putting the Aquaphor on it twice.
Some articles will tell you to switch to an unscented lotion like Lubriderm, but my artist informed me that Aquaphor was the best thing to keep the tattoo looking great throughout the healing process. It's a little more expensive, but you've invested in permanent ink... you might as well make sure it looks good forever.
Also, when you're washing your tattoo, make sure you're not rubbing too hard. Gentle washing helps ensure the design heals properly and doesn't irritate the skin.
5. Don't panic if the tattoo looks distorted. Your skin has just been injured by a needle depositing ink deep into it, it's going to look distorted, red and puffy. If it doesn't, you're probably a superhuman.
It is also perfectly normal for there to be a little bit of flaking and scabbing, it's not a sign that you got a bad artist at all. The good artists will pack a bunch of ink into the tattoo to keep it looking bold and bright after healing, so this is just more of the excess seeping out. Your tattoo won't look 100% until about a month, maybe more depending on the tattoo. The only time there's cause for alarm is if it's a big, hard scab over the tattoo. Then you'll probably want to consult your artist, and you might need to prep for a touch up.
MAKE SURE YOU DON'T PICK AT YOUR SKIN. No picking at flakes or scabs, no itching the tattoo, nothing. If you do, this will pretty much guarantee your tattoo looking distorted and you'll have to go back and touch it up. If the skin is really itchy and unbearable, a light slap should ease the itchiness a bit.
6. Don't wear tight clothes for at least a month. This means no bras, skinny jeans (really hard for me), bodycon dresses, etc. Your tattoo needs to breathe, and suffocating it with your clothes will not only make the healing take longer, it could also distort your tattoo. I wore loose pants, dresses and skirts for a month before switching back to the skinnies. Totally worth it, because it got me to be more creative with my limited selections AND my tattoo looks amazing thanks to the special care I gave it.
7. No soaking. This means no baths and no swimming. Showers are fine, so long as you don't drench the tattoo in water. I also avoided really hot showers during the initial stages of healing so that I didn't open up my pores and let out more ink, causing fading.
True story: My father's house only has a tub, and I went to visit him two weeks after getting my design. I kid you not, I stuck my leg out of the tub the entire time I was bathing and only put fresh water (not sitting bath water) on the tattoo when I needed to clean it. Not the most comfortable experience ever.
8. No direct sunlight on your design. If you have to be in the sun, put an unscented SPF 50+ sunscreen over your design to protect it. Continue to do this after the healing stage (yes, I do mean for the rest of your life) to keep your tattoo looking like new... and to postpone any trips back to the shop for touch ups.
9. After about a month, you can switch to your normal moisturizer. I'm continuing the Aquaphor for now and I'm going to switch to my favorite LUSH moisturizer after two months, but you should be safe to switch after a month or so. Make sure you're moisturizing your skin at least daily (once again, this is a forever tip) because healthy and happy skin = a healthy and happy tattoo.
10. Shaving is off-limits for a good month. Since I got mine on an area that I shave all of the time, I had to look this tip up. The best piece of advice I read was to close your eyes and rub your (washed and dried) hand over your design. If you can tell where your tattoo is because the design is raised, dry, etc. then you shouldn't shave the area. Once the tattoo is completely healed, it's safe to shave over.
I hope this advice helped any of you that are thinking about getting your first tattoo and looking for some tips... both on what to expect and how to make sure your design looks great forever. Let me know if you have any other tried-and-true tips in the comments below, or if you have any questions for me about my tattoo and what the whole process was like!