Tips For Getting Your First Tattoo

Getting a tattoo is a huge, exciting, nerve-wracking decision. If you’ve finally decided to go for it, make sure you’re prepared with these essential tips for getting your first tattoo. Arming yourself with some knowledge is the best way to make sure you get a tattoo you’ll love just as much 40 years down the line as you do today. I don’t mean to put on the pressure, but learn from my experience.

If you know you want a tattoo but have no idea where to start, inspiration is all over the internet! Check out these 11 subtle tattoos, 21 literature-inspired tattoos, and these 26 super clever ink ideas. Whatever you settle on, make sure you, not your best friend / partner / parents, like it and feel good about it. It’s your skin, after all.

Here are seven essential tips you should know before getting inked for the first time.

1. Don’t Be Drunk

This might seem obvious, but I have enough friends with random teddy bear ankle tattoos that it’s necessary to mention. Be sober. Be sober. Be sober. Drunk tattoos are the ones you’re most likely to regret.

2. Pick A Reputable Salon

If you’re salon isn’t certified and regulated, GET THE HECK OUT. Basically, don’t get your tattoo done in someone’s basement. Is saving money really worth getting a less-than-professional tattoo and risking infections? Doubt it.

3. Instagram Is Your Best Friend

Instagram is for tattoo artists what MySpace was for musicians in 2008. If you have a specific tattoo design or artist location in mind, search that hashtag (i.e., #ShellTattoo or #LosAngelesTattoo) to see what’s out there. Just because an artist is really good at traditional sailor tats doesn’t mean they’re the right choice for your lavender bushel shoulder tat.

4. Go To The Bathroom Before

A minor but important note. I almost wet my pants while getting my first tattoo. This could’ve been easily avoided. At least it distracted me from the pain?

5. Tip Well

Being a tattoo artist is no easy job. It’s respectful (and just basic common courtesy) to tip them well for their work. Oh, and give them a shout-out on social media while you’re at it!

6. Take After Care Seriously

Your tattoo won’t just magically heal itself. You’ve got to take care of them properly. After all, a tattoo is essentially just a very fancy wound. Slacking off could result in infections, misshaped tattoos, and faded colors. I promise proper care isn’t that labor-intensive, and well worth it.

7. Sunscreen Everyday

Love the bold colors in your tattoo, or want to keep that black as jet black as possible? Slather on SPF every single day. It’s a great habit to get into anyway, and you’ll be so glad five years from now when your tattoo has barely faded.

Are Tattoos Safe?

As the popularity of tattoos continues to grow, so does the concern about potential risks. Some risks, such as the spread of infections through the use of unsterilized needles, have long been known. But what isn’t clear is the safety of tattoo inks.

Are tattoos safe?

Permanent tattoos are made by using needles to inject colored ink below the skin’s surface. Permanent make-up is considered a permanent tattoo that mimics the results of cosmetic products such as an eyebrow pencil, lip liner, eyeliner, or blush.

While state and local authorities oversee the practice of tattooing, ink and ink colorings (pigments) used in tattoos are subject to FDA regulation as cosmetics and color additives. However, because of other public health priorities and a previous lack of evidence of safety concerns, FDA has not traditionally regulated tattoo inks or the pigments used in them.

FDA has received reports of bad reactions to tattoo inks right after tattooing or even years later. Some people report itchy or inflamed skin around their tattoos in the summer when they’ve been out in the sun. Recent reports associated with permanent make-up inks have prompted FDA to study tattoo ink safety.

“Our hope is to get a better understanding of the body’s response to tattoos and their impact on human health, and to identify products at greatest risk,” says Linda Katz, M.D., M.P.H., Director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

What are the Risks

  • Infection – Dirty needles can pass infections, like hepatitis and HIV, from one person to another.
  • Allergies – Allergies to various ink pigments in both permanent and temporary tattoos have been reported and can cause problems.
  • Scarring – Unwanted scar tissue may form when getting or removing a tattoo.
  • Granulomas – These small knots or bumps may form around material that the body perceives as foreign, such as particles of tattoo pigment.
  • MRI complications – People may have swelling or burning in the tattoo when they have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This happens rarely and does not last long.

Tattoo Ink Research

In a laboratory within FDA’s Arkansas-based National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), research chemist Paul Howard, Ph.D., and his team are investigating tattoo inks to find out the chemical composition of the inks and how they break down (metabolize) in the body; the short-term and long-term safety of pigments used in tattoo inks; how the body responds to the interaction of light with the inks.

“There have been no systematic studies of the safety of tattoo inks,” says Howard, “so we are trying to ask—and answer—some fundamental questions.” For example, some tattoos fade over time or fade when they are exposed to sunlight. And laser light is used to remove tattoos. “We want to know what happens to the ink,” says Howard. “Where does the pigment go?”

NCTR researchers are exploring several possibilities

The body cells may digest and destroy the ink, just as they rid the body of bacteria and other foreign matter as a defense against infection. NCTR studies show that a common pigment used in yellow tattoo inks, Pigment Yellow 74, may be broken down by enzymes, or metabolized. “Just like the body metabolizes and excretes other substances, the body may metabolize small amounts of the tattoo pigment to make it more water soluble, and out it goes,” says Howard.

Sunlight may cause the ink to break down so it is less visible. NCTR researchers have found that Pigment Yellow 74 decomposes in sunlight, breaking down into components that are colorless. The pigment components may still be there, says Howard, and we don’t know if these are potentially toxic.

The skin cells containing the ink may be killed by sunlight or laser light and ink breakdown products may disperse through the body.

Research has also shown that some pigment migrates from the tattoo site to the body’s lymph nodes, says Howard. Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, a collection of fluid-carrying vessels in the body that filter out disease-causing organisms. Whether the migration of tattoo ink has health consequences or not is still unknown. NCTR is doing further research to answer this and other questions about the safety of tattoo inks.

Tattoo Tips for Consumers

FDA has not approved any tattoo pigments for injection into the skin. This applies to all tattoo pigments, including those used for ultraviolet (UV) and glow-in-the-dark tattoos. Many pigments used in tattoo inks are industrial-grade colors suitable for printers’ ink or automobile paint.

The use of henna in temporary tattoos has not been approved by FDA. Henna is approved only for use as a hair dye.


Consider tattoos permanent. Removal is time-consuming, costly, and doesn’t always work. The most common method of tattoo removal is by laser treatment, which delivers short flashes of light at very high intensities to the skin to break down the tattoo ink. FDA allows several types of lasers to be marketed for tattoo removal. Some color inks are harder to remove than others. Many repeat visits every several weeks may be required to remove a tattoo, and it may never be entirely gone.

Do not buy or order online do-it-yourself tattoo removal products. These acid-based products are not FDA-approved and can cause bad skin reactions.

Consult your health care provider—not a tattoo parlor—if you want a tattoo removed. The American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery can help you find a doctor experienced in tattoo removal.

Don’t Avoid an MRI

If you need to have an MRI done, don’t avoid it. Inform the radiologist or technician that you have a tattoo so appropriate precautions can be taken.