Getting Your First Tattoo?

by Elizabeth King

In recent years, getting a tattoo has become significantly less taboo than it was in the past. Fewer people gape and make assumptions about the quality of your character if you walk around sporting ink, and many professional arenas are lightening up about showing tattoos at work. Which is great, because tattoos are an excellent way to express yourself, collect art, and, well… they’re just fun. But getting your first one can be a little intimidating and nerve-wracking. However, there are a few things to know in advance that will make you feel a lot more confident during your first tattoo experience.

I have eight tattoos myself, and spent a couple months working in a tattoo shop in my early 20s, so I’ve seen plenty of people go under the needle, and have answered many tattoo-related questions. In fact, I decided to write this piece after a friend of mine got his first tattoo, and said he wished there was an online resource where newbies could get advice from people who are already inked up. He makes a good point: not only is there a lot to know about your first tattoo, but the tattoo world is it's own subculture with it's own norms and lingo. Here are some tips that will help make your first foray into tattooing less nerve-wracking, and more fun.

1. The Artist Knows What They're Doing —So Listen To Them

You have ideas and expectations about what you want the tattoo and your tattoo experience to be. You should absolutely advocate for what you want, and be upfront about what you’re looking for. However, if you’ve picked a great artist, they will be a season pro and will know what works well, and what doesn’t. If the artist expresses a concern about your design or its placement, definitely take their opinion into account. They know what they’re doing and they want you to be as happy as possible with your piece — both on the day you get it and many years down the road.

2. Custom Art Is The Way To Go


There is plenty of very cool flash art out there, to be sure. Especially if you’re looking for something traditional, flash can be a great piece to start. But in general, you will probably be happier and feel that the tattoo is a better fit for you and your personality if you opt for something custom. If you like a flash design, talk to the artist about adding custom elements that will make the tattoo even more personal for you.

3. You (Really) Don't Want A Cheap Tattoo

This is a really big one. If you get the urge to get a tattoo on the fly, you might be tempted to take the first appointment, with the first artist who is available — and you might want to get the tattoo on the cheap if it means you can get it sooner. Big. Mistake. Like with anything else, you get what you pay for, and you don’t want to have something done with anything less than the best quality when you’re talking about permanently altering your skin. I’d advise waiting until you can squirrel away the dough to have the piece done well by a reputable artist.

4. It's Going To Hurt A Lot, But You Won't Cry

Oli Scarff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Yup! Tattoos hurt. They hurt pretty bad, in a lot of cases. The pain will vary depending on how big the piece is, whether or not you have shading, and where on your body it’s placed. But look, I’m kind of a baby when it comes to pain, and I’ve sat through 4 hour sessions without even tearing up a little. People often ask me what getting a tattoo feels like. For fine lines, imagine a cat scratching you very slowly with a single claw. Shading feels more like an eraser being roughly rubbed across your skin over and over. Like I said, it hurts. But once the tattoo is over, so is the pain, and you’ll have an awesome new piece to show off for your efforts.

5. Aftercare Is Super important

A good artist will have at least one conversation with you about tattoo aftercare. Depending on who my artist has been, I’ve had several different methods of aftercare recommended to me. Basically, the nuts and bolts are that you want to gently wash the new tattoo a few times each day — but don’t submerge it in the water. Let the tattoo breathe, and lightly moisturize it with unscented lotion a couple times daily. Do all that for the first week and you’re good to go. Failing to take care of your fresh ink could potentially mess up the piece, and you’ll have to go back under the needle for touch-ups. Worst case scenario: if you don't take care of your tattoo, it could become infected and that’s never any good. Treat your tattoo kindly and it will do the same for you!

6. You're Going To Panic A Little While The Tattoo Is Healing

Healing tattoos can look… weird. It’s like a multi-colored scab that itches like hell for a few days. But don’t worry, that’s fine and totally normal. A tattoo is essentially a surface-level wound filled with lovely ink, so it’s going to look a little funky and foreign to you while it heals. But if you notice any signs of infection, give your doctor or dermatologist a call and have them check it out.

7. Regret Is Usually A Non-Issue


Many of my friends have come to me a little nervous before getting their first tattoo, wondering if they’re about to make a huge mistake they’ll regret forever. My general advice to them is that if the tattoo has any meaning to you (doesn’t have to be deep or existential), and you’ve been thinking about it for awhile, you’re probably not going to regret anything. The main thing is making sure you have a talented artist working with you who will know how to give you something beautiful that you’re proud to wear everyday. Do I love every single one of my tattoos a handful of years after getting them? No, not all of them. Do I regret getting them? Nope! They’re just a part of my body now.

Images: Getty; girlintroubles/ Tumblr