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A Tattoo Talk from the Tattooed: What First Timers Should Expect

Mar 13, 2015 12:56PM ● Published by August Schwartz

By August Schwartz

I got my first tattoo at age 17, believe it or not, through proper channels. A shop nearby allowed 17-year-olds to get tattooed with a parent’s signature. (Were my parents okay with it? My dad got his first tattoo a few weeks later.) I spent around $150 of my own money for a simple black tattoo and went under the gun for just over an hour. The anxiety of the pain was worse than the pain itself, however it’s definitely a new experience for any first-timer.

So, you’re ready to get a tattoo? Assuming you have a pretty concrete idea about what you want to get tattooed, you need to figure out who you’re going to let do it. Do a little research on the shop’s reputation and, more importantly, find an artist who tattoos in a style you like. Much like other services, certain artists only specialize in specific types of work, whether it’s black and grey portraits, traditional, Asian, etc. Today you can find just about any artist’s portfolio online through social media.

The next step is visiting your shop of choice or scheduling a consultation ahead of time. This is when you would meet with an artist and bring all of your reference materials/ideas. During this time you’ll discuss size, placement, and price. The larger and more colorful a tattoo is, the more time is required, thus more expensive. Find out whether or not it will require multiple sessions and be sure you are financially prepared for those (don’t forget to tip). A lot of establishments will require you to put down a small deposit in order for the artist to start the design and setup the actual tattoo appointment for a later date. This is highly recommended as you’ll be able to see the design and have a little more time to mull over details. It is rare that a good tattoo artist would have two or three hours available for a walk-in appointment.

To prepare for the appointment, be sure to get in plenty of food and water. Your body will be expending a lot of energy during the tattoo, and if you’re not well-fed and well-rested, you may find yourself feeling faint and more agitated than usual. If you are overly hairy, do your best beforehand to shave the area of your body you are having tattooed. The artists will typically shave you regardless but it’s helpful and probably greatly appreciated.

Tattoos will scab up and typically heal about three to four weeks after the appointment. The key to a nicely healed tattoo is to simply keep it clean and moisturized. Don’t be too aggressive with the washing process, and two to three times daily use an unscented lotion or ointment recommended by your tattoo artist. Avoid swimming pools at least until it’s healed and apply sunblock regularly if you’re going to be out in direct sunlight.

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Tatts All Folks!

What dermatologists want you to know about caring for a tattoo.

Once the exclusive domain of sailors and street toughs, tattoos have gone mainstream. According to the Pew Research Center, more than a third of Americans aged 18 to 25 now have a tattoo—and about 40 percent of Americans aged 26 to 40 have one. Bruce Katz, a board-certified dermatologist from Manhattan, considers tattoos a pricey investment that should be protected. “It’s important to take steps to keep tattooed skin healthy and vibrant,” Dr. Katz says. He recommends the following tips:

  • If your tattooed skin feels dry, apply a water-based lotion or cream. Petroleum-based products can cause the ink to fade.
  • Protect your skin from the sun—light can fade some tattoos and, of course, cause cancer. Don’t use tanning beds or sunlamps, not just for the cancer prevention but because UV light may react with the tattoo ink and cause a painful skin reaction. See a dermatologist for any unusual skin reactions.
  • When considering a new tattoo, look for a spot that is free of moles. A tattoo can make it more difficult to see the earliest signs of skin cancer.

“If you have questions about tattoos or if you no longer want a tattoo, speak with your dermatologist,” says Dr. Katz. “Although many tattoo removal kits are available online, these products are not regulated by the FDA and have led to permanent skin injuries. A dermatologist can provide you with safe options for removing an unwanted tattoo.”
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