Aside

The Healthy Bear’s Guide To Getting A Tattoo

Hey there Guys,

For those that know me you probably know I have a passion for tattoos.  Today I thought it might be a nice idea to talk about how to get a tattoo in a safe way that ensures no dramas, and most importantly a fantastic tattoo once the healing is over.

Getting a great tattoo is not that difficult but there are a few things to be aware of, especially if you might be taking medication, have any allergies or perhaps medical issues.

I’ve divided this up into three main areas to think about; preparation, getting the tattoo and aftercare. Let’s get stuck into it guys!

Preparation for your tattoo

Getting tattoo is something that is definitely worth putting some thought into. You and your new tattoo are going to be friends for life, so it’s probably a good idea to put in a little ground work to make sure you get the best tattoo possible.

If you are reading this, chances are you may already have a tattoo or you have been thinking about it for some time. Choosing your first design can be a difficult one, so be sure to take your time. It’s important that you really like your first tattoo as there is nothing worse than having a tattoo that you hate.

For many people, the design they have in their mind is not able to be found in the standard “flash work” that is found on the walls of a tattoo shop. Getting together with an artist friend or even designing one yourself can be a great first step to getting the ideas from your mind and onto paper.

One important thing to remember is that some designs that look fantastic on paper end up looking really bad as a tattoo. This is why it’s very important to take the time to find and talk to a tattooist you feel comfortable with.

Whenever I see someone with a tattoo that I like, I turn investigator and start asking them about their artist and how they found them. Don’t be shy, I am yet to have someone be offended when I ask about their tattoos (and it’s a great way to meet people as well). I love talking about my tattoos and I’m more than happy to share my experiences.

People are pretty loyal to their tattooist. If someone is good they will tell you and if they are bad, believe me, they will tell you even faster! Check out their work and get a feel for their style, to see if you like it or not.

If you’ve found an artist you like then it’s time to meet them and check out their studio.

Questions to ask when meeting your tattooist

Your first visit to the tattooist is the time to really get the feel for whether you are going to be happy with your final result. It’s vital you feel comfortable and happy before any ink starts to touch the skin.

Here are a few things to think about before you make your first appointment:

  • Do you feel comfortable with the tattooist?
  • Does the studio look clean and hygienic?
  • Do they use disposable needles? If not, how are they cleaned?
  • Do they have an autoclave to sterilise the equipment?
  • If you are getting a tattoo in a more “intimate” position, are they able to offer a more private space to have your work done?

While it may feel a little embarrassing to ask these questions, they are very used to them so don’t feel shy about asking. A good tattooist is more then happy to answer away. Again, if you feel uncomfortable at any point there is nothing wrong with saying thank you and then heading out to find someone you are more in tune with.

When it comes to design, it’s really important you take the time to listen to the tattooist. If they are any good they will have done many designs, and they know what is going to look good and what is going to look crap. If they are saying there is a chance that a particular design may not be the best, ask for suggestions on how to make it work better. If you are happy, great! If not, again do not be afraid to say thank you and walk. Starting to catch a theme here?

If both of you are happy, book a time for your first ink. I like to get mine done in the morning, that way I have time to allow it to settle and veg out for the rest of the day. If you are able to have the day off it’s a good idea, as you don’t want to be heading back to work with a sore arm.

Afternoons can be good as well but remember you are going to need to wear a bandage for about 3-4 hours once the tattooist is done after which you will need to be able to wash and care for your new tattoo. Having time free afterwards can make this care a lot easier as it’s important that the first wash is done well.

Before we get into getting the tattoo I just wanted to cover a few medical questions I get asked frequently…

Medical preparation for a tattoo

So you have found an artist and made an appointment for your tattoo. It’s time to think about your body, making sure it is ready for a tattoo.

Getting a tattoo is somewhat traumatic to the body, with some careful preparation you will be able to optimise your healing and reduce the chance of a bad looking tattoo.

Medications

The process of getting your tattoo will make you bleed. If you are on any medications that thin your blood, such as warfarin, clopidogrel or aspirin, it’s vital you talk to your doctor about this.

For those on warfarin, the risk of bleeding will be higher and it will likely take longer to heal. The bigger the tattoo you get the bigger the chance of bleeding. My research shows that there are people who have gotten tattoos when on warfarin without issues, but I highly recommend getting your INR checked before getting work done, and to be open and frank with your doctor before you have anything done. Getting work done when your INR is over 3 is probably a bad idea.

If you are on warfarin because of an artificial heart valve there is a high risk of potential infections. I strongly suggest you discuss your wish for a tattoo with your cardiologist. There may be a safe way to get your tattoo however it will need to be carefully planned.

Aspirin increases the chance of bleeding for seven days after you have taken it, so if you are only on it for prevention you may be able to stop it one week before your tattoo. Again, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Interestingly, if you are taking fish oil supplements they too can thin your blood, and I recommend stopping taking them for 3-4 days before your tattoo.

Diabetes

For those that are diabetic you should not have any problems getting a tattoo done. Be aware that your healing time may be slightly longer then a non diabetic. If your sugars have been high around the time you are due to get your tattoo, it’s probably best to wait until they are under control before getting any work done.

As diabetics can have poor circulation the research has recommended that you do not get tattooed on the feet, hands or lower legs, as the healing be very slow and potentially dangerous if infection was to occur.

HIV

If you are HIV positive there is no reason you would not be able to get a tattoo. The main precaution is to avoid infections. By getting your tattoo done in a reputable studio in a hygienic way and looking after your tattoo when it’s healing, you’ll be fine. The only precaution is if your CD4 count is below 100 it’s probably best to avoid getting a tattoo due to the increased risk of opportunistic infections. Be sure to discuss this with your specialist if you have any concerns or worries.

All good tattooists use universal precautions so you will be protected from the risk of HIV and Hep C, as will your tattooist. Remember there are lots of people who don’t even know they may have these infections, which is why the universal precautions exist.

Immunosupressive treatments

On a final medical note, if you are on prednisolone, any chemotherapy agent or have reduced immunity for one reason or another, now may not be the best time to get a tattoo. Talk with your doctor about your wish to get a tattoo and they can advise on the best timing to get your work done.

Allergies

The main allergy of concern when it comes to tattoos is latex allergies. Most tattooist use latex gloves however if you discuss this at the shop they may be able to organise alternative gloves.

Allergic reactions to tattoo ink is very rare.

My apologies if that was a little heavy but I wanted to be sure I covered these important areas. Now with all that sorted out, let’s get tattooed!

The day of your tattoo

You’ve got your design, you’ve picked your tattooist and you are now ready to get inked. Your first tattoo can be a little scary so here are a couple of tips to help make sure your appointment goes smoothly.

Firstly look after yourself the day and night before your tattoo. If your skin is sunburned or has any infection (i.e. it’s red, hot and swollen) then you will need to delay getting your tattoo done. It will be too painful, the risk of infection is high and your tattoo will end out patchy.

Do your best to have a good night’s sleep and try not to hit the booze the night before – it’s a moderate blood thinner!

One to two hours before your tattoo have a good meal to keep your blood sugars up. I’ve been tattooed with an empty stomach and a full stomach and it was with the empty stomach that I was fainting.

By having some moderate carbs in your meal it will also give you a bit of an endorphin boost that can help reduce the pain a little.

On the subject of pain, tattoos do hurt. I usually take some over the counter Panadeine, and this takes the edge off a bit. Avoid products like ibuprofen or Neurofen as they cause thinning of the blood and can increase bleeding.

I like to bring an iPod with my favourite music, a bottle of water and a bottle of coke as it seems to pick me up a bit if I am feeling a bit grey. That being said if you are only going to be under the needle for 20 minutes it’s probably overkill, but hey it never hurts to be prepared.

When you arrive your tattooist will clean your skin, shave the area and place the stencil of your design on it. This is the last chance for alterations. If you don’t like the size, position or some element of the tattoo, this is the time to speak up! There is no changing it once it’s already inked into your skin.

With design ready to go it’s basically lay back and let your artist get to work.

As I mentioned, getting a tattoo can be painful. Some areas of the skin are more sensitive than others – everyone is different. If you find you are feeling too sore, a bit faint or just need a break be sure to let your artist know. They are cool with taking breaks. After all, it’s hard work for them as well.

Once your tattoo is complete they will give it a good wash, cover it with a healing ointment and place a bandage onto your tattoo. It’s really important that you keep this on for at lease 3-4 hours. I know it’s tempting to have a peek, however it’s an open wound and the last thing you need is bacteria landing on it.

Tattoo aftercare

When 3-4 hours have passed you can gently remove the bandage and give the tattoo a really good clean. If the bandage is stuck let some water flow over it and it will loosen in a minute or so.

Now is the time to give your tattoo a very good wash with antibacterial soap. Removing all the blood and serum will help reduce scabbing which means faster healing and a great looking tattoo.

Once nice and clean, pat your tattoo dry with a clean paper towel and allow to air dry for 30-60 minutes. Remember it’s an open wound so no touching!

Once nice a dry I place a very thin layer of healing cream such as Bepanthan to help nourish and encourage healing.

Your tattoo may bleed and leak a small amount of fluid on the first night so you may like to wear a light covering to avoid staining your sheets. If it’s stuck in the morning, again soak the covering in water and it will come away gently.

After this point there are many different theories on the best way to heal a tattoo. The main points to note are:

  • Keep it clean
  • Keep it lightly moisturised but not so much that it is shiny or gooey (that will suck the colour out)
  • Do not allow your tattoo to soak in water. Brief showers are ok but baths, swimming, steam rooms and long showers can make the healing tattoo too wet and this will draw out the colours
  • No picking! If it gets itchy a gentle slap can help relieve it a little

Every tattooist has their own healing guidelines, so be sure to follow their advice.

If at any time during your healing your tattoo becomes red, hot, swollen or you notice pus, please be sure to see your doctor. These may be signs of infection and be getting treatment you can avoid your tattoo ending out looking bad.

Most tattoos will be fully healed in 2 weeks. Once all the scabs have flaked off you will be right to get back into swimming or the spa. For the longevity of your tattoo, the most important thing is to always make sure you keep it covered from the sun. If you want to show it off, great! Just be sure to pop some sun screen on to protect your colour for the life of your tattoo.

So there you go. I never expected this was going to end out quite as long as this so please accept my apologies if it was a little long.

I’ve tried to cover as many different aspects as I could think of, but I am sure there are some areas I may have missed. If you have any questions or there is an aspect you would like me to explain again please drop me a comment below. I’ll be sure to get my answer to you asap.

Happy Tattooing!

Dr George