Inked: The Straight Story
By Samantha, age 18, Indiana
These days it seems like everyone has at least one tattoo, whether it's a tribal arm band, a cute group of stars circling an ankle, or the ever-popular lower back piece. With shows like Miami Ink, L.A. Ink and Inked bringing, well, ink into the mainstream, more and more people are going under the needle. Some people enter a parlor knowing what they are in for, and others do not. Many first-timers simply expect their tattoo artist or even their tattooed friends to tell them everything they need to know. It is important to have some know-how when you get a tattoo and not go into it blindly.
The most important thing to know about getting a tattoo comes before you even set foot into a parlor. Unless you have the cash to blow on laser removal, a tattoo is permanent. It is extremely important to be completely sure of your design. Although many artists will do a cover-up for you if you later decide you do not like your tattoo, that is time and money that you would not have to spend if you had chosen something that would not need to be covered. Take a lot of time choosing your design. Getting your significant other's name written across your chest in fancy script may end up being the biggest mistake you have ever made. Just because your friend let you borrow their copy of Dark Side of the Moon, and you have decided that it really is the best album ever recorded, does not mean you should run out and get the prism tattooed on your right bicep. Getting the entire Garden of Earthly Delights as a full back piece may sound like a good idea when your friends suggest it in your basement, but it might not sound like such a good idea when your kids are asking about it in fifteen years. A tattoo should represent something close to your heart, or a milestone in your life, so that you cannot look at it years later and regret it or not remember why you got it in the first place.
After you have made an intelligent decision regarding your design, it is then time to decide where to go to get your tattoo. Do not look for the cheapest option when choosing a tattoo parlor! Many places will offer very cheap tattoos all day every day, but you have to wonder how they can afford to charge so little while other places seem to be so much more expensive. Are they reusing supplies? Do they do sub-par work to save time? These are questions you have to ask yourself before you agree to have a twenty dollar tattoo put on your body. You sign a contract before you sit in that chair, and if you end up with something you don't want, art-wise or health-wise, there is usually not a whole lot you can do. Be prepared and willing to pay top dollar for high quality work. Prices are usually decided once the artist sees the size and colors of the design you want, and can sometimes even be negotiated.
It is also important to be slightly picky about the artist you want doing your tattoo. You may feel more comfortable getting tattooed by someone who is the same gender as you are. Many tattoo parlors have both male and female artists on staff, and no one will be offended if you request to have an artist of a specific gender to help you feel more comfortable. Also, one artist may have a much more impressive portfolio than the others. Do not be worried about offending the other artists in the studio. Everybody has their preferences. It is like going to the doctor or the dentist. Someone is working on your body, and you'll want to feel comfortable and know that you're getting the highest quality work. You also should not be afraid to communicate with your artist. If you're afraid of the pain, the artist may fill a needle with water and give you a small test run on the area you want your tattoo on before starting. Getting a tattoo feels somewhat like getting rug burn to most people, but others may be more sensitive. A good artist will try to chat with you while you are getting tattooed to keep your mind off of the needle, as well as to check up on you and see if you need a break. A tattoo artist can continue working on a piece, so you should not worry about having to asking them to stop if you need a break. Every studio has at least one story about someone who did not communicate their discomfort or even lightheadedness with their artist and ended up passing out.
After all is said and done, it is then time to think about the healing process. When you get a tattoo, a small, short needle is piercing your skin and injecting ink, so a tattoo is somewhat like an open wound. Blood is drawn when you get a tattoo, and it will still bleed a little bit afterwards. When the tattoo artist is finished, he or she will put some kind of antibacterial ointment on the tattoo, cover it with something like Saran Wrap, and tape it to you so it doesn't come off. He or she will usually tell you to keep the Saran Wrap on until you get home, and then wash off any excess blood or other liquids with antibacterial soap. Some places have a special tattoo cleaner you can purchase, but the artist will usually tell you it is not a requirement, and that soap and warm water will be sufficient, and this is true. If you do have the extra cash, feel free to buy the tattoo cleaner, but it's much cheaper to just go with soap and water. If you wash the tattoo thoroughly three times a day you should not need anything special to put on it.
It is important to keep your tattoo moisturized. Again, you can buy special products made for tattoo care, but standard moisturizers (such as unscented lotions or Vaseline) work just as well. A&D ointment will not only keep your tattoo moisturized, but it will also protect it from infection. Keeping your tattoo moist will ensure that the color and detail of the tattoo will stay at its best, as well as help avoid scabbing. If your tattoo does in fact start to scab over, do not pull off the scabs. Pulling the scabs off also pulls the color out of your tattoo. You should also avoid soaking the tattooed area in water or scrubbing it with a towel for at least two weeks after you get it done.
Over time, no matter how well you take care of it, your tattoo may begin to fade in some areas, especially if you have a lot of color in the tattoo. If this happens, all you have to do is head back to the tattoo parlor to have it touched up. Try to go to the same artist to ensure you get the same results. Depending on the artist and the damage to your tattoo, you may have to pay a small fee, or the artist may not charge you at all. After getting a touch up, you will have to repeat the healing process all over again, and you must be sure to so through the same steps to care for it, or else you will end up needing another touch up.
Getting a tattoo is a lifetime commitment. You have to be willing to put a lot of time and maybe even a lot of money into the process. Some people think it is a lot simpler than it is, and these people usually end up with bad artwork, faded colors, and a lifetime of regret. Expressing yourself through tattoos is fine, but you will need to be smart and careful about it. If you are, you will end up loving your body art and showing it off with pride.