How To Prepare and Care For A Tattoo – According to The World’s Best Tattoo Artists
Sep 29, 2021
Ready to take the plunge and sport some super cool ink? Read on to find out how to make your entire tattoo experience, start to finish, easy and pain free (OK, who are we kidding, there will be some pain involved).
Tattooing has become part of the mainstream in recent years, due to an increased acceptance of the medium; Fun fact - according to Oxygen Network and Lightspeed Research, more females have gotten tattooed as opposed to men, 59% in comparison to the males 41%. The prevalence of tattoos on the musical artists we listen to and actors and actresses we follow has created an enhanced awareness of the art form, and tattoo artists are slinging more ink than ever before.
Getting tattooed can be viewed as a journey; a rite of passage if you will, as tattoo lover, Lonni Pike expresses. She should know; her tattoo tally checks in at well over 20 plus pieces. I myself have simply lost count. In the past few years, tattoos are more of a laundry list item than a rite of passage. Getting inked is an almost monthly occurrence, ranking high on my list of necessities, up there with grocery shopping, mani/pedis and attending boxing class each week (the workouts are awesome but freaking hard; sometimes I’d rather endure the pain of a tattoo instead). I get tattooed to create a living diary on my skin; tattoos can signify memories from places I have traveled, milestones in my life, and people whom I love (reserved mainly for my kids and ride-or-die besties).
So, you may be reading this now and pondering the notion of becoming the proud owner of some sick ink sometime soon; a facial adornment a la Post Malone perhaps? OK, maybe start with something a little more subdued, say, a photo realistic portrait of Will Farrell as Buddy The Elf (I mean, that’s what I have slated next). Whatever you choose, future tattooed hipster, read on to get some tips and tricks to make your first time (but not your last, trust me) tattooing experience a great one.
Do Your Homework On Your Artwork
It’s important to do your research before committing to the tattoo process, to ensure that you are satisfied with the finished product. The first step is selecting a design that fits your personality and truly resonates with you. Lonni Pike, also known by her social media handle, Gray Hair and Tattoos, has been getting tattooed for decades. A young-hearted 57, Lonni puts her upbeat style and bold colorful ink on display to send a message to followers that you can freely express yourself and your personal style at any age. She is also a firm believer in the premise that neither age nor gender, sexuality or others’ opinions should dictate what you do with your body; this message boils down to “you’re never too old to get your first tattoo.” According to Lonni, “When choosing an image, go with your gut; it’s a feeling. Don’t give in to fad tattoos if it is not your style. But if it is something meaningful to you, then do it!”
Other seasoned tattoo artists echo this message; Frank Ready III is one of them. You may remember the boyish, bespectacled, bad-ass body adornment buff from seasons 10 and 13 of Paramount’s Ink Masters series; Frank has been tattooing for over 17 years, establishing himself as one of the premiere tattoo artists (and nicest guys in general) in the mid-west today. While Frank is gifted in all styles of tattooing, his specialties include black and grey, new traditional and color illustrative; he also believes that tattoo choices should be inherently individual and unique. “Have a solid idea of what you like personally; styles can and WILL change. You have to makes sure YOU are the one that likes your tattoo.”
Location, Location, Location
Placement is also key. The pet portrait of Bernard, your beloved Boxer, is going to look very different on your bicep as opposed to your booty, so this is a key point to take into consideration. No one knows this better than tattoo artist to the stars, Paul Timman. Known as the “Rembrandt of Sunset Strip,” Paul has been tattooing for almost 3 decades, and has decorated the dermis of many distinguished divas, including Angelina Jolie and Drew Barrymore. Having worked at (and recently, obtained ownership of) Sunset Strip Tattoo for 25 years, he’s also made his mark on many mega artists of music, namely Tommy Lee of Motley Crue and Methods of Mayhem fame (legend has it that Paul tattooed Lee on his kitchen counter), as well as Busta Rhymes, among many other rock and rap rebels. Paul advises visualizing your piece on your body in advance and planning your outfit accordingly. “Be prepared to know not only the tattoo image you have chosen, but also where it is going on the body. It’s also key to wear the correct clothing for the tattoo placement and execution.” This means donning loose, comfortable get-ups that are soft and breathable.
All parties agree that choosing the right artist is key. Frank echoes that “after you decide on your image, find an artist that does specifically that style and design. If an artist tells you he can’t do it or isn’t into it, trust that. Then find another artist.” Lonni has chosen her artists through personal references (she found artist Brian Dell after seeing a friend sporting his work), but also utilizes the magic of the internet (a post on her Insta requesting referrals from followers for American Traditional artists surfaced tattooer Austin Maples’ artistry) to source artists that fit her style and vibe. “When picking your artist, it is important to find someone who matches your energy.”
So, you’ve found your design, gotten all “kumbaya” with your artist, and the date is impending; what do you need to do to get prepared for the big day? All of our aficionados and experts agreed on a trifecta of tips for total tattoo triumph. Success under the needle can be attributed to:
- Getting good rest
- Being adequately hydrated
- Eating a healthy meal 2-3 hours before getting inked
- Avoiding alcohol
The night before a tattoo isn’t the time to hop on the champagne train either; all three tattoo experts agreed that alcohol should be avoided the day before and the day of your tattoo appointment, due to alcohol being a blood thinner. Lonni also made a great suggestion; shower, but don’t shave. “The artist is going to do that anyway, and if you shave in an area they are going to tattoo, you may cut yourself or cause irritation, and the artist may have to find a new area to place your tattoo.”
In The Chair and Under The Gun
Well, you have arrived. To make a pop-cultural reference to the earworm ditty from The Backyardigans, you are officially into the thick of it (good luck getting THAT out of your head now; but it might distract you from the pain)! Now what? Frank Ready explains that what he does at this point isn’t what every artist does; but they probably should. “I thoroughly explain what is going to happen in the tattoo process. There are questions that clients might have, and that is the opportunity to ask them. “Transparency is key; it helps to build trust, and knowing your tattoo artist has your best interests at heart helps to calm people.” It is important to remember to communicate with your artist; if not to take your mind off the uncomfortable nature of obtaining a full-size gorilla piece on your thigh, then to at least let the artist know how you are feeling, if you need a break, a drink of water, etc. Most importantly, breathe and relax. It also helps to bring someone with you (not an entourage please, one person is plenty). Make sure this is a friend whom you feel comfortable with, who can distract you with conversation, ask you questions and keep your mind off the pain if you are a tenderfoot.
Get Your Goop Ready
You made it! You are the official owner of a tattoo of the full lyrics of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Old English calligraphy on your back! You sure went hard for your first time; mad respect on that! Now is the time to focus on aftercare. Your tattoo will be covered with a bandage, clear wrap or a transparent dressing like Tegaderm, based on the location and size of the tattoo (Frank advises leaving the Tegaderm on for 5 days, but no more than 7). Aftercare can vary from artist to artist; says Paul Timman, “I have some clients who have been getting tattooed for 30 to 40 years, and what they do at this point is their own thing. They know their body better, and they have found what works for them. I’ve been tattooing for 28 years, and have tattooed a lot of people. I truly think our healing process is one of the better ones out there. The gentler you are on the skin itself, the less trauma you do to the skin, the better the tattoo heals and looks long term.”
Frank also agrees that post tattoo care is very personal, and he regularly asks clients if they have a preferred method of healing, and adjusts accordingly. It is important to remember that no product is going to help speed the tattoo’s healing process; however, there are steps that you can take to create an ideal environment to facilitate healing. Paul’s advice is “within a couple hours, take the bandage off, get soap and water, get it really sudsy, and wash the tattoo really well. Gently pat it dry, then use skin cream. Use a little dab, rub it in so you can’t see it. Moisturize with clean hands, and do so three to four times a day.” Pretty simple, right? Simple is also the key word when selecting a moisturizer for your tattoo. Both artists suggest hypoallergenic, fragrance-free lotions like Curel, Lubriderm, or Eucerin; if you prefer something thicker like Aquaphor, Frank says treat it like a lotion; “use a very small amount of the product and rub it into the skin really well.” Lonni swears by the Aquaphor Body Spray, saying “it’s magical; really light weight, but still holds in moisture.”
Let It Be
There are also certain things to avoid with your tattoo to prevent infection and loss of color. First, avoid submerging the tattoo in water (i.e., pools, hot tubs, etc.), second, keep it out of the sun (sunscreen should not be used on unhealed tattoos), and third, keep your dirty mitts off of it! Avoid touching, picking or scratching your tattoo; and by all means, keep other people’s hands off of it too! Paul tells us that “people get infatuated with their tattoo, and they can’t stop touching it, looking at it, showing their friends; this is generally how tattoos get infected.”
Preserving Your Prize
Once your tattoo is fully healed, it is important to use sunscreen when your tattoos are uncovered and out in the great wide open. Lonni religiously applies sunscreen to her beautiful work daily, and the result is fresh, vibrant color for years to come. Some of the best sunscreens for your new tats (and my personal favorites) come from Mad Tattoo, Sun Bum and Neutrogena; with so many different formulations on the market, you’re sure to find your favorite. Tattoo balms can also be a welcome vessel of moisture, while also keeping tattoos looking their best and brightest. Ready swears by Hustle Butter Deluxe ointment, and uses it in his pre, during, and post tattoo processes.
For those who are cannabis friendly, the company also has a nourishing CBD Luxe version of the super salve that Frank also reaches for. My personal favorite is Mad Rabbit, whose balms, like Hustle Butter, are created from all natural ingredients, with my favorite fragrance being Frankincense and Lavender.
When it comes to tattoos, after care can also align with self-care. Lonni said it best when she stated, “Think about a car that needs a new transmission, but instead the owner gets a paint job to improve the performance; it doesn’t make sense. The outside stuff is important, but if you don’t take care of your vessel from within, it doesn’t matter.” For Lonni, this means squeaky clean living; she doesn’t smoke, drink, or take drugs (she has been sober for just over 6 years) and she is a vegetarian, making clean eating her passion. Frank also believes that taking care of your insides reflects through your skin. “It’s important to be hydrated both internally and externally; eat well, eat food that nourishes your body. Your tattoo will look better longer because you look and feel better.”
I sincerely hope these tips were helpful, and they make your future tattoo treks easy and stress free. One final tip - don’t leave the tattoo studio without making your next appointment, because you’ll quickly realize that ink is totally addicting!
Randi Steele is a freelance writer with a Bachelor's degree in Fashion Merchandising from Oregon State University and a Master's degree from University of Southern California in Communication Management and Journalism. When she isn't writing for BeautyTap, she is developing content for her curated website, blog and accompanying podcast, The Style Adjacent, launching in June 2023. Randi also loves the aesthetic nature of writing and lettering, and her modern calligraphy can be found on Instagram at @freshruth. She loves vintage pocketbooks, Nipsey Hussle, a classic red matte lip, college football, and getting tattooed; not necessarily in that order.