Tattoo preparation for first-timer
June 19, 2012 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Getting my first tattoo! How should I prepare?

I'll be getting a small tattoo (1x3 inches) next week of the outline of my home state, thin line, black ink, on the side of my torso, on my ribcage, below my boob. Like just below where the side band of a bra would be. The artist said that it should only take about 30 minutes to do.

So how should I prepare? Any kinds of things I should do or not do beforehand? Any recommendations for how to maybe take the edge off the pain or ensure that the process goes smoothly?

I'm normally tolerant to pain (not supersensitive or supertough). I have a normal amount of body-squish (5'7", 135 lbs), so not superbony or fat. I'm a relatively pasty white girl, if that matters at all. I'm not particularly scared or squeamish at the idea of getting a tattoo.

So please help me make this a good and easy experience! Thanks!
posted by greta simone to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Eat beforehand. Don't take any painkillers. Tip your artist. Have fun!
posted by mollymayhem at 9:13 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

No alcohol beforehand! Wear a loose top and, based on placement, plan on no bra afterwards.
posted by troika at 9:19 PM on June 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get a good night's sleep, eat something, make sure you're well hydrated. The sound of the tattoo gun bothers some people, so maybe bring an iPod or some such to stick in your ears if it troubles you. Nice calm slow breaths. It'll hurt like the dickens, but then the endorphins will kick in and it'll be pretty awesome.
posted by whitneyarner at 9:20 PM on June 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't drink the night before or the day of, eat beforehand, have some juice or sports drink with you.

If you're planning on more don't let the pain of the first one deter you. It gets easier as endorphins kick in, which you'll miss out on since it's a really small tattoo. Also, shading feels better than outlining and you'll also be missing that feeling.
posted by mikesch at 9:21 PM on June 19, 2012

Drink LOTS of water the night before, stay hydrated that day. If you aren't a very zen person naturally, it can be helpful to bring a chatty friend to distract you if there are particularly ouchy parts. Sometimes it's nice to kind of meditate on the needle and the sensation, sometimes not. It's nice to have someone there if you're in a "sometimes not" space!
posted by stellaluna at 9:27 PM on June 19, 2012

Just relax and trust your tattoo artist! It'll hurt a little bit, but if you can, bring a friend to talk to. I got my 1st tattoo with a roommate but a friend of ours came along because she was curious about the entire thing. It hurt pretty badly at first, but once you start chatting to your artist and friends it goes away pretty quickly. What I hated most about getting my tattoo was the feeling you get after the artist picks up the needle to change positions and whatnot and puts it down again, but I doubt that will happen too often for you since you are only getting an outline.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:28 PM on June 19, 2012

Yay, congratulations! That sounds lovely.

I'm on session 4 of a large tattoo (my 3rd) that will take at least another 4-5 sessions, and here's what I've learned to make the experience as smooth and pleasant as possible, and is probably way more information than you need for a small half-hour tattoo, but that's what AskMe's for, right?

Start hydrating a day or two before--and stop drinking alcohol a day or two before as well, as it can thin the blood and make you bleed so much that it's difficult for your artist to see what they're doing. This isn't the case for everyone, but is enough of a risk that you should try to avoid it. (I had to end a session early recently because I forgot this bit and was bleeding like whoa.) Most OTC painkillers have a similar blood-thinning effect and should be avoided as well.

Don't shave the area yourself--let the artist do that (and they may do it even if you aren't particularly hairy in the tattoo location). Get a good night's sleep the night before. Eat a decent meal before your session, and bring a snack with you as well. A 30-minute session isn't going to be particularly draining, but you may still need/want something to eat right afterward. Wear a loose, comfortable shirt, and depending on where it is, be prepared to possibly go home without your bra on.

The pain is different for everyone. If it hurts, try to relax and keep breathing, and keep in mind why this is a meaningful experience for you. Chatting with your artist or a friend can be a nice distraction. You can always ask them to stop if you need a short break.

If you're able to, do tip your artist. Preferably in cash.

Follow your artist's instructions--not another artist's, not your best friend's no matter how many tattoos they have, and not the Internet's (not even AskMe's!)--for aftercare to the letter, and don't be afraid to ask questions if there's something you're not clear on or curious about.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:36 PM on June 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

The outline actually hurts the most, but if you can scrape a needle across the top of your arm without fainting it's not really any worse than that, especially in relatively fatty areas. The first couple of minutes are the worst because it's an unfamiliar sensation, but then the novelty wears off and it's much easier to relax into it. It's kind of like having someone give you mild road rash in slow motion, and it feels like a minor burn for the first couple of days after it's finished. Very tolerable, at least in my experience.

Lots of people with terrible pain tolerance load up on tattoos--see Kat Von D. So yeah--relax, hydrate, and communicate with your artist. If you need a break, tell him/her. Better to get a few deep breaths in or a sneeze/cough when the artist ISN'T trying to make a smooth line.
posted by xyzzy at 9:57 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

rhiannontone's advice is spot on. I was also surprised at the things you're not allowed to do after you get a tattoo. In my case, my artist told me not to soak the area in water, wash with soap, rub it, scratch it, apply creams with a lot of chemicals, expose it to the sun, or go to the gym. But don't listen to me— listen to your tattoo artist!
posted by yaymukund at 10:16 PM on June 19, 2012

I’ve been told to not take aspirin. Like everyone said, no alcohol or drugs, but a lot of the reason for that is that drunk people won’t sit still.

It hurts differently depending on where the action is taking place. So the pain level may vary on your ribs. It’s often far more irritating than painful. It can seem to go on forever. So breathe, relax, and get all Zen like.
posted by bongo_x at 10:19 PM on June 19, 2012

Don't take aspirin because it might make you bleed more. It's a blood thinner. You'll be in and out so fast! Don't worry about it. Communicate with your tattoo artist, if you have any misapprehensions they will talk to you about it. Relax.

xyzzy's advice is awesome.
posted by custard heart at 10:58 PM on June 19, 2012

Take a sugary drink with you to keep your blood sugar up (I like Lucozade for this) and don't be afraid to ask for a break if it gets a little much.

(I disagree that lines are the worst part. Shading is much worse for me!)
posted by corvine at 1:53 AM on June 20, 2012

Toss a couple of hard candies (the kind with sugar, not sugar-free) or a chocolate bar in your bag. The stress beforehand, plus the pain and excitement during, can leave you super drained and kind of light-headed afterwards, and a bit of sugar helps.

Also, have you drawn the approximate shape of the tattoo on your body with a marker and spent a bit of time looking at it in the mirror or in photos? I think there are often two main regrets with tattoos -- having them be visible if you later want a conservative job (not an issue with yours), and getting them too small and/or in the wrong spot. A lot of times people have never tried out the design on their body until the artist places the stencil and is ready to start tattooing.
posted by Forktine at 5:20 AM on June 20, 2012

Absolutely have something on hand (juice, chocolate, soda, whatever) in case of a blood sugar crash. The adrenaline rush can sometimes come back to bite you.

I've had two tattoos - one about the size you're talking about (30 min.) and another much larger one that took 3hrs. Really, if I could go back and tell myself anything about the first tattoo it would be to not over think it and remember that it's gonna take less time than going to the dentist. The pain truly isn't horrible.

For a tattoo on your ribs, you will probably need to be both shirtless and bra-less to get the work done. Think about what you will wear home and also plan outfits for the next few days that allow your ink to heal without chafing. Your tattoo will ITCH LIKE THE MADNESS so you do not want any seams rubbing against it. (And do not scratch it. Just don't. I did so once or twice absent mindedly forgetting *why* my back itched and HOLY COW OUCH.)

Pee before you start. For half hour, you should be ok and it's totally fine to take a break, but it's also really distracting to be getting tattooed while you also really gotta "go."

Follow your artists' aftercare instructions - mine have both advised A&D ointment. You might want to call the shop you're going to and ask about the aftercare so you can buy things ahead of time.

I also celebrated/recovered from my tattoos by going out for a protein-heavy meal afterwards. Especially with the larger tattoo, I was *starving* when I was done just from the adrenaline crash.
posted by sonika at 6:27 AM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Saturday was my last session (other than touchups) for a half-sleeve tattoo that took 5 sessions of 3 hours each. I have another large tattoo that was a total of 10 hours in the chair. I love talking about tattoos so this is going to be overkill for your situation. :)

Definitely eat beforehand! Don't drink alcohol or take painkillers as they thin your blood. (Afterwards, however, painkillers are fine.) Make sure you are well-hydrated. My artist offers water when I arrive and I keep sipping on it the whole time I'm in the chair.

Otherwise there's not much you need to do to prepare! The pain might be a little intense over your ribs and/or in areas where your skin is more sensitive. For example, although the parts of my half sleeve near my elbow hurt in a really sharp prickly way, I got used to the pain and it wasn't so bad. But when my artist was working on the inside of my arm, especially closer to my armpit, the pain was really intense and it was all I could do to keep from squirming and exclaiming "holy FUCK!"

This is not to scare you off, though - this was shading which is different from an outline. I agree with corvine that for me, shading is way more painful than outlines. I almost fell asleep during the outline for my half sleeve, while my artist was working on the outside, fleshy part of my upper arm -- I'm not even kidding.

Your artist will give you aftercare instructions. As long as you follow those instructions and keep it out of sunlight, don't go swimming, etc., you'll be fine. I've used A&D some times and dry-healed others and it always heals up fine. DO NOT PICK once it starts peeling. This is the hardest part for me because I'm sort of a compulsive picker, and as a result I sometimes get spots that need touch up because I picked at a scab before it was ready to come off and it took the color with it. But that will be less of a problem with outline - outlines don't really scab. It will probably just peel a tiny bit, like a sunburn.
posted by misskaz at 8:06 AM on June 20, 2012

Also, remember its summer(at least where I am), so no swimmy pools or beach trips until things finish healing. Even after that you may take your tattoo under consideration when you're applying sunscreen, etc. at beach/pool time.
posted by PJMoore at 9:15 AM on June 20, 2012

For a tattoo the size you describe, you shouldn't need much prep. Drink water, eat food, pee, breathe, all things you do anyway, are the things you want to do in preparation for a tattoo. You'll have about 15 minutes of discomfort in exchange for a lifetime with your chosen skin adornment.

When people get tattoos, it's a lot like people getting married. All the planning and effort goes into the getting. Nobody spends much time thinking about what happens after. You can remind yourself of the rewards if the discomfort gets to aggravating you.

I've found it can be fun to get your artist talking while he or she works. Like hair stylists and bartenders, they see and hear a lot of stories. I heard one once from a guy who tattooed Liza Minelli. It was pretty hilarious. Anyway, once you get in the chair, you might feel obligated to talk. Maybe your artist will ask you some questions. Ask some right back, like what's the craziest tattoo you ever did? Or suchlike.

Hope you have a fun time. Your state outline tattoo sounds pretty cool. If I have enough white skin left, I might do something like that.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 9:46 AM on June 20, 2012

Best answer: Don't wear a bra at all the day you get the tat done. Not after for obvious reasons, but don't put one on at all that day. The pressure from the band will distort the skin and make things more sensitive, and depending on how deeply your bra band cuts into you it may make life harder for the tattooist.

Seriously, though, I have a tattoo about the same size as the one your planning on my belly and it was over much more quickly than you'd think. For the little ones, you just get into the blissed out endorphin part of the process when it's over.

I'd suggest going with a buddy, in case you get fainty. Those endorphins can do crazy things to you.
posted by Jilder at 10:20 AM on June 20, 2012

I have a two small tattoos. The one thing that really stuck out for me during my own research on what to expect was this: the artist should open a new, sealed needle in front of you, so you know that it is sterile. This might be kind of like, duh, right, but in all the anxious flurry of having to remove my shirt in front of a strange man it slipped my mind until I actually saw him do it.
posted by janepanic at 11:57 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the tip Jilder. It wouldn't have occured to me to not wear a bra the day of, but that makes total sense.
posted by greta simone at 12:13 PM on June 20, 2012

This is slightly odd, but for my one and only tattoo (medium size- about 1.5 hours) on my shoulder, I found that slapping the area helped take away the itch. Check with your artist about this before taking this advice, but finding some way to remove the itch was a vast relief.
posted by Hactar at 1:13 PM on June 20, 2012

Response by poster: Done! Easy as cake. Thanks for everyone's suggestions.
posted by greta simone at 2:42 AM on June 22, 2012

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