On Sunday afternoon, it finally happened. After three previous failed attempts (including a long weekend in Cagliari, Sardinia, planned exclusively for that purpose but which I filled with sightseeing instead) my decision to get a tattoo was finally realised.
I’m writing this as a diary of my experiences. Who knows, maybe someone else thinking about getting their first ink will find this in a search engine and learn a bit more about what they can expect.
I’ve come up with a number of different designs over the last few years, to suit different parts of my body, all mulled over and tweaked until they seemed just right. Curiously, the design that’s now imbedded in my torso was a fairly quick decision – a quote from Hamlet with some little watercolour splashes around it. It’s placed vertically, stretching from near my hip bone to just about my bra line.
The artist prints the design onto special paper that transfers purple ink onto your skin, for them to tattoo over. After some time spent carefully aligning it where I wanted, I lay down on the bed and she prepared the inks.
She began at the bottom, near my hip bone. It definitely feels like needle pricks! A bit like laser hair removal, I thought. While the needle was pressing on me (only a few seconds at a time) it hurt, but the pain stopped each time she moved on, so it was bearable. But I’ve read that the ribs are painful, and I definitely agreed! As she neared the top of the design, over my ribs, the pain was considerably more. I tried to align my breathing to her actions to restrict movement of my torso, and holding my breath for each bit seemed to help a little. Then she went back and put in the coloured sections – in the same general area as skin that had already been inked. As a tattoo is an open wound, it made my surrounding skin sensitive, so – I won’t lie – it was really hurting by the end. They will also put antiseptic on, which stings.
By the time it was finished, about 2 hours later, I felt pretty battered. After she’d dressed it and stuck cling-film over it, I felt fragile, but the pain had largely receded. I also got an ear piercing straight after it, which hurt rather a lot and really added to my just-beaten-up feeling!
I’d read the studio’s aftercare advice, as well as other opinions online. My tube of Bepanthen is old, and I couldn’t find any of the regular antiseptic cream in shops, just their nappy rash cream (which has lanolin, that many people advise against as it can prevent a tat from breathing). So I bought coconut oil. Now, I’m not a fan of using oils on my skin, because, well, they’re oily, make a mess, and don’t seem to be absorbed very quickly (hence getting on my clothes and making a mess).
My skin really, really stung after this. Not from the oil, just from – very gently – touching it to wash it and dab on some oil. I’ve read a number of comments comparing the pain to sunburn, and I’d agree. As I was told, I didn’t put any more cling-film on, and tried not to sleep fully on it.
Day 1: The next morning (Monday) it was starting to look bad. The colour seemed faded and it was all a bit raised, as if it was done with 3D ink. Now, from various things I’ve read, and heard from a friend with a tat, it seems a normal part of the healing process. I didn’t realise it would start so quickly, but healing anecdotes tend to include words like ‘scabbing’ and ‘flaking’. There were little black dots on my surrounding skin.
So, I dabbed on some coconut oil, and went to school (I teach). I decided not to take the oil with me (too messy!) and by the end of the day it felt really tight and getting sore. Also, my artist, and plenty of others, only recommend treating tattoos twice a day to ensure they can breathe properly.
More coconut oil when I got home, and this time it was REALLY FECKING STINGING afterwards. Yee gods! it was bad. And I was as gentle as I could be. Please note I am NOT suggesting that the oil made it sting. My skin was dry and ultra-sensitive. Fairy kisses would have hurt. It took ages to calm down. I ended up lying on my bed with a book for a while. (Then later, I somehow upset my new piercing while cleaning it, so it too hurt like blazes for a while! It was all just too much.)
Day 2: This wouldn’t do! I had to have something with me at school to use during the day. Although I’m not touching it in between treatment, my torso moves so often that I can easily tell when it’s getting tight. I’d bought some of the Bepanthen nappy rash cream in the end (you’re always told to get new tubes, but can you even get their antiseptic cream in the UK..?), but thought better of using it after agonising over online comments advising against lanolin on tats. This makes me anxious because I adore lanolin in regular moisturisers.
So…after some more um-ing and ah-ing I decided to take a punt with my old Bepanthen antiseptic cream. On inspection this morning, the ink had looked even more 3D, and starting to look very scabby and faded. Quite awful, actually! I know not to pick at it, but there are plenty of little flakes falling off. I’m so glad I’d already read about the scabbing and flaking, otherwise I think I’d be horrified! I’m just consciously trying not to judge it artistically yet. I liked it when it was finished, so I need to just remember that!
A second night had obviously done some good. Gently smoothing a little cream over it didn’t make me wince, and the skin felt loose enough afterwards when I moved.
I used more when I got to school (washing my hands first of course) at about 8am, then more before I left at 4pm. It’s now 10.30pm, and I’m about to have my first post-tat shower (couldn’t face it last night, it was so painful). I wore a loose top today, and although it’s been sensitive, it wasn’t as painful or tight as yesterday.
Day 3: Wednesday. So much more manageable today! It wasn’t particularly sensitive when I put Bepanthen on this morning, and it didn’t look too flaky and awful, either. I forgot to take the cream out with me though, so I had to make do with a tube of Savlon from the Boots near the station.
I only used the Savlon once, this afternoon, but my skin didn’t feel too tight today. I’ve read a number of warnings against over-treating tattoos, as well as my artist only recommending twice a day for that reason. But I’m also trying to listen to my body. If the area where the tat is feels tight, I assume it needs a little more cream.
The black script is still a bit raised and rough, and the coloured bits are still dull, but I’m trying to ignore it and not be disheartened. The waiting continues…