Most people have probably heard horror stories of tattoos gone wrong that left a customer with a nasty and dangerous infection. Odds are, most of these stories are the result of amateur tattoo artists working out of their garage or even someone attempting to ink themselves. Today, many states (though not all) require tattoo shops to be licensed, and generally an aspiring tattoo artist must first go through strict tattoo apprenticeships or attend tattoo schools to learn proper sterilization techniques before they become a tattoo artist. That said, taking the proper precautions before getting new ink and caring for a new tattoo afterwards are important steps to take in order to avoid infection.
Before the Tattoo
The best way to be proactive about avoiding infections is to do a little research before getting a tattoo. It is a good idea for a person to find out the rules and regulations that govern the tattoo industry in their state, including whether or not a license is required. If tattoo shops must be licensed, than they should avoid any place that can’t produce one upon request. It is also important to show up to a tattoo shop with some questions about their sterilization techniques. Do they use new needles every time? Do they use gloves? Do they have an autoclave (a device used to sterilize tools)? A safe and reputable tattoo shop should answer “yes” to all of these questions. If they don’t, run.
After the Tattoo
Caring for a new tattoo is just as important as important as finding a safe tattoo shop. Ideally, a tattoo artist will give their customer after-care instructions, but if they don’t, keep these rules in mind: take the bandage off after three or so hours and gently wash the tattooed skin (with clean hands!), pat the skin dry with a paper towel, let the skin dry and then apply a thin layer of vaseline. This process should be repeated for four to five days, after which the tattoo will likely start to peel. At this point, it is important not to pick at the peeling skin. If redness and swelling persists beyond a week, call a doctor and set up a time to be seen.
Tattoos can be a great form of self expression, and they are becoming more acceptable on a much larger scale than ever before. Doing research before getting a tattoo and caring for a new tattoo afterwards can help ensure that new ink is safe, sanitary and lasts for many years to come.