Despite their high cost and apparent permanence, tattoos are not as indestructible as you think. Take Jessica Chen, a tattoo artist at Tattoo People in Toronto, Ontario. Two years ago, Chen got a tattoo she tells me is now obviously faded because she exposed it to the sun without sunscreen. My interest immediately piqued, I tapped Chen and Evan Kim, an artist at West 4 Tattoo in New York City to share the nine things you should absolutely never do to your tattoo — before, during and after the process.
Getting my first tattoo was the worst. I had to lay on my side for a full 10 minutes. And though I slept in that position every night, it felt completely unnatural at the time. After I got the cross on my right heel, I kept the bandage on for eight hours and applied lotion on it, twice (ok, maybe three) times a day for the next four weeks. It turns out, both those practices are wrong.
The tips of what not to do to your tattoo from these artist shared go beyond "don't pick at it." If you, or a friend, are considering getting a tattoo, take a look at what these licensed artists say what not to do to your tattoo to ensure it says looking freshly inked forever.
Before: Don't Forget To Eat Food & Drink Water
"Drinking plenty of liquid...ensure[s] the appearance turns out perfect," says Kim. He also recommends applying lotion to the area that is getting inked before you go in.
Chen took it a step further. She explains she's had a lot of first-time tattooers that did not eat before coming to get their tattoo. If you haven't eaten ahead of time, your blood sugar will be lower. Between that and the inevitable pain of the needle, you're likely to end up lightheaded. It won't make for a pleasant experience, so at least have a snack before your appointment.
Before: Don't Drink Alcohol, Wax The Tattoo Spot, Or Go Tanning
As much as you may need some liquid courage, Chen advises to avoid alcohol. Not just because the alcohol puts you at a higher risk of getting a ridiculous tattoo, but because the alcohol makes you bleed more. And no one likes blood.
Kim recommended to avoid waxing or tanning the area. Both irritate the skin, which is about to be under more distress getting a thousand needles punctured inside. Both waxing and tanning also stretch the skin, which will take a while to set into normal place. And a tattoo done on stretched skin will obviously lay differently on normal skin.
Before: Don't Neglect To Shave & Moisturize the Area
Whether you do it or the artist does it, if the area getting inked has hair, it's going to get shaven. To my surprise, Chen says this isn't because of the actual ink, but so the stencil will stick on the skin. Apparently hairs prevent the stencil from sticking and ultimately makes it easier to rub off. Without a stencil, there's no game plan for the tat.
During: Don't Hold Your Breath
Chen has had a lot of experience with tattoo virgins. She says a lot of first-timers want to hold their breath while getting the tattoo. Instead, she advises deep, steady breaths. And to always let her know if she needs to take a break.
The steady breaths prevent a lot of movement. And if friends come with you, make them vow not to make you laugh. No one wants a horse to turn into a unicorn because of a bad joke.
After: Don't Run Out Of The Shop
Pay attention to the aftercare instructions. It's in the artist's best interest to explain proper care to your thoroughly, since they want that artwork they potentially just spent hours on to last. It's in your best interest to listen to this explanation, so you don't end up with janky-looking ink.
Both Chen and Kim not only state the aftercare instructions to their clients, but they also provide a pamphlet with the aftercare instructions explained. Take it. If you can't remember how much you have in your checking account, you need a paper telling you how to care for your tattoo. No shame in that either.
After: Don't Remove The Bandage Too Soon
Once the tattoo is finished and the aftercare is explained, the artists will cover up your tattoo with a bandage. Chen recommends keeping this bandage on for two to four hours, depending on the tattoo, but it can go up to six hours if you're more comfortable with that. Kim has a solid three hour bandage rule.
Don't remove that too soon — and don't put it back on once it's off. "Do not cover it up again. Just let the tattoo breath," says Chen.
After: Don't Do Any Scratching, Stretching, Or Water Sports
"Avoid swimming, avoid bathing, Jacuzzis, hot tubs, anything where you’re submerging yourself in water. Don’t pick at it, don’t scratch at it. It’s going to be insanely itchy and it’s going to start flaking, that’s totally normal," says Chen.
She says this could basically be the perfect excuse to avoid doing dishes if you've gotten a hand or finger tattoo. And while the tattoo is permanent, stretching can move the ink around. Skip the hot yoga class for today.
After: Don't Use Scented Or Oil-Based Lotion
Oil-based lotions have a tendency to clog pores and stain the skin, according to Chen. After you've removed the bandages, she recommends "super gently" washing the tattoo with unscented soap and water. Scented soaps and lotions have a tendency to clog and stain the skin.
Kim recommends to his clients A&D ointment, Aquaphor, Lubriderm, or any non-scented mixture lotion for seven to 10 days after getting the ink. People can decide to splurge on tattoo care, but Chen says un-fancy unscented lotion works just as well as a tattoo-specific formula.
After: Don't Go Outside Without SPF
As is the general rule with life, don't go outside without sunscreen. The sun fades tattoos. Always apply sunscreen all over before spending time outside in the sun. And maybe add an extra dollop of SPF on your tattoo, just for good measure.