I will start by simply saying that one of the hardest parts of being a tattoo artist is adjusting your technique to suit the many different types of skin. Skin varies from client to client, it can be dry, cracked, stretchy, tough, greasy, supple, fair, tanned, pigmented, sun damaged, weathered, cracked, and everything in-between! Aside from individual peoples skin types, there can also be multiple different textures of skin just on one client, sometimes in just one tattoo.
So, whilst none of the following advice is essential, it is here to help you as clients and us as Tattooers have the best chance of executing and healing a tattoo properly!
There is a separate post about healing your tattoo, this post is more geared towards the weeks and days leading up to your appointment.
Skin science (the absolute basics):
Your skin is made up of three main layers, the epidermis which is the thinnest and outermost layer of skin (protective) the dermis which is the middle layer containing blood vessels, hair follicles, oil glands and nerve endings which sense pain and touch (sensory) and finally the subcutis which is deep down and contains your sweat glands, fat and tissue (padding).
Your epidermis (outer layer) skin regenerates approximately every month, shedding dead cells and replacing them with new ones.
Tattoo science (the absolute basics):
A properly executed tattoo will penetrate the outer layer called the epidermis and inject ink pigment with multiple needle pricks into the middle (dermis) layer of your skin. You may have wondered why tattoos stay in your skin if your skin is constantly regrowing itself. The simple explanation is that when your body heals a wound (which is essentially what a tattoo is) it sends white blood cells to the area to remove any foreign particles such (as infection) and they take them away from the wound allowing the cells to regenerate healthily. But, in the case of tattoo ink injected into the wound made in the dermis, the pigment used is too big for white blood cells to carry away, and instead it is absorbed into the cell and they become trapped in the dermis layer of skin.
Not ALL the tattoo ink is held perfectly under the skin, some of it will be small enough to be removed by your lymphatic system via the white blood cells. This, combined with the newly formed layer of epidermis skin over your tattoo, is why tattoos can look a little less vibrant once healed.
Over time, your body is able to break down the pigment particles making them smaller and therefore easier for your lymphatic system to cope with, this contributes to tattoos fading and looking duller over time. As with any skincare, there are things we can do to help tattoos stay as fresh as possible for as long as possible, these things include avoiding the sun (UV light breaks down colour pigments and allows your body to deal with them like it would an infection), other weather damage, cuts and wounds and poor skincare etc.
This brings me on to why I think the weeks leading up to your tattoo are just as important as the weeks following it. This time is the clients responsibility, we can give them the advice and tools needed but it is up to the client to use them properly.
One of the things we have to contest with as tattoo artists is that we don’t know what state a customers skin is in when they come in.
If they have booked a tattoo in advance, customers have the advantage of being able to prepare their skin and their body in a way which gives them the best chance of receiving a good tattoo, and the tattoo artist the best chance of creating one through eliminating some of the variables which contribute to tricky tattoo sessions and poor healing!
I have found issues with skin that has a dead layer attached to it, it can mean the stencil doesn’t stick well, the ink doesn’t wipe from the skin properly, it can also mean the needles get clogged or blunted, and let’s face it it’s not pleasant to have to see dead skin come off every time we wipe the skin.
What can you do to help?
Two weeks prior to your tattoo, you can start to gently exfoliate your skin in the area you are having tattooed (or all over) daily. It’s best to do this when you shower or bath, this will help to loosen the dead skin cells meaning that using a gentle exfoliating body wash and an exfoliation glove will easily remove dead surface skin with little irritation. Make sure you use soap that won’t irritate your skin, and if you have especially sensitive skin just use warm water and an exfoliating glove or brush. Please also tell your tattoo artist if you do have particularly sensitive skin 🙂
Do this every day for two weeks prior to your appointment and on the morning of your appointment too.
Moisturiser & hydrating your skin:
Dry skin can cause issues for us during the tattoo process, most noticeably the ink will cling to dehydrated skin as your skin tries to absorb it to use as moisture. This means we have to wipe your tattoo more often, to be able to see properly what we are doing, which can irritate the area and cause redness.
What can you do to help?
After exfoliating, you can use a moisturiser like palmers cocoa butter, or even better a tattoo specific balm (such as yayo – link below) to inject your skin with plenty of moisture, plumping it up and replenishing any lost moisture from the exfoliation process. Try to use this twice a day, you can even apply a thick layer and wrap it in clingfilm a couple of times closer to the appointment for a deeper absorption).
Some tattoo artists will ask you not to apply moisturiser the day of your appointment because it can make the stencil harder to apply and stick, but tattooers should be cleaning your skin in the area and around it thoroughly with alcohol and medical grade green soap as standard before applying a stencil solution anyway, so for me this isn’t a problem.
Hydrating your body plays a HUGE part in keeping your skin healthy! We are largely made of water. Drinking plenty of it keeps your body hydrated and refreshed and helps maintain your skin’s elasticity. People who drink large amounts of water heal wounds quicker than those who don’t. Leading up to your tattoo make sure you drink plenty of water, the recommended daily water intake is 6-8 glasses. Bring water with you to your appointment or ask your artist for a glass to sip on through the day 🙂
Supplements and vitamins:
A poorly nourished body or a person with a lowered immune system will be unable to properly heal a wound, and that includes tattoos. We always recommend a full meal before being tattooed and to bring snacks along, but this is just to prevent you feeling feint or having low blood sugar during the process.
What can you do to help?
Try to avoid catching a cold or other virus leading up to your tattoo, we know that’s not always possible but taking steps to stay healthy for your tattoo day is a good idea!
You can increase your protein intake leading up to your tattoo, and continue that after for the extent of the healing process. Your body needs protein to help build and repair muscle, skin, and other body tissues. Protein also helps fight infection, balance body fluids, supports the production of collagen and carries oxygen through your body. When you have a wound that’s healing, think of food as medicine, before during and after!
You can use protein shakes, bars or soups to increase your protein intake, or simply introduce more protein rich foods into your diet! (Link below)
There are many vitamins and minerals that play a role in repairing your body inside and out, and which can contribute to healing a tattoo well. These include; Vit A,B,C,D & E, Collagen, Zinc and Hyaluronic acid.
Things to avoid:
As well as things that may increase the chances of healing your tattoo well, there are things that may decrease it too.
Alcohol: Although a few pints the night before is unlikely to have a big impact on your tattoo appointment, consuming large amounts of alcohol regularly prior to the day certainly will. Alcohol thins the blood and causes your body to bleed more making it harder for the tattoo artist to see what they are doing, as well as potentially washing some of the pigment out as it is being applied.
Drugs: For much the same reasons as above.
Painkillers: It can be tempting to take painkillers prior to a tattoo appointment, and after to help with pain and swelling. BUT keep in mind that in most cases anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen or naproxen) don’t help healing. In fact, it can even delay healing! After a few days it may be safe to use them as your body will have begun the healing process properly. But avoid them completely where possible until your tattoo is fully healed!
There are natural ways such as cold compress (over clingfilm and a layer of material) or elevating the area to reduce swelling and pain. Supplements such as omega 3 and green tea can help to reduce inclination in the body (link below).
Aspirin is well known to thin blood, and for the same reasons as alcohol it is a good idea to avoid them prior to, during and immediately after your tattoo.
There are also other safer methods of pain relief that don’t involve taking anti inflammatory drugs such as paracetamol based products. Please speak to your doctor if you feel your tattoo is excessively painful following an appointment.
For helping reduce pain and inflammation on my own tattoos whilst healing I use a truly magical concoction that I discovered years ago when a tattoo I had became infected.
Mix in a 100ml sterile spray bottle distilled witchazel with a couple of large spoons of medical grade manuka honey, and a splash of aloe Vera for skin, shake well and spritz onto your tattoo whenever the pain and swelling flares up! Make sure you use this regularly through the day to fight infection and reduce swelling and redness! (Links below)
Blood thinners: This should be fairly self explanatory! If you are taking them you may be able to speak to your doctor and agree a period for which it would be safe to come off them.
Antibiotics: Antibiotics force out foreign antibodies – which is exactly what tattoo pigment is. A new tattoo will not heal well with antibiotics in your system. According to doctors, you need to be off of antibiotics for at least one week before you can get tattooed. Consult your doctor if you have more questions.
Obviously, infections do occur, no matter how careful you have been, and antibiotics are a common treatment for tattoo infections. In this case it is unavoidable and do not put your health at risk by not taking them!!! The tattoo can ALWAYS be touched up later! 🙂
In conclusion, everyone’s skin is different and everyone heals at different rates in different ways, but there are common grounds we can agree on which allow us to promote the best environment for tattoos to be created in and live in!
Thank you for reading, there are some useful links to things I have mentioned below!
Protein for skin health and healing:
Vitamins and minerals for skin health:
Medical manuka honey:
http://Activon Medical Grade Manuka Honey 25g (Pack of 2) https://amzn.eu/d/eDSn4UW