Tattoos are a monumental commitment—a beautiful one, but monumental nonetheless. Think about it: Your body art will last a lifetime. If you’re considering getting a tattoo, make sure you’re prepared before you lay down on the tattoo artist’s table. Plan ahead, make sure you’re healthy, research your artist, and prepare the canvas—your skin.
More goes into getting a tattoo than just showing up at the parlor. One of the best things you can do to prepare for getting a tattoo is to find the best artist for the type of tattoo you want.
“Most people want a tattoo and want it now,” says Zac Bryan, a tattoo artist at Black Calavera in DeLand, Florida. “The walk-in business is booming, but so are cover-ups. The best thing a person can do is find the right artist based on the piece they want. Don’t go with the easiest. Go with the best.”
Benjamin Thompson, an artist at Untouchable Ink in DeLand, Florida, suggests that you, “Look at recent work and healed pieces” while you’re shopping around for the right artist. “Once you select the artist, set the date for the tattoo.”
Make sure you’re physically fit
Getting a tattoo shouldn’t be a sudden decision, so make sure you’re healthy first. There are also some conditions that may affect your tattoo experience. For example, if you have high blood pressure, getting a tattoo can be dangerous because you might experience an increase in blood pressure while on the artist’s table.
“We advise our clients to avoid alcohol 48 hours before receiving a tattoo service and recommend avoiding pain relievers such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen as well,” says Lisa Delrey, founder of Black Tie Makeup Studios in Seattle, WA, where she is also the lead artist for microblading, a form of semi-permanent tattoo used to give eyebrows a look of fullness. “These agents act as blood thinners and can cause excessive bleeding during the service. This will cause more scabbing, and as a result, poor color deposit.”
However, little research has been done on the effects of tattooing on most individual disorders. So proceed with caution, especially if you have a chronic illness or if you’re pregnant. “It is possible that chemicals in the tattoo dye may also affect a baby’s development during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy,” according to experts. “And because there are so few studies done on getting tattoos during pregnancy, researchers don’t really know what the effects are during any trimester.”
If you have any conditions you think might be affected by getting a tattoo—such as a clotting disorder—consult your doctor before making the appointment with your artist. But your artist may have more information as well as sound general advice to help you prepare for a tattoo.
“Get a good night sleep before and eat a good sized meal a few hours prior,” says Thompson. “Ask the artist at your consult what they recommend.” Most artists like Thompson recommend refraining from drinking alcohol before you go in for your tattoo session. You want your mind to be clear so you can make decisions regarding your tattoo if the need arises.
Mental health is important, too. “I suggest people have a relaxed morning, avoid caffeine, bring comfy clothes, a blanket, headphones for music or a movie,” says Beth Fairchild, a tattoo artist and yoga instructor in Greensboro, North Carolina. “Deep breathing and meditation help me through a tattoo, but everyone is different.”
Get your skin into shape
Before you arrive for your tattoo session, make sure your skin isn’t irritated either. Irritated skin, which might include dryness, rash or sunburn, will take longer to heal and may not take pigment as well as calm skin, says Dr. Erum Ilyas, a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology. She also advises that you make moisturizing a habit and skip alcohol the night before your session since it can be dehydrating.
Before your tattooing session, “Try to avoid any particularly irritating products such as retinoids,” says Dr. Erum Ilyas. Products meant to decrease wrinkles or remove acne—retinoids included—may cause skin inflammation, making the tattooing and recovery process more difficult on your skin.
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology recommends that you apply an unscented moisturizing cream like Cetaphil Unscented Moisturizing Lotion ($10; target.com) immediately after bathing as a remedy for dry skin. If your dry skin is severe, try a body oil like Neutrogena Unscented Light Sesame Oil ($7; target.com).
Keep an eye out for abnormalities
Don’t forget about moles. The landscape of the skin you’re planning to get tattooed is important as well, but maybe not in the way you’d think. If you’re planning on getting a tattoo to cover up a mole, for example, that may be a bad idea.
“Moles can change over time,” says Brooke A. Jackson, MD, medical director Skin Wellness Dermatology Associates. Changes in size, shape and color of a mole may indicate skin cancer. “If the mole is covered by a tattoo, the change may not be easily noticed or appreciated,” cautions Jackson. “I have removed several skin cancers that have been camouflaged by tattoo ink.”
If you want to get a tattoo in an area that has a mole or other discoloration, make an appointment with your dermatologist beforehand to get it checked out. When it comes to skin concerns, that is smart advice in general. All of the dermatologists interviewed suggested making an appointment to discuss skin health before making any drastic changes, like getting a tattoo.
If you’re still wavering on your exact design choice or placement, consider test driving the tattoo with Inkbox. Browse Inkbox’s 2,500+ catalog designs created by artists around the world or use our custom tool to create any fresh design you have in mind. All of Inkbox’s tattoos look like permanent tattoos, but only last for one to two weeks, so they give you a chance to live with your prospective tattoo and placement of choice to see if it’s the right fit for you.