I love tattoos. It is becoming more and more common knowledge (I suppose since I got my first openly visible tattoo) that I love them and take great pride in the tats that I have. I’ve written before about the cultural views on tattoos and answered a few of your questions on them and their after-care. However, I get asked a lot, both online and in person, about what getting a tattoo done is like and the healing process of it, so I thought that I would document my personal experience when I got my next tattoo. Well! As luck would have it, I had been thinking about a tattoo idea for quite a while and, after a lovely design was made for me by my tattoo artist, I decided I was ready for the plunge!
Sleep on it. Eat on it. Work on it. Live with it.
So, obviously, you need to think about what you want for a good while. What do you want the tattoo to be? What meaning or message do you want to convey? What meanings or messages do you NOT want to convey? Have you done your research?
Getting a tattoo (unless you’re not afraid of the laser) is a lifetime commitment and so you need to be as sure as possible to have covered your bases. Have you checked that the image or words have no negative or criminal meanings? When I was 16 I wanted a tattoo that symbolized that you only live once, which would have meant that I would be stuck forever with a tat that basically meant YOLO… Good thing I didn’t go for that then!
Before you commit having an image put into your skin, understand the risks involved, such as a change of opinion, something going wrong, the eventuality of the design aging, cultural reaction and various (rare) health risks.
I get asked a lot about how painful and how scary it is to get a tattoo and there is no completely definitive answer as everyone is different and everything depends.
The level of pain you will feel from a tattoo depends on your personal pain tolerance as well as the location of the tattoo on your body. If you have a high tolerance to pain and your tattoo is on a more fleshy area, then you are more likely to feel less pain from it.
If, like me, you are incredibly skinny, then your tattoo is more likely to be a bit more painful and tattoos hurt their most when they are on areas with thin, moving skin that lie right over bones.
My first tattoo was on my right hip and it was an absolute breeze, except for when they were doing the parts right over the edge of my hip bones (and then it was still only a mildly annoying tickle).
My second tattoo was only a small design on my side and that was a little more painful because it was over a rib, which is known to be a very painful area. The only part of it that had me more than a little uncomfortable was the shading part, which is done with another kind of needle used for filling and shading.
My third tattoo, on the inside of my wrist, was pretty much fine! It only took about 10-15 minutes to do and was only really a slightly painful tingle. It was so fast to get, quick to heal and practically painless.
Tattoos, as some do not expect, go through a slightly gnarly healing stage with itches, ooze and scabs. But, trust me, it’s not as bad as it seems!
My first tattoo, a large yin and yang on my hip, was very sore the first day I got it, healed with a thick scab and took about 5 weeks to look healed. However, my second and third tattoos were healed in a matter of days.
With my first tattoo, I only had the cling film on for about 3 hours and then went without it. I used Bepanthen, a product used to reduce nappy rash on babies. I found that it actually made pain and itching worse and so I stopped using it.
With my other two tattoos, I didn’t bother with any creams or cling films (actually for the second tattoo, the artist had run out of cling-film so just said not to worry about it) and everything was fine.
But it is recommended that you keep replacing the cling film every few hours for the next three days and use a cream to moisturise and protect the skin.
And make sure that you are regularly cleaning your tattoo with warm (not too hot) soapy water. blot it dry gently with a clean towel (though preferably not a fancy or nice one, as it can get mucky)
So, let’s take a step-by-step look at my experience of a new, and large, tattoo on my foot.
My New Tattoo
I wanted a tattoo that was delicate, yet strong, youthful and long-lasting. Because we are nearing Spring (my favourite season) and I love Japan, I instantly thought of the adored and celebrated Sakura flowers. I love the Sakura Cherry Blossoms and so decided that it would be the perfect look for the design.
So, as I mentioned in my article about cultural views of tattoos, any tattoos in Japan carry a negative view of tattoos, so there is not really anything I could do about that. So, I did my research and settled that the design was a safe one.
The artist who designed the tattoo for me changed the look of the flower a little bit, but I liked it and we decided on the placement of the tattoo together.
initially, I wanted the design to start behind my ankle, then go over the ankle and follow just along the outside of the foot, but I ended up liking the placement we went with instead (and it looks great with heels)!
To be honest, the sound of a tattoo gun is, in my opinion, the worst part of the whole thing. It’s like the sound of a dentist’s drill and scares the living daylights out of me before I get started.
With all of my other tattoos, I have just walked in and gotten them done on the day and this was the first tattoo that I actually booked like a week ahead of time and had to wait. Waiting made it so much worse and I was so much more scared.
Really, if you can try to calm your fear then the entire process will be a lot easier. The fear is the worst part and it has never been as bad as my fear has played it up to be.
So, do your best not to let your fear get you down or worked up. It’ll be over soon enough and nowhere near as bad as your imagination has you thinking.
Getting the tattoo
This tattoo was the most painful of all the others I’ve had. The reason for that was because this one was a lot bigger as well as being an area of the skin that moves a lot and runs over many bones and the tattoo was mostly done with the filling and shading head of the tattoo gun (which I said was the more irritating with my second tattoo).
It was rather painful, but the most difficult part was simply not moving as they were doing it. I honestly had to fight with everything in me not to kick my tattoo artist in the face as she did it.
But a good tattoo artist knows what they’re doing, will be in tune enough to know when to take a quick breather, and they’ll get it over with as soon as they can.
Try to be relaxed as you go through it. If you are getting tense and letting the pain get pent-up, it’ll irritate you and make it harder to stay still, so try to just stay relaxed, focus on a part of your body that doesn’t hurt and just zen out.
So, I learnt with my first tattoo that I cannot use the skin product Bepanthen as I’m allergic to the lanolin in it, but I learnt this time that I CAN use another product instead to sooth my raw tattoo.
Diprobase is a cream that you can get prescribed by a doctor, but is available off the shelf in many drug stores, such as Boots. It’s a very thick cream that cools, soothes and moisturises the irritated skin.
Also this time around I took care to use and regularly replace the cling film for the recommended 3 days.
As expected, for the rest of the day after I got the tattoo the top of my foot was VERY swollen and I was limping a little bit, but the pain of getting the tattoo itself wore off within ten minutes and I couldn’t feel any pain, except for some soreness when I walked, after about an hour.
And a lot of people assume that tattoos gush blood for hours and hours after you get them, but they don’t really bleed that much and they settle down pretty quickly.
Here is my tattoo after 6 hours:
At 12 hours:
With the cream:
After about 4-5 days it begins the nasty scabby stage where it looks a bit flaky and nasty. All you can do at this time is keep cleaning and moisturising it and don’t pick at it. Scratching it will slow the healing process, can seriously damage your tattoo and hurts A LOT!!!!! It’s not worth it, so don’t scratch it.
During scabby stage:
And, finally, now:
After about 3 weeks it’s almost entirely healed up and is not even slightly uncomfortable. It was worth the whole thing!
I hope you enjoyed this piece! If you have any comments or questions, please share them in the comments below or over on Facebook or Twitter! X