Know Before You Go: Tattoos

Artist tattooing a person

Know Before You Go: Tattoos

When I was growing up, my dad and his best friend were the only people I knew who had tattoos. Now, most of the people I know have them – even me!

I noticed that they were starting to get popular when I was in college. That’s when I started trying to figure out what I would get if I were to get a tattoo, and where to put it. It’s like picking out an outfit that you’re going to wear every day for the rest of your life. You want to put some thought into it.

When I turned 39, I finally figured it out and got a small happy face tattoo right by my ankle. But I sort of forgot to talk to my husband about it.

He, of course, was worried that it was going to get infected or I was going to get some sort of disease.

And some people do have complications after getting tattoos, from allergic reactions to the dye, burning or swelling staph infections, or something really bad like hepatitis B or C, HIV, or tetanus from dirty needles.

Besides figuring out the design and the location, you need to do your homework before your roll up your sleeve, your pants leg, or wherever you plan to put your body art. Not all states require tattoo artists to be licensed. Only a handful of states require that they tell people how to take care of their tattoos. Seven states don’t have any regulations on tattoos.

Preparations For the Tattoo

  • Ask around to find the best tattoo artist in the area. See if they have a website and look at their work. Is it your style? Do they brag about being clean?
  • Make sure your tattoo artist is licensed and the shop is clean.
  • Be sure you know what you want when you go – and don’t let them change your mind. This is going to be on your body for the rest of your life (unless you have it removed – and that takes work and pain).
  • Yes, it’s going to hurt. Anyone who says it doesn’t has a high tolerance for pain or they’re fibbing. Generally, the fattier the area (breast or buttocks) the less pain, while the bonier areas (feet, hands, and face) the more painful.
  • Tattoo artists use a machine with a needle that makes a hole in the skin and inserts ink into the second layer of skin, the dermis. The tattoo artist should use a new needle for every person and all tools should be sterilized in autoclaves and the ink caps that hold the ink should be disposed of and not reused.

Taking Care Of Your Tattoo

  • When the tattoo is complete, the tattoo artist should cover it with petroleum jelly and a bandage. Keep it dry for the first 24 hours.
  • After 24 hours (some tattoo artists say you can remove the bandage after two hours), remove the bandage and wash with antimicrobial soap and water and pat dry. When the bandage first comes off, you might see fluid oozing from the area and it could be sore or warm to the touch. Put a layer of Vaseline or antibacterial ointment on the tattoo, but do not bandage. Do this for the first six days.
  • Showers are OK but don’t go swimming or immerse your body in water until the tattoo heals in two to four weeks.
  • Don’t apply sunscreen until the tattoo has healed (two to four weeks). Wear protective clothing to keep the tattoo area from getting sunburned.
  • Don’t scratch or pick at scabs on your tattoo, even if they are starting to flake off.
  • Keep moisturizing the area for the first month.
  • The redness should fade in the first week. If not, see a doctor. You could have an infection.
  • If you have a fever, shivering, swelling around the tattoo, pus, red lesions or red streaks around the tattoo, or hard, raised areas around the tattoo, see a physician.

By Amanda Rogers for Surepoint Medical Centers

Photo by Julia Giacomini on Unsplash


Amanda Rogers is a freelance writer based in Fort Worth, Texas

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