Before and after tips for getting your first tattoo

Let’s talk about tattoos!

This is an exciting post for me to write because it involved me overcoming one of my biggest fears: needles.

I’ve always balled my eyes out when I went for my blood tests during my pregnancies, and the fear wasn’t from having blood drawn but from the needle piercing my skin.

Last year, for my 30th birthday, I wanted to make it a memorable one. I wanted to do something that I would always remember. I’ve talked about wanting to get a tattoo for a couple of years now. It was sitting on my bucket list for a long time. I talked about it often with others, but my fear of needles always kept me back from taking that one step. 

So when I finally made the decision to do it, I didn’t decide on one tattoo, I had three done in one sitting.

Each of them has a specific meaning that is something close to my heart. I put quite a bit of thought into them because I knew I would have them for the rest of my life. Sure, you can have them removed at a later stage if you want to for whatever reasons, but for me, it’s a lifelong commitment.

It’s been three months since I’ve gotten them and every so often, when I catch a glimpse of them, I’m either still surprised that I did them or I’m in awe of their meaning to me. I do sometimes forget about the one on the back of my neck because I don’t see it, but the ones on my arm and hand are a constant reminder of that awesome day I took a leap.

I’ve had a few friends ask about the experience and if I want to get another one. The answer is always yes, yes, yes! In fact, I already have my next one designed, which will be the biggest one so far, and two more still in design mode as I haven’t settled on one I really like. I also haven’t decided on how many I want until I think it’s enough. Maybe it could just be the three waiting in line, or maybe there will be many additions over the years to come. I’m kind of leaning towards the second thought there, but only for the moments when I want to document something significant.

Let’s talk pain. I think that one of my big mental blocks around the decision making: I was so afraid of the pain I would feel. I’m not someone who feels pain easily, I’ve build quite a resistance up with childhood accidents and three birth experiences, so I can tell you now, I’m pretty okay with handling pain. The problem I had with the pain of getting a tattoo is knowing my skin will be pierced a couple of times and that can’t be a pleasant experience. I know what you’re thinking, you were afraid of the pain, and then you got three tattoos in one go. Yep, I figured that if it was really going to be painful, at least I’ll do the three tattoos I really want in one go, feel the pain once and then it would be all over. 

You do feel some pain, I’m not going to deny that. It just wasn’t as bad as I imagined it to be. When we were done with the tattoos, I felt a kind of euphoric high, and kept thinking I want to have the next one right NOW! I’m not sure how to explain this feeling, and if you’ve had a tattoo done (and just stumbled on this point by chance), you’ll know what I’m talking about. That adrenaline rush pulsing through you, a dance that the pain and pleasure are doing together. Walking out, I didn’t feel any pain anymore, and the only time was when I was getting the tattoos done. Even during the heeling process, I didn’t experience any pain or discomfort – thanks to following clear after care instructions, which I’ll share later on in the post.

If you’re thinking of getting a tattoo, these tips are for you! I’ve divided this post into three sections: preparation before the tattoo, what to do during the sitting, and caring for your tattoo.

I’ve had a wonderful experience with getting my first tattoos and I hope these tips will help create one for you too.


Choosing a tattoo and the design:

If you already know what you want to get, that’s one step less! It’s a personal choice for everyone, and you don’t have to get one with a meaning attached to it. There’s no rule. No matter what your reason is, just make sure on choosing a nice design. Play around with ideas and changes until you’re happy with it, after all, that’s what’s going to be on your skin – for life.

You can talk to the artist about your ideas and see if there’s anything you want to add or change. Calvin showed me a different version of the compass I wanted, which looked super cooler than the design I had, and I went with his idea instead.

Research artists and don’t go cheap:

This is an important step and not one to skip. Do your homework and ‘shop’ around for a good artist. Make sure to look at previous work they have done. I was lucky enough to find Calvin from TrybeInk through friends that recommended him to me. If seven people refer you to the same place, you know that’s a good sign. Before contacting him, I looked through his work and really liked them all. That sealed the deal.

When you’re looking for an artist, and requesting pricing, don’t settle for the cheapest. It really is: what you pay for, you get. I found a cute little tattoo parlour not far from our home before Calvin was referred to me, but when I looked at the work vs. the pricing, I moved away very quickly to look for other options. Don’t settle for cheap, because that’s the work you’ll get. Unless it’s someone that has been referred to you by people you trust, and you’ve seen the work, then great – otherwise, stay clear.

Consider placement:

Certain places on your body have softer skin so you’ll need to think about where you’d like the tattoo done. I had the compass done over a very old scar and thought that would hurt, but I hardly felt it. The semi-colon, I was told, would hurt a little but I hardly felt it either, even though there’s soft skin. The birds on the back of my neck, I felt quite a bit. Especially the middle one: representing yours truly. It was done on my spine, and it was really the only pain I felt during the session.

If you’re a little wary about where to put your first tattoo, I’d suggest keeping clear of these places for the first time, as they have softer skin: avoid elbows, ribs, back of knees, groin area. It’s your choice again, where to place it, but you can play it safe with the first one until you’re more comfortable.

Also think of getting something small first to get used to the feeling and then work your way up.

Eat before the time:

You’ll want to have a good meal before the session to make sure you don’t feel light-headed or faint. Avoid garlic: your artist won’t be impressed with that.

No alcohol or painkillers 24 hours before your session:

If you consume any of these, your blood will be thinned out and you’ll bleed a lot more, which will also make your artist’s job harder to complete.

Wear comfortable clothes:

You’re going to be sitting in the same position for a while so wear clothes that aren’t too tight and uncomfortable. Preferably dark colours just in case there’s a smudge.


Once you’ve set your mind to getting a tattoo, have done research on the artist, picked the design you want – book your appointment. Commit to it. I was so excited about getting my tattoos that I booked my appointment two days prior to the session, and I haven’t looked back.

Before and after tips for getting your first tattoo #tattoo


Sign the consent forms

They are there to protect you and the artist, like a contract. You’ll be signing the consent, stating that you’re doing this out of your own, haven’t taken any alcohol or painkillers, know of certain risks from not caring correctly for your tattoo, etc.

If your artist doesn’t have forms, maybe reconsider the artist. It’s not a small decision to get a tattoo, and if your artist is a professional, they’ll always give you a form to sign.

Stay hydrated

Take a bottle of water with you and keep it at your side to sip on. Being hydrated makes your skin more resilient and helps to endure longer sessions. It also helps with the healing process afterwards.

Bring snacks:

If it’s a long session, take some snacks with you that you can eat during the time.

All three of my tattoos were done in less than two hours as they weren’t big, and I had a good meal before the time so I didn’t pack anything in.

Have something at hand just in case if you’re going to be busy for a few hours.

Ask for a break if you need one:

If you’re in for a long session, ask your artist to take small breaks in-between. Just be considerate of their time as well when doing so. A good stretch can work wonders when you’ve been ‘stuck‘ in the same position for a while.

Moving abruptly or even twitching slightly could cause the artist to ink some skin that’s not part of the design and then you’ve got other issues to deal with. If the pain really becomes unbearable, rather ask for a break and then continue the session.

Distract yourself:

If you’ve feeling nervous about the session and pain, find ways to distract yourself. You can listen to a playlist you’ve set up, practise breathing techniques and even read a book, if it will help you relax.

Calvin and I chatted so much, that it felt more like two people meeting over a cup of coffee (minus the coffee) and the time also flew by faster.

Bring a buddy

If it will help, bring someone along with you to keep you company. It would be great if it’s someone that has already gone through the experience and can give you moral support. Otherwise, anyone you know who will helping keeping your spirits up.

Getting your first tattoo? You need these tips! #tattoo


Follow after care instructions:

When your artist gives you directions on how to care for your tattoo, healing and beyond, follow them. I mean it, follow them.

Not following them correctly could lead to irritation, infections and scarring.

Here are tips to help with healing your tattoo properly.

  • Only touch your tattoo with clean hands.
  • Do not pick and pull at the scabs.
  • Do not scratch it – if it itches, rather pat it gently.
  • Let it breathe – do not cover it up with a bandage.
  • Avoid leaving your tattoo exposed to sunlight.
  • Do not soak in the bath and stand under the stream of the shower – use an antibacterial soap and a wash cloth to gently clean the tattoo and pat it dry with a soft towel or a paper towel.
  • Do not apply sunblock until your tattoo has healed, but use it when going out in the sun later on.

Use the correct ointment:

I love using Bee Wax, and I still use it every day to keep my tattoos healthy. It’s actually by chance that I had it at home so it was great to know that I could finally put it to good use.

Some other products you can use are:

  • Coconut oil
  • Bum cream
  • Vitamin E oil

Apply it to your tattoo twice a day, keep it to a thin layer so it can absorb faster into your skin and doesn’t let your skin sweat.

It is recommend to avoid direct exposure to sunlight and to use sunblock each time you go outside to protect the skin.

The first few days:

The skin will be reddish, and you could experience excess blood and ink leaking from your skin. It’s very normal. Says me who freaked out a little the first time I saw it as I thought my tattoo was coming off (major face palm).

Call the artist or doctor if any of these occur:

Allergic reaction – a red, itchy skin reaction
Scarring – picking at the tattoo could cause permanent damage to your skin and could produce scar tissue
Infection – red, warm and painful skin, which could also leak pus

Go for your touch ups:

Tattoos fade over time if not properly taken care of (yes, caring for your tattoo doesn’t just stop once it’s healed) so going for touch ups to keep the colour is pretty important. I know many don’t and let it fade into the blueish colour, but I really want mine to stand out brightly for as long as possible, so I’ll made sure to do them as time goes on.

I hope these tips will ease your mind a little about getting your first tattoo, and help you have an amazing experience, just like I did. Remember to have open communication with your artist about what you want, prepare for the day and really enjoy it.

If you’re looking for a tattoo artist in the Pretoria region, I highly recommend using Calvin from TrybeInk. He also does piercings, which is eventually my next step.

He has a monthly special on certain sized tattoos, starting in February again, so you should definitely switch on your notifications on his social media accounts so you don’t miss out. You can find him on Facebook and Instagram.

Get in touch with me:

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