First tattoo experience


Tattoos: What really happens at a tattoo parlour? Mandi guides us through her first tattoo experience – from researching tattoo artists to getting her design inked, pain factor and tattoo aftercare…

Many people are apprehensive about getting their first tattoo. Having finally got my first tattoo, I thought it might be nice to give Mooks still considering getting their own first tattoo a bird’s eye view on everything that happened (that happened TO ME. Not every experience will be the same) from the time I set foot in the tattoo parlour to the time my tattoo was completely healed.

I got my first tattoo this past summer. I had been contemplating it for a long time, but I wanted to be 110% sure of what I wanted before I got it, since tattoos ARE permanent (unless you fancy spending lots of money on tattoo removal, doing lots of research on the tattoo removal techniques available and getting variable results).

A lot of research went into my first tattoo – it wasn’t an impulse

About a month before I wanted to actually get the tattoo, I went ink artist shopping. I went into about four different tattoo parlours until finally settling on one I really liked. I had been browsing the portfolios of the artists at said parlour online, and knew exactly which artist I wanted to do my tattoo. I brought in a picture of something along the lines of what I wanted, and we sat down to talk about how she would draw it up, what it would cost, etc. I made my deposit, set the date, and waited until the day rolled around.

Crunch time at the tattoo parlour

When I walked in on the day of my appointment I was TERRIFIED. I’m not good with pain at all. I’m twenty years old and I still almost cry every time I get a shot. On top of already being a wimp when it comes to pain, my mum kept telling me how much it was going to hurt. My biggest fear was not being able to handle the pain and having to quit half-way through. But after my artist showed me the design she had drawn up, I fell in love with it and my fear quickly evaporated.

Since my tattoo is on my back left shoulder, I had to sit in my chair and lean on a gym mat in order to stabilize the area. After getting all the equipment ready, the ink artist cleaned off the area with a sterilizing wipe and applied the stencil. After doing this, she let me go look in the mirror to make sure the placement was exactly how I wanted it. Once I saw the outline of the design on my shoulder, I was way more excited than scared, and was ready to get started.

Getting my first tattoo applied for real

My tattoo artist did the outline first. I was stiff as a board when she first started, but I quickly realized that the pain wasn’t just bearable, it was practically non-existent! I soon got used to the feeling of the needle on my back and settled down for what I knew would be a very long process. As she went, the tattoo artist kept rubbing ointment into the tattoo to keep it moist and to make sure it didn’t get too irritated. Once she finished the outline, I got to look in the mirror again and was getting more and more joyous by the minute. But my joy was quickly killed when she told me she had to do the whole outline again. She didn’t like the way it was taking, so she decided to use a bigger needle. Needless to say, I wasn’t too pleased.

When she started up with the new needle, the pain was definitely there. But since she had already done the outline once, it went a lot quicker the second time. We took a short break after the outline was done, then she started on the colour. The colour is the part that took forever, and was also where I felt the most pain. There was a certain place that hurt more than the others, which the ink artist explained was because it was right over a nerve. When I couldn’t take the needle on that place anymore, she would move to another part of the tattoo then come back. The whole process took about four and a half hours, and my tattoo is probably about 4×3 inches and full colour. When I saw the finished product for the first time, I was so pleased. It turned out better than I expected, and was definitely worth the pain.

Aftercare for my first tattoo

It was the aftercare portion that was difficult, and I sure was ready to have that thing healed! During the aftercare stage, the tattoo has to be washed multiple times a day, and an ointment has to be applied to it. Also, depending on where the tattoo is, it can get stuck to your clothes during the first few days, and if you aren’t careful in removing the fabric, some of the colour can permanently come off. The first night, mine got stuck to my t-shirt while I was sleeping, and when I carefully took it off the next morning I saw that some colour had bled onto my shirt, and even onto my sheets.

When I went to wash my tattoo the morning after it was done, the pain hit me harder than it had yet. You have to apply a little bit of pressure while washing it to make sure a layer of, as my artist described it, “goo”, doesn’t remain on the tattoo (this is what causes a scab). While I was applying the pressure, it hurt so badly that I actually got nausea from the pain. After the “goo” stage has passed, you swap the ointment for lotion, and apply that multiple times a day to make sure that tattoo doesn’t dry out and flake. It itches, and badly, but if you pick or scratch at it you can permanently put scars in the tattoo. If you really have to do something to stop the itching, you can gently pat the tattoo, and that helps without damaging the design.

Maintaining your tattoo’s colour

Once it’s healed, you have to be really serious with sun block. I went right out and bought SPF 100+ because I really didn’t want my colour to fade. My artist said that if you apply sun block religiously every time the tattoo will be in the sunlight, the colour will not fade and a touchup will never be necessary. If you aren’t careful with it though, the colour can fade quickly and the design can end up being unrecognizable until it gets touched up.

Was it worth it?

I’m definitely happy with my decision to get my tattoo, and I have a few more planned for down the road. A tattoo is a big responsibility though. I would say bigger than a body piercing. You can always take your body jewelry out if the hole gets infected and just let it close, but you can’t exactly take out a tattoo. They can scar badly enough to destroy the entire tattoo and can get infected.

If you’re considering getting a tattoo, make sure you do a lot of research on the tattoo parlour you plan to get it at to make sure they are legit.

If you aren’t ready to put the time and effort into caring for your new tattoo, you might want to hold off until you are sure you can take care of it properly.