A couple of weeks ago, we offered up a piercing FAQ, meant to address the most common queries we receive, and hopefully ease your mind a little. This week, we hope to do the same regarding tattoos. It should be made clear, however, that these FAQs are not intended to replace the guidance of your tattoo artist – they have devoted their lives to this artform, and should be respected and listened to when it comes to tattoo care. Rather, these are generalised answers to common questions, meant to help you make smart decisions about getting a new piece.
What does it feel like?
Everyone, no matter how tough or laid back, wonders what getting tattooed feels like, whether it hurts or not, and how they will be able to handle the sensation. Both the artists themselves and the front desk staff get asked countless times a day if there is anything one can do to reduce the pain, or where it hurts least to get tattooed. The fact is, it is impossible to tell someone else how their tattoo will feel. We all have different pain thresholds, and we all accept the sensation in different ways. Ask ten different people which of their tattoos hurt most, and you will get ten different answers. Some think it doesn’t hurt at all, no matter where it is. Some think certain body parts hurt while others don’t. And some think it is a painful experience, period. What we can tell you, however, is that the general rule is: the fleshier, the better. Getting tattooed is, for most people, not a painful experience – it is simply a sensation they had never felt before, and therefore needed to adjust to. Many people describe it as more annoying than painful, as if someone is flicking you with a rubber band, or poking you with a toothpick, but over and over again. Unless you have a really low threshold for pain, chances are pretty good that getting tattooed will not be an unbearable experience (I can personally attest to being a pretty big wuss, and I still managed to survive getting both of my feet and my ribcage, two of the more sensitive areas, tattooed).
Is there anything I should do beforehand?
Yes! Absolutely, yes! And we love people that ask this, as it shows you are being wise about your decision to get tattooed. The number one thing you can do to make the tattoo process easier is eat. Yes, eat. Specifically, eating carbs, leafy greens, and high-vitamin juices gives your body the boost it needs to better handle the sensation of being tattooed. Your blood will be thicker, your blood sugars a bit higher, and your body well-hydrated, all of which make the process far easier on you, and on your artist. Likewise, avoid blood-thinners (alcohol, for example), and do not come in on an empty stomach.
In the context of tattoos, beforehand and afterwards are often one in the same. One of the best ways to prepare for a tattoo is to consider what you’ll be doing afterwards – it is best to get a tattoo when you have a couple of days off to recoup – you want to avoid it getting bumped or scratched or soaked, so it may not be a great idea to get a tattoo and then head straight back to work if you have a job in which you are likely to be touched, bumped, or exerting yourself physically (if in doubt, ask your artist). Also be aware that you should not be tanning or swimming or doing any really strenuous work-outs (that is, if your tattoo is in a place where working out may affect it – your bicep or your ribcage, for example) during the healing process, so if you are so inclined, schedule your tattoo for a time when you can take a break from those activities.
In short, preparing for a tattoo means understanding what the process, including healing, entails. Make sure your body is well-fueled beforehand, and that you can relax a bit afterwards, and you are well on your way to a happy tattoo.
Can I get _______?
Unquestionably, the most common question we get asked is “can I get…?”, with the blank space being anything from your boyfriend’s name to a rose the size of a dime. The answer is always the same – yes, and no, and maybe, depending. Most reputable shops will refuse to tattoo your partner’s name on you – it’s just a bad idea, for what should be obvious reasons. But, for the most part, your artist can make whatever you want a reality, provided you will make a few concessions. A really intricate tattoo cannot be tiny – it needs to have enough space between the lines that they will not run together – and placement is important in ensuring it looks good when healed – getting a tattoo near the palm of your hand or inside your mouth is certainly possible, but may not be the greatest plan if you want it to heal nicely and stay looking good long-term. Whatever your idea, your artist will try to make it happen – just realize that your ideas may not be taking the practical side of things into account. Listen to your artist, and make these decisions together.
What can I expect from the healing process?
Getting the tattoo is the exciting part, but you want it to look good forever, not just today. Allowing it to heal properly is vital! While everyone is different, there are a couple of things most everyone can expect. Before I continue, however, I think it very important to make something clear, here: your artist knows best. A good artist has spent years not only perfecting their art, but nailing down the best aftercare instructions as well. They’ve seen firsthand what works, what doesn’t, and what common errors people make. Please take their advice seriously. That said, most everyone will experience a couple of things during the healing process, and those we can safely address here. First, you will shed! I can’t count how many times we’ve received panicked phone-calls from clients, telling us that they woke up to find bits of coloured skin on their sheets. And it is a panic-inducing moment, if one isn’t aware – it looks as though your tattoo itself is just peeling right off – not exactly what most people had in mind. Rest assured, however, that your tattoo will not just peel off – what you are seeing is the very top layer of skin, and it is no different than the dry skin that falls away from you on a regular basis. Second, it will probably itch – don’t scratch it! Healing skin normally itches; this is why you feel the urge to pick scabs. While it is normal, you want to avoid scratching or picking – letting it heal is crucial to how it will look in the end. Finally, you want to allow at least 3 weeks healing time – for some it will be shorter, for some much longer, but 3 weeks seems to be pretty standard. For that time, avoid soaking in water (showers are of course still recommended, but baths, hot-tubs, swimming pools, etc, are not), spending a lot of time in the sun, or doing anything extreme to your skin.
The most important part of the healing process, of course, is to listen to your artist, and just be good to yourself. Your body knows how to heal itself – you just need to allow it to do so!
Is a tattoo right for me?
We don’t actually hear this one a lot, but we should. While we at I-Kandy are of course huge body-mod advocates, we also want you to love your mod forever, which means being realistic and smart about it. Think about your career goals, your desired appearance, and your lifestyle before jumping in to a tattoo, and choose pieces and places that will work for you and your future plans. You may love the idea of a giant skull on your neck, but if your plan is to become a kindergarten teacher, you probably want to rethink that. Likewise, if you are a swimmer or summer-traveler, you want to be really careful about when you get tattooed. Taking a little extra time to do your research and consider your options is the best thing you can do to ensure you will be forever happy with your choice.