Help & advice

Looking for a tattoo but don't know which to go for? Need some advice caring for your tattoo? Does it hurt? Read this section for some friendly help and advice about you and your tattoo.


Shortly after you get your tattoo you'll notice the skin in the area of your new acquisition will be a little irritated and sensitive, rather like you'd spent a few hours out in the sun. Leave the bandage on for exactly the amount of time specified by the tattooist. No peeking. You've got the rest of your life to look at it.

In anywhere between four to ten hours after you get tattooed you'll be able to take the bandage off. If that time coincides with the period that you'd usually be sleeping or is close to it, leave the bandage on overnight. This will give your tattoo, and your sheets, a little extra protection.

When the time comes, take the bandage off gently. If it sticks, use only the amount of warm water it takes to unstick it. Then, using your hand, not a cloth, and some gentle unscented soap, gently rinse the tattoo clean of old ointment and all the other crusty stuff that might be there. Gently pat dry and lightly cover the tattoo with a small amount of healing cream. You don't want to slather the tattoo with the cream - use just enough to keep it moist. During the day, reapply the cream when the tattoo first starts feeling dry and tight. Wash it again in the evening. After the first week you can switch to a non-fragrenced lotion for dry skin instead of healing cream. Expose the tattoo to the air as much as possible to speed healing. The tattoo must develop a light scab and may peel slightly. It will itch but you must not scratch it or pick at any scabs that form. Keep your hands (and anybody else's) off it, except to wash it and apply the cream. It will heal in about ten days to two weeks.

Do not soak your new tattoo. You can shower but keep it out of the direct spray of water. Cover your new tattoo with cream, a little heavier application than normal, before you get in the shower. Don't swim for at least a couple of weeks and don't sunbathe. You have to let your tattoo heal and settle into your skin with as little trauma as possible.

Remember - once it's on your body it's your responsibility!

Tattoo removal

If you've got a horrible something or other decorating your skin or if the person whose name is in that banner on your arm just ran off with your best friend, it's time to consider your tattoo removal options.

If you like being tattooed but just don't like the particular tattoo(s) you currently have, consider a cover-up. Years ago, artists had stock designs that they used to cover offending tattoos. These pieces often had heavy fields of black, such as black panthers, black clouds with lightning, etc. Peacocks were a favourite also as you could hide a multitude of sins in those heavily shaded tail feathers.

Nowadays we don't believe that the only way to cover a tattoo is with a large dark mass. But you need a skilled artist for a cover-up job unless you relish the idea of eventually getting a cover-up over your cover-up. You will need a custom piece because it will have to be designed to fit over and obliterate the existing one. Cover-up work is demanding and exacting so you will also pay more for a cover-up piece then you would for the same-sized tattoo applied on virgin skin.

Choose somebody with a good design sense, who can work out an image that will hide the old tattoo and still give you a beautiful new tattoo to be proud of. The artist may ask you to come back after the new piece is healed so he can go over it again and intensify the colour.

Reworking a tattoo is another repair method. This means the artist doesn't cover the old tattoo but just works with it to enhance it. Perhaps you went to a scratcher and now the colour in your floral piece is faded, or the outline on your arm band is jagged. If you're basically happy with the piece you might just need some corrective work.

Any reputable tattooist will also fix any skips in colour or the outline that may be discovered shortly after the piece is healed. But if you picked and scratched at it during the healing process and literally stripped the colour out of your skin, don't expect the tattooist to perform this service for free. If you were conscientious about your aftercare routine and still notice a problem, go back and ask the tattooist about it.

If you're really unhappy about being tattooed or have one of the rare pieces that can't be covered-up, you can investigate laser removal. Its pros are that it can remove almost any tattoo with very few incidences of scarring or hyper-pigmentation. It's relatively painless, often compared to having a rubber band snapped against your skin. Unfortunately, it's very expensive.

Dermabrasion has also been used for tattoo removal which is sort of like having the tattoo sandpapered off your skin using chemical peels and acids. Check with a plastic surgeon for a more in-depth discussion of your options and recommendations about who should do the procedure.

Of course, if you remember to think before you ink, you'll never have to worry about the expense and pain of getting rid of an unwanted tattoo!

Frequently asked questions

Here are some basic guidelines for getting a tattoo:

Safety advice

With the advent of many communicable diseases, some fatal, it has been necessary to institute certain isolation and sterilisation procedures in the tattoo process to assure the public of a safe, risk-free tattoo. The following has been prepared by professional tattoo artists working with local and national health authorities:

1. Always insist that you see your tattooist remove a new needle and tube set-up from a sealed envelope immediately prior to your tattoo.

2. Be certain to see your tattooist pour a new ink supply into a disposable container.

3. Make sure your artist puts on a new pair of gloves before setting-up tubes, needles and ink supplies.

4. Satisfy yourself that the shop furnishings and your tattooist are clean and orderly in appearance.

5. Feel free to question the tattooist about his sterile procedures and isolation techniques. Take time to observe them at work and do not hesitate to enquire about their experience in the tattoo business.

6. If the tattooist is a qualified professional, they will have no problem in complying with the standards above and beyond these simple guidelines.

7. If the artist or studio does not appear up to these standards or if they become evasive when questioned, seek out a professional tattooist.