Getting a tattoo is kinda like getting married (hear me out). Choose correctly and you’ll (hopefully) be happy with your decision for years and years. But make a spur-of-the-moment choice when you’re drunk in Vegas…and you might end up regretting it big-time. So to avoid having to cover your design or pay for laser tattoo removal later on, take the time to carefully consider your decision with the following expert advice from Skin Dip Beauty owner, tattoo artist and co-owner of Chronic Ink, JoJo Roman and NYC-based dermatologists Michelle Henry, MD, and Joshua Zeichner, MD.
Whether you’re curious to know what a tattoo feels like (spoiler: a cat scratch) or what the best tattoo aftercare is so you can get everything ready ahead of time, here’s exactly what to know before getting a tattoo.
How much does a small tattoo cost?
A good tattoo isn’t cheap, and a cheap tattoo isn’t (usually) good. The price of a tattoo depends on the size, the area of the body you want covered, the artist, and the shop’s minimum, but typically, one will cost you anywhere from $50 for a tiny tattoo…to a few months’ rent for more elaborate art. Yes, really. At most places, the prices are nonnegotiable, and heads up, you should also factor in a tip of 20 percent.
What does a tattoo feel like?
Realistically, getting a tattoo feels like someone is scratching a hot needle across your skin—because that’s kinda what’s happening. But Roman would also compare the sensation of getting a tattoo to the feeling of a constant cat scratch (all my cat ladies out there know what she means). After about 15 minutes, your adrenaline will start kicking in and help manage some (emphasis on “some”) of the pain, but if you’re getting a larger piece done, Roman says the pain can come in waves.
What does a tattoo feel like after?
It’s totally normal if your skin is swollen, red, or tender afterward (kinda like a bad sunburn), but try not to put constant pressure on it or rub it too much. According to Dr. Henry, the most concerning adverse reaction is pain that worsens day by day, which could be an indication of infection. In which case, pay a visit to your doctor ASAP. When deciding on placement, you also want to take into account the healing process and how it’ll impact your day-to-day existence. A tattoo on the back of your thigh, for example, might make sitting for those first few days a little tricky, while an underboob tattoo might interfere with your wearing a bra for a week. Try to plan ahead and accommodate for those things to prevent agitating the area even more.
Where is the least painful place to get a tattoo?
How badly do tattoos hurt? What does tattoo pain feel like? Will I cry?! Hey, I get it—those are very real, normal questions. And the answers…vary, depending on the size of the tattoo and where on your body it is (smaller tattoos on fleshier parts of your body will hurt the least). Roman says tattoos on your wrist or forearm tend to be pretty easy places to start with, but a pinch test (yes, literally pinching yourself with your nails) is a good indicator of which areas on your own body might be more sensitive than others. Although everyone experiences pain differently, you can expect for the tattoo pain to be worse on your ribs, feet, ankles, neck, backs of your knees, or insides of your elbows. Really, anywhere that has a high level of nerve endings and not a lot of fat. So if you were planning on getting a tattoo in one—or all—of those areas, brace yourself. Or pop a few Tylenol (not ibuprofen, aspirin, or even a quick shot of tequila, since they all thin your blood and can make the process dangerous).
What should you avoid before getting a tattoo?
Gonna say it again in case you missed it: alcohol. Roman says slamming a few shots right before getting your tattoo not only thins your blood, which can make you bleed more during your tattoo (which is risky), but excess blood can then thin the ink and mess with your final result. You’re also gonna want to avoid the sun beforehand. Remember how I said a tattoo can feel like a sunburn? Yeah, the last thing you want to tattoo is sunburned or dry, peeling skin. Oh, and if you’ve never shaved a particular area that you want to get tattooed and you’re unsure about how to do it, just don’t. It’s better to have your tattoo artist help you with it or do it for you so you don’t risk getting a bunch of razor burn that could interfere with getting a tattoo.
How do you deal with tattoo pain?
How do I put this nicely? You’ll just have to suck it up. As tempting as a numbing agent sounds, Roman doesn’t recommend them because they can affect the texture of the skin and therefore make it harder to deposit the ink. If you absolutely must use a numbing cream, talk to your artist beforehand and make sure they’re okay with what you’re using. In general, treat the night before a tattoo like you would (or should) before a big exam: Get a good night’s sleep, eat a full breakfast, stay hydrated, and don’t show up hungover or drunk. Roman says all these things could ultimately affect how you handle pain, even if it’s not a particularly sensitive area of the body. Roman’s last bit of advice is to bring some kind of distraction, like snacks, Netflix, a friend, a book—anything to keep your mind preoccupied and make the pain a little bit more manageable.
What do I need to know before getting a tattoo?
Having an idea of the design you want and where you want it placed is important to know beforehand, yes, but choosing your tattoo artist is just as key to getting a tattoo you’ll be happy with. Check that the place looks clean, that it has good artwork on the walls, and that you get good vibes from the staff, 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 requirements (like, for instance, a safety course on blood-borne pathogens. Trust—it’s important). And if the artists aren’t using gloves and single-use needles, run. Fast.
What are some tattoo risks?
Tattoo reactions are not common, but when they do occur, they’re difficult to treat. Dr. Henry says red dye is one of the most common dyes to which allergy is reported, so if that’s the color you’re wanting to use, make sure to talk to your dermatologist first about your concerns. And if you’ve previously had allergic reactions to hair dye, costume jewelry, or cheap fragrances, Dr. Zeichner says you might have a higher risk of developing a reaction, so, again, talk to your doctor.
What should you do after getting a tattoo?
Steer clear of any body of water for two weeks after your tattoo is completely finished. During that time, stick to showers (no baths!) and stay out of saunas, hot tubs, pools, lakes, oceans, ponds—you get the idea—to prevent infection. You’ll even want to avoid strenuous activity that can cause lots of sweating, like working out. As far as tattoo aftercare, Roman says for the first few days, leave it clean and dry. Wash it twice daily with a fragrance-free gentle cleanser, pat it dry, and let it air out. After those first few days, you’ll notice the tattoo dry out, tighten up, and get a little itchy, but don’t scratch! Picking at your scab and skin can remove some of the ink too. Instead, continue washing it twice a day with your gentle cleanser, and add light layers of Skin Dip Beauty's Thirst Trap CBD Tattoo Balm, or an unscented lotion or tattoo lotion to address the itch and keep the skin moisturized. Once your tattoo has fully healed, you’ll need to slather that sucker with sunscreen forever to prevent the colors from breaking down and fading, according to both derms.
How long does a tattoo take to heal?
After two weeks, your tattoo should be completely healed if you’ve properly cleaned it, moisturized it with fragrance-free lotion, and, other than that, left it alone. If a portion of your design didn’t heal correctly or if you have some fading 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 (if the error was their fault) or for a nominal fee (if you’re getting a touch-up).