Twelve Tips on How to Prepare for Getting a Tattoo

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate


(Body Art by Cat)

Maybe you have seen one of your friends get one.
Or even your mother or father.
It seems everyone has one.
Some are small and diminutive while others can cover an entire limb or even the full body.
Some of them are ancient, such as the ones a Neolithic Iceman named Otzi has on his spine, dating back to 5,300 years ago. Celebrities have them, including Brad Pitt, who pays tribute to Otzi the Iceman on his forearm.
Some are portraits while others are hearts, crosses, landscapes, peacocks or scripture.
Some can even glow in the dark.
They are sometimes called "body art" or "tats" and their popularity is continuously growing.

Of course we are talking about tattoos. The Vanishing Tattoo reports that: "Thirty-six percent of those ages 18 to 25, and 40 percent of those ages 26 to 40, have at least one tattoo, according to a fall 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center." That is a lot of tattoos!

But before you take the plunge and get a tattoo there are some important things you should know.
In order to understand what you are about to get into when you decide to get a tattoo I have called upon the expertise of one of the top tattoo artists in the field today.
His name is Cat Spencer and he is here to give us some much needed guidance about getting a tattoo.
You may find more of Cat's body art and digital art in his on-line Tattoo Gallery.

Cat, what should one know about their tattooist before consenting to get a tattoo?
Can you tell us more about your background?

I've been tattooing since 1991. After an extensive background in art and several years of freelancing, I was invited to take a professional apprenticeship in 1990.

A good apprenticeship covers not only the "artist" part of being a tattoo artist, but also the mechanical side, including machine building and maintenance, mixing inks, proper techniques for sterilization and safe application of tattoo art, and the necessary hours of training to qualify for testing and licensing.

Testing and licensing varies from state to state, with some states being much more strict than others. Unfortunately there aren't set guidelines or rules for licensing across the country. There is quite a bit of variation in the necessary background and education for state licensing. For this reason, it helps to know that your tattoo artist is affiliated with a recognized organization which promotes continuing education in the ever evolving art.

I have been a professional member of the APT, the Alliance for Professional Tattooists, since 1993. The APT sets guidelines and standards for professional tattooing. They offer annual updates in the recognized standards set for professional tattooists to adhere to. The APT hires professional medical instructors, pathologists, legal personnel, and the like to insure that it's member have the most up to date information regarding the safe application of body art.
More information about the APT can be found here.

Can you give us a list of tips and suggestions for the person who is about to get a tattoo?

If you are planning a trip to your local professional tattoo artist, here are some general suggestions you might make note of when preparing for your new work:

1. It is certainly worth one's time to research their options in getting a tattoo applied. Good work isn't as common as poor work, and since state regulations vary so widely, it's good to find a tattooist with a professional affiliation that you can trust to be educated and adept at the practice of safe tattooing.

2. Don't go to your appointment hungry. Get a good meal in your, go feeling energetic and strong.

  1. Observe good hygiene. Your tattoo artist will appreciate it.

  2. If you are capable of removing the body hair in an area where you would have your tattoo put, do so in advance. Tattooists are typically prepared to do this if need be, but they will always appreciate a customer who thought ahead and saved them the time.

  3. If you are planning on a long session, think about bringing along something that you might use to pass the time, a book to read, an ipod, etc.. While most good tattoo artists are capable of entertaining you with their witty banter for the duration of your tattoo, it never hurts to take something along with you in case. Some tattooists are less gregarious than others.

  4. Dress appropriately.
    If you wear a dress to the tattoo shop and want tattooed in the small of your back, realize you may end up undressing for your work. If you think ahead, you can wear something which allows for easy access to the area you intend to have tattooed.

  5. Don't fret and worry! Getting a tattoo isn't as hard or painful as most people think it will be when getting their first tattoo.

  6. DON'T drink liquor or take drugs before going in to be tattooed.

  7. Avoid using aspirin or blood thinners before going in for a tattoo session.

  8. Advise your tattooist of any prescription medications you are taking.

  9. Be prepared to advise your tattooist of any conditions you may have which you think could in any way influence the tattoo procedure or healing.

  10. Take your photo ID along with you; many states require the practicing professional to ask you to show proof of age.

Is there anyone who should not get a tattoo?

Most professional tattooists will screen their potential clients for any possible candidates who may have problems during the tattoo procedure or during the aftercare and healing period.

Some conditions may cause a tattooist to refuse to do the procedure.

Pregnancy is a touchy area, most professionals will refuse to tattoo a woman who is pregnant.
The biggest worry for the tattooist is the unnecessary trauma the mother to be will sustain. A burst of adrenalin and endorphins aren't guaranteed to bring on labor or cause a mother to miscarry, but it's not a chance a professional tattooist wants to take. To avoid any possible complications, it's a popular policy to simply ask the mother to come back in a few months or weeks.

It is common for a professional tattooist to refuse to tattoo on minor children. Though some states to allow for exceptions by way of parental consent, most professional tattooists will refuse to tattoo on children regardless.

Persons with impaired immune systems are often counseled about difficulties that can occur during the healing of the tattoo. Because the procedure does break the skin, even though the tattooist may practice as close to sterile techniques as he or she can, the following days of healing the new "wound" are up to the recipient of the tattoo.
The practitioner will point out the risks and special instructions relevant to the individual's condition.

There are rare skin conditions which may necessitate special aftercare concerns.

Anyone who is concerned about potential problems due to any health problems should certainly bring these concerns to the attention of the practitioner.

As stated before, no one should have the tattoo procedure done while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Thank you Cat!
These tips and guidelines will certainly be helpful to anyone who is considering getting a tattoo.
If anyone has more tips or suggestions, please share them here in the form of a comment.
We would love to hear from you!

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."