New York-based tattoo artist Becca Roach from North Star Tattoo, who's responsible for the unicorn tattoo on Lady Gaga's thigh, shares her insider tips on the most important things one should know before getting a tattoo.
1. Don't use Google or Pinterest when looking for a tattoo idea. Unless you want your tattoo to look like everyone else's. So many feather tattoos. So. Many. Feather tattoos.
2. Instead, scour Instagram for inspiration or to help you find an artist you'd like to use. Most tattoo artists use their Instagram feeds as portfolios to showcase their recent work and the pieces they're most proud of. If you find an artist you're really drawn to but don't know what to get, reach out to them and ask for their input. Many tattoo artists have tons of designs they've created on the side and are dying to tattoo on people. Also, read Yelp reviews. Customers don't hold back on those, good or bad.
3. If you're allergic to a particular lipstick or eyeshadow, you might also get an allergic reaction from a tattoo. Sometimes the same compounds found in the pigments of tattoo ink are also found in certain makeup formulas. If you've had a reaction to an eyeshadow pigment in the past, have your dermatologist run some tests beforehand to see what kinds of ink you should avoid.
4. The most famous artists have a waiting list. A well-known tattoo artist could have a waiting list up to a year or longer. If you're obsessed with the artist, then wait. Otherwise, find a more low-key artist who is just as talented — you'll also save quite a bit of money that way.
5. Unlike at most places of business, a tattoo artist doesn't have to help you if they don't want. They can and will send a customer away based on grounds as simple as "bad vibes." They do enough business that they can choose whom they want to work with.
6. A good tattoo isn't cheap, and a cheap tattoo isn't good. The price of a tattoo depends on the size, area of the body you want covered, and the artist, but typically a good tattoo will cost you anywhere from $50 for a tiny design to a few month's rent for more elaborate art.
7. Prices are non-negotiable. You really can't bargain with a tattoo artist on the set price he or she charges for a tattoo. Just like how you can't bargain with the salesperson at Bloomingdale's.
8. Visit the shop before you go get your tattoo. Check that the place looks clean, they have good artwork on the walls, the staff is friendly, and then schedule a consultation with the artist to talk about pricing and any questions you might have. You can (and should!) also ask to see the artist's state tattoo license to make sure he or she has completed the necessary safety course on blood-borne pathogens (i.e., HIV, AIDS, hepatitis, etc.).
9. A good tattoo comes out of good communication. Don't be shy. Most tattoo ideas are a collaboration between the customer and the artist. Let the artist know what aspects of the tattoo you're not willing to change and where you're flexible. Just like a haircut, if you don't speak up, you'll get something you didn't want. But unlike a bad haircut, a tattoo doesn't grow out.
10. If you're getting a tattoo with words, proofread. Don't get too wrapped up in looking at a tattoo as a whole and forget to pay attention to detail. You and the tattoo artist will probably make a few edits during the sketching and stenciling process, so make sure you spellcheck after each round of edits. No one wants to be a walking typo.
11. Your ribs, feet, and butt will hurt the most. So if you were planning on getting all three of those areas tattooed, maybe you should reconsider or bring along some Advil to take after your appointment (taking it before will thin your blood and possibly make you bleed more during the process).
12. Designs on your hands and feet will fade the fastest. Skin regenerates more quickly on your hands and feet because you use them so much during the day, so the ink doesn't last as long. Keep that in mind before you lay down a few hundred bucks.
13. You can get just about every part of your body tattooed. Yes, even there.
14. The most difficult part of your body to tattoo is the area between your shoulder and your hip. Tattooing the torso area usually requires a lot of breaks for both the artist and the customer because it's an incredibly sensitive, and therefore painful, spot, and you have to keep your breathing steady so you don't pass out.
15. Before a tattoo session, get a good night's sleep, eat a full meal, and don't go in hungover or drunk. You know, just like what teachers say to do before an exam. You'll need energy to tolerate the pain of a tattoo, and you should stay away from alcohol because it'll thin your blood and make you bleed more during the process.
16. Getting a tattoo feels nothing like getting a shot. If you're really afraid of needles, you'll probably still want to pass on a tattoo. But if you imagine the sensation of a tattoo as being similar to how to feels when a nurse draws blood, that's not the case. A tattoo needle doesn't go very deep into the skin like a shot does, but that doesn't mean it's pain-free either. Realistically, it feels like a touch of pain coupled with an annoying, intense vibration and the sensation that someone is dragging a needle across your skin. Because that's exactly what they're doing.
17. Most likely you'll feel the pain lessen after about 15 minutes. Your adrenaline will start kicking in around this time and help manage some of the pain. Most tattooists will only work in two-hour sessions at a time, so if you have a very large design, you'll have to schedule a couple of appointments two weeks apart, first for the outline and then to complete the shading.
18. While the tattoo is healing, it'll scab like a cut and feel sensitive like a sunburn. Right when it's finished, the tattoo will look perfect. After a couple of days, it'll start to dry out a little bit and might peel like a sunburn. You also might get a few scabs, but it's important not to pick at them or it won't heal correctly. After two weeks, it should be all healed if you've kept it clean properly and moisturized with unscented lotion.
19. You're not allowed to be in any body of water for two weeks after your tattoo is completely finished, and you have to stay out of the sun. It takes about two weeks for the tattoo to heal completely, so during that time, stick to just showers, and steer clear of your bath tub, any hot tubs, pools, lakes — you get the idea — to prevent infection. Then, after your tattoo is totally healed, you'll need to slather that sucker with sunscreen forever to prevent the colors from breaking down and fading.
20. Laser tattoo removal hurts worse than any kind of tattoo. If you can't decide whether you want a tattoo or not, wait. You can always get one in the future. But if you get a picture of a donut tattooed around your bellybutton and decide 10 years later that was a horrible (albeit awesome at the time) idea, you only have one very painful option to get rid of it: laser removal, which hurts like hell and works best when removing black ink. Of course, you can always cover it up with another design, but there's no telling if your original tattoo will be salvageable.
21. Many artists will touch up your tattoos for life. If a portion of it didn't heal right or you have some discoloration down the road and want to get it touched up, pay your artist a visit. He or she will probably be more than happy to fix any imperfections either for free or a nominal charge.
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