Have you been thinking about getting a tattoo for awhile, but something’s held you back? Maybe you haven’t yet perfected your design idea, or you need to find just the right artist before you’ll be ready to move forward? Whatever’s keeping you on the fence, if you can’t get the idea of getting a tattoo out of your head, then it’s time to get to the root of the problem that's keeping you from moving forward. How do you figure out if getting a tattoo is the right move for you or not? First, you have to identify exactly what’s holding you back.
Identify & Conquer Your Tattoo Roadblocks
Some people are fearless when it comes to getting tattooed. They aren’t afraid of tattoo needles, making an unwise tattoo design choice and being stuck with it for life, scarring, potential career impact, or any of the other repercussions associated with tattoos. If you aren’t currently among the ranks of the Fearless & Tattooed, don’t beat yourself up. There are a lot of things that can make a person hesitate before getting tattooed, but until you identify your own personal set of fears, you’ll likely stay stuck on the fence—and that’s a pretty awkward place to sit long-term.
Before you can conquer your fears—or decide if you even want to conquer them—you have to give voice to exactly what’s holding you back from getting tattooed. Here are some of the more common reasons that give people pause when they’re considering getting inked. If any of these issues rings true for you, put a check by it, and then see our suggestions for how to push past it and get the tattoo of your dreams.
Fear of the Tattooing Process
Do you have an aversion to needles? Or is it the tattoo shop environment that sets your teeth on edge—the smell of disinfectant, the hum of tattoo machines, or the general overstimulation of bright lights blended with a crowd and a cacophony of noises like music meshing with people talking and working simultaneously?
If there’s a specific aspect of the tattooing process that you find intimidating, identify it. If the issue is that you’re afraid of needles, remember that you don’t have to watch your tattoo artist work. If pain is more of a concern than the sight of needles moving rapidly in and out of your skin, then look into topical anesthetic for tattoos, like Dr. Numb cream, Derma Numb spray, or another topical anesthetic product. Most topical anesthetics contain lidocaine in combination with other ingredients that will deeply numb the surface of the skin when applied 30-45 minutes before getting a tattoo. The tattooing process itself can become numbing as it goes on, too, and topical anesthetic can be re-applied as often as necessary to keep you comfortable throughout the process.
If it’s the tattoo shop environment you find intimidating, there are workarounds for that, too. You can’t ask an artist to skip the skin prep and surface cleansers if you don’t like the smell of antiseptics, but you can ask for reasonable concessions, like being inked in a quiet, private room or possibly even adding a soothing aromatherapy element that would mask any antiseptic smells to which you have an aversion. Just talk to your artist about your concerns and possible solutions you’ve considered, and see what s/he can do to make you feel more comfortable, help you relax and actually enjoy getting your tattoo.
If you have a white collar job or parents who take the unfortunate stance that tattoos disfigure a person, then it’s perfectly understandable that you might have some reservations about getting tattooed. Fortunately, if you really want ink but don’t want certain people to know about it, there are plenty of places on your body where you could get the tattoo of your dreams without your coworkers, family, friends, or your beady-eyed, always-has-her-nose-in-your-business landlady ever being the wiser.
Even if you currently work somewhere liberal where tattoos are accepted as the art they are, it’s best to keep tattoos above the elbows, below the neckline, and above the knees if there’s any chance you may want to work somewhere more conservative in future. If you favor sleeveless dresses or khaki shorts in summer, then you may want to choose a location on your torso and avoid your arms and legs altogether. If you’re worried about mom or dad seeing your tattoo on your next family beach trip, have it done on your pelvis, butt or somewhere else you can comfortably cover up with a bathing suit.
Fear of Poor Healing or Scarring
This is an issue quite easily overcome by (a) finding yourself an experienced tattoo artist, and (b) caring for your new tattoo properly from day 1. Going to a novice tattoo artist—particularly one who hasn’t been properly trained through an apprenticeship—can potentially have a host of disastrous outcomes, scarring being one of them. When you go to a professional tattoo artist with years of experience, though, the chances of scarring decrease significantly unless you’re prone to keloids or you completely neglect your tattoo aftercare regime.
If you know you develop keloids at trauma sites, getting a tattoo probably isn’t in the cards for you. If you’ve had your ears or any other body part(s) pierced and had cuts heal without developing that kind of irregularly-shaped, over-grown, smooth scar, then you have no reason to fear that your first keloid will develop over top of your new tattoo. It’s typically a hereditary issue and the body’s standard response to all puncture wounds and cuts, not just certain types of wounds, like tattoos.
There’s always a chance of other forms of scarring in those individuals who don’t properly care for their new tattoos, so if you’re not the kind of person who can stick to a routine while it’s needed, then getting a tattoo may not be the wisest decision for you. If you know you can stay committed to caring for your healing tattoo, but you’re worried you’ll do it wrong, stop stressing now! Proper tattoo aftercare isn’t rocket science; as long as you make an effort, you should heal well. You can learn the fundamentals of tattoo aftercare in our articles, Tattoo Aftercare Tips and Tattoo Aftercare. We also offer supplemental info on specific tattoo aftercare products, like our Tattoo Goo FAQs.
Fear of Permanence
Have you held off getting a tattoo because you’re afraid you’ll be stuck with it for life whether you like the end result or not? If so, take heart! There are two options for dealing with a tattoo you hate: you can have laser tattoo removal and wipe it away completely (a tried and true process if you stick with it, as you can read in our blog post, Does Laser Tattoo Removal Really Work?), or you can get a great cover-up tattoo later. The bottom line is that bad tattoos aren’t forever. Ideally, you should do everything in your power to get a great tattoo from the get go, but if something goes awry—the design doesn’t turn out quite like you’d envisioned or you need an ex’s name removed later, for instance—you have no reason to fear being stuck with a tattoo you hate for life.
Getting a good tattoo is an investment. If you want something small, like a symbol or word, then you can probably get a decent tattoo for under $150, and quite possibly less. If you’re interested in having something more intricate done, though—say a portrait of a loved one or a biomechanical half sleeve—then be prepared to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to have it done right. Tattoos are artwork, and good art by talented artists isn’t cheap. If someone offers you a price that seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Be sure to look carefully at your prospective tattoo artist’s portfolio, find out how long s/he’s been tattooing, talk to him or her about your design idea and see how s/he mocks it up, and don’t be afraid to ask to see how the artist’s tattoos look once fully healed.
In addition to saving up for the tattoo itself, be sure to set aside some funds for good tattoo aftercare products and a touch-up session or two. Even if your tattoo stays bold and beautiful after it’s healed (meaning it doesn’t need any immediate touch-ups), you’ll likely need to have your tattoo freshened up within the first few years of having it. This is particularly true for tattoos in locations on the body where there’s a lot of friction, like between fingers and toes, and for sun worshipers. Unfortunately, the sun can be really harsh on tattoos, so make sure you avoid it for the first few weeks after getting tattooed and regularly apply good sunscreen whenever your tattoo is exposed after it’s fully healed.
Choosing the Right Tattoo Design
While it’s true that there are plenty of tattoo flash designs that you can choose from the wall just as you’d select an entrée off a Chinese food menu, your tattoo design should be deeply personal and meaningful to you if you want to be sure that you’ll treasure it for the rest of your life. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with tattoo flash art, but the best artists should encourage you to do something to make a flash design your own, whether it be to incorporate a custom message or background details, or to incorporate a flash design you like as a component in a greater tattoo design.
Ideally, you should go to your artist with several ideas that mean something special to you. You can take in images of other tattoos you like, drawings, cartoons, photographs, or even just loose concepts and a story that you want your tattoo to represent. Tattoo artists are incredibly creative people, and a good artist will be more than happy to work with you to create a unique tattoo that will transcend art and fill you with emotion, memories, and conviction every time you look at it.
Choosing the Right Tattoo Artist
Many tattoo artists are great at a wide variety of designs and styles, but you’ll usually find that each artist is truly exceptional in a specific area, like portraits, black and gray designs, biomechanical tattoos, new school tattoos, old school tattoos, and so on. Finding the right tattoo artist for you may be as simple as visiting your local tattoo shop, looking through each artist’s portfolio, and making an appointment with the one whose work you like best. It can also be as complicated as researching tattoo artists within a specific genre, finding one or two whose work you admire so much that you’re willing to wait a year or travel cross-country to see them, and utilizing whatever means necessary to get tattooed by your preferred artist.
If you have your heart set on getting tattooed by a specific artist, know that it’ll be worth the wait, cost and any other barriers you may have to overcome to get tattooed by that person. When you absolutely adore a certain artist’s style, getting tattooed by them is a gift. You’ll end up with a tattoo you’re sure to cherish for the rest of your life—not to mention a cool story about how you got tattooed by your all-time favorite artist.
If you've been on the fence about getting ink’d for awhile, it’s time to nail down what’s holding you back, put our suggestions for overcoming tattoo roadblocks into practice, conquer your fears, and finally make the tattoo you’ve been dreaming about a reality!