I don’t mean to brag but, when it comes to tattoos, I know a little bit. This might be because since the end of 2015 I have managed to accumulate over 20 of them in varying sizes (hey, it’s true what they say about it being addictive). I even got a loyalty T-shirt from the studio I frequent – I sort-of wish I was joking. I didn’t get my first tattoo until my very-late twenties because I have an intense fear of needles but, after I took the plunge, I felt like a whole new world had been opened up to me and I could now decorate my body the way my emo teenage self had always wanted to.

Before I went in for my first appointment, I was terrified and took to Google to research any and all of the questions I had about what I was about to experience. Since then, I have learnt a lot, both from my tattoo artist Gareth Doye of Kak Lucky in Cape Town and from having gone through it on many an occasion. Here is what I know now that I wish I knew then:

1.Take it Easy the Night Before

Any tattoo artist worth their salt will straight-up refuse to tattoo you if you have had a wild night the day before your appointment. Think that masking the scent of booze with copious amounts of chewing gum will work? Think again. Alcohol thins you blood so when your artist gets going and you start squirting blood everywhere, they’ll know, and you’ll be sent on your merry way sans new ink. Not worth it.

2.Forget the Entourage

A lot of people want to take their friends with them on the day for moral support. Don’t do that unless you absolutely have to. Most tattoo artists are not keen on friends, who often end up having to sit in the waiting room anyway due to lack of space and the immaculate hygiene conditions that have to be maintained in the work space. Friends also have a tendency to get in the way or distract the artist, so if you want perfect ink, keeping your posse small and well-behaved is crucial.

3.Choose your Outfit Wisely

When picking your outfit for the big day, consider your tattoo placement and accessibility for your tattoo artist. If you are getting something on your leg, skinny jeans is probably not the best choice as they can’t be rolled up to comfortably expose the skin. Personally, I always go with pyjamas – not only are they comfortable but they are loose enough to roll up when the tattoo is being done and give the area space afterwards.

4.The Stencil is Really Important

My first tattoo was a series of three bands around my arm, and it took plenty of applying, removing and applying again to get the stencils in the right place. It got to the point where I would have said blatantly skew lines looked fine because I just wanted to get started. When you are feeling impatient, remember that this is going to be on your body FOREVER so take all the time you need to make sure that you are 100% happy with the placement.

5.Know How your Body Works

The second time I  went in to get more ink, I had wanted to get a Roman column on my upper inner arm and was really excited about my placement choice. All hopes were sadly dashed when my tattoo artist told me I couldn’t get it there because of the way skin ages; that area tends to go wrinkly and designs with straight lines would age badly there, so we went with the lower arm along the bone instead. Knowing how your tattoo will move with your skin is also important to avoid nasty surprises once it’s too late.

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The LEAST painful part: The stencil is applied to the skin to make sure the design goes in the right place.

6.Food and Drink

One of the most important things to remember on the big day is to eat a big meal before you go to make sure that your blood sugar doesn’t dip. While my diet is generally quite healthy, when I have an appointment at the tattoo studio I allow myself to buy junk food and fizzy cool drink. This helps to prevent passing out and also serves as comfort food. Because when you have loads of tiny needles jabbing you, you need all the comfort you can get.

7.Taking Painkillers Beforehand Might Help

The level of pain you experience while getting a tattoo varies from person to person. I’ve heard that some weirdos love the feeling whereas I need a tranquiliser when getting a simple blood test. While sedation is not available at tattoo studios, some people swear by taking painkillers about an hour before the time with a meal to keep the pain to a minimum. You know what you can use? Numbing cream. Trust me, I tried!

8.Don’t Go with Aunt Flow

When I go to get inked, I generally go and have three done at a time. This might sound extreme but I am convinced that is must be more economical. Most of the time I experience pain (duh) but it’s generally manageable and doesn’t affect other parts of my body. I once made the mistake of making an appointment that coincided with my period. Worst. Idea. Ever. It was a lot more painful and I even experienced light-headedness and nausea. Don’t do it!

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And we’re done! With tattoo number one, anyway

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Needle to skin. Painful but so worth it!

9.Follow your Aftercare Instructions to a T

Each studio gives out slightly different aftercare instructions to their clients. Whatever your artist tells you to do or not do, listen to them. This usually consists of them telling you to wash the area gently with scent-free soap once or twice a day and applying a water-based lotion afterwards. One thing all tattoo industry pros agree on is that once new ink starts scabbing, it should NOT be picked or you could ruin your artwork.

10.Don’t Make Plans for Afterwards

Unless they involve lying in bed with Netflix and comfort food, don’t make any plans for the evening just after your appointment. You might think that you’ll be totally fine to hit the town and celebrate with your homies, but aside from the pain and having to look after your new addition, your body goes through a lot while being inked, and chemicals such as adrenaline have been coursing through your body which can leave you totally drained. Stay in, spoil yourself and keep your new tattoo safe – you and your body deserve it.


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