The 411 on Getting Inked: Tattoo Tips, Crucial Prep, And Aftercare

Fun fact: Having well-hydrated skin is actually fundamental to a great-looking tattoo.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Tattoos have lost their shock factor, and that’s a good thing. Gone are the days when tattoos were a widely criticized societal taboo. In this day and age, the year 2024, tattoos have become less of a rebellious anomaly and more of a trendy permanent accessory in the mainstream. 

A Pew Research Center poll found that about a third of all Americans are inked, while another study points out that almost 50 percent of people in the millennial and Gen Z populations have tattoos. In countries like Japan, public opinion is shifting. Per The New York Times, the number of Japanese people with tattoos has doubled since 2014, and about 60 percent of people in their 20s and younger believe that rules regarding tattoos should be relaxed.

On a much deeper level, this major shift in perspective means that tattoos are being viewed for what they have always been across cultures for thousands of years: body art. Here’s everything you need to know about tats and the care that comes with getting one—whether you’re adding more pieces, or just getting started on your own gallery.

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What Exactly Is a Tattoo?

(Not So) Straight to the Point

Getting a tattoo is a big commitment, so before going through with any plans, it’s important to know just what you’re getting yourself into. One of the most common misconceptions is that tattooing is a process of injecting ink into the skin deep enough, that it becomes permanent. But unlike a syringe needle, tattoo needles do not inject liquid. Instead, as the ink-coated point of the needle pierces your skin, it opens a tiny hole in the epidermis (outer/topmost layer) and dermis (middle layer) beneath it. As the needle pulls out, the vacuum created by the hole draws the ink into the skin. Think of it more like the way a fountain pen works. 

What’s in an ink?

The inks used for tattooing are made of a mixture of solid carbon-based pigment particles, molecular dyes, and binders suspended in water, unlike pen inks that are dye-based and fully dissolved in liquid. Depending on the color of the ink and the manufacturer, the chemicals used may differ. Many traditional tattoo inks use pigments derived from heavy metals such as lead, antimony, beryllium, chromium, cobalt nickel, arsenic, and even mercury. These could pose some health and sensitivity issues. Black is usually referred to as the safest color as the pigment for the ink is from a substance called carbon black, which rarely causes any skin issues.

On the upside, organic and hypoallergenic tattoo inks that use non-metallic alternatives exist today. For example, while many red tattoo inks get their red color from mercury, organic red inks use components such as sandalwood or brazilwood instead.

Methods to the Madness

The most common method of tattooing these days is via an electric tattoo gun. Depending on the design of the tattoo and the technique your chosen artist will use, the gun can have one to nine needles. Electric tattooing gets the job done pretty fast compared to other methods, with the needles jabbing into your skin as many as 200 times per second

Stick and poke, also known as hand poke, requires a bit more time—and patience. This non-electric method has existed for thousands of years. If you want a tattoo done the traditional way and want a design that looks a bit more rustic in style, this is a great option to consider. A common misconception is that because stick and poke takes slower, it’s more painful. This isn’t necessarily true. Like electric tattooing, it all depends on your chosen design, placement, and how experienced and light-handed your artist is.

Another well-known tattooing method is hand-tapping. This is the method used by artists from several indigenous communities across Southeast Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands, including the Philippines’ iconic traditional tattoo artist Apo Whang-od, who comes from the Butbut people of Kalinga. For this method, an L-shaped tool like a needle or sharpened steel stuck onto the end of a wooden stick is dipped in ink and tapped repeatedly by hand into the skin to achieve the desired design. The method is rhythmic, as if to follow the beat of the pulse, and is a highly regarded art form as the tattooist works on the design without a machine.

Steps to Prep

There are countless movies and TV series that show their characters spontaneously—many times drunkenly and mistakenly—getting a tattoo. That is totally fine, of course. You do you! But the smarter and more responsible thing to do in order to have absolutely zero regrets would be to properly prepare and follow these steps.

Figure out what you want.

The very first, most basic thing you need to do is to know what you want to get. “If you don’t know what you want, then the artist doesn’t know, too,” says tattoo artist Wiji Lacsamana, who is based in the Philippines and specializes in reiki-infused, watercolor-like and illustrative tattoos. “It doesn’t have to be super specific, but at least have a general concept: What is the theme of the tattoo you want? Also, where do you want to place your tattoo, and what size? Most reputable artists encourage a discussion about these factors.”

GOOD, HEALING ENERGY. A graphic artist and illustrator, Wiji Lacsamana specializes in reiki-infused, watercolor-like tattoos, often inspired by natural wonders.

Pick an artist.

Kara Gonzales, one of the tattoo artists working at the woman-owned and woman-run studio Crimson River Tattoo, emphasizes, “When choosing an artist, it’s quite important to get the ‘right fit.’” It’s good to remember that a tattoo is a collaboration between you and your chosen artist, with your vision aligning with the artist’s interpretation and execution. 

Make sure you review the artists’ portfolios online and go through their Instagram posts, or if you’re not too familiar with artists perhaps go to a studio’s website or page and see if any of their resident tattooers specialize in styles that appeal to you—whether it’s watercolor-like work, or perhaps fine lines, or even cartoonish designs. It’s important to identify if their style suits the aesthetic that you’re gunning for (pun intended).  

THOUGHTS, FEELS, AND DREAMS. The works of Kara Gonzales convey hints of emotion, a sense of childhood wonder, and glimmers of nostalgia.

As Lacsamana also points out, many years ago, most tattoo artists were generalists who did a wide variety of tattoo styles. “Lately, most artists tend to specialize in a specific style of tattooing, perhaps due to the increase of people getting tattooed now,” she says. “We now have the luxury to focus on styles we want to do. Some focus on oriental-style, neo-traditional styles, or blackwork, or watercolor. There are so many emerging styles now.”

Of course, it’s absolutely necessary to check the studio’s and the artist’s sanitation practices. Your health and safety should always come first.

Caring for yourself is key.

“Get a good rest and a good meal before your session. Treat tattoo sessions as if you were going to run a marathon or something [of the same intensity]. Stay hydrated,” advises Lacsamana. This tip is especially important for longer tattoo sessions that may take hours, which is the case for people looking to get a larger piece done like a sleeve. 

Being well-fed and hydrated reduces the chances of becoming lightheaded or passing out during your time on the chair. Water might also help the appearance of the tattoo because healthy, hydrated skin absorbs ink better than dry skin. Proper nutrition is likewise important in ensuring that the healing process goes as fast and smoothly as possible.

She adds, “I highly discourage going to a tattoo studio [while] intoxicated. Getting a tattoo isn’t the most comfortable situation, so it is important that you are in good physical (and mental) condition to do so.”

It Doesn’t End in the Chair

One of the most—if not the most—essential steps in the process of tattooing is aftercare. If you think the work is done after getting inked, that isn’t so. “I always say 50 percent of the tattoo is made in the tattoo studio, and 50 percent depends on how the client takes care of it after,” says Lacsamana.

A tattoo aftercare cheat list for when the day comes that you do decide to get inked. Tattoo with care!

Gonzales echoes these sentiments: “At the end of the day, a tattoo is an open wound, so it’s important to care for it as such.” The artist needs to make sure that a fresh tattoo is properly wrapped after the session and to make sure to give proper care instructions to the client.

Post-session, it’s essential to keep the wound clean with gentle and non-irritating soaps and washes as well as moisturizers and lotions, such as below:

Dove Sensitive Unscented Hypo-allergenic Beauty Bar Soap 

₱469, Lazada

Cetaphil Ultra Gentle Body Wash

₱2,355, Lazada

Cetaphil Healing Ointment

₱1,430, Lazada

Aquaphor Healing Ointment Skin Protectant

₱649, Lazada

Eucerin Advanced Repair Body Lotion

₱1,055, Lazada

The Future of Tattoos

It’s important to note that everything we know about tattooing today could very well change. Even tattoo’s permanence has shifted as laser tattoo removals have become more advanced in the last decade, with more precise technology. These days, dermatologists use different lasers that target specific colors in tattoos, which makes the removal process more effective.

There are also new innovations such as Ink Box’s For Now Ink™ which naturally disappears in a week or two as your skin regenerates. Gonzales also points out the exciting invention of Magic Ink, which is the world’s first rewritable tattoo ink that allows tattoos to vanish, reappear, and be redesigned.

For Lacsamana, one of the most exciting inventions aims to help ease the healing process. Tattoo artist-owned company Ink-Eeze has released a spray-on wrap or bandage that seals out dirt and locks in a fresh tattoo. 

With more innovation and new tech that caters to the needs of both artists and clients, the future of the tattoo industry is looking brighter than ever. Aside from tech, there are also new art forms to look forward to as new generations of artists take over. “I’ve [been] seeing a lot of artists come up with new styles of tattooing, in terms of the actual aesthetic, anyway,” says Lacsamana.  “And it’s really exciting.”

Collage by Dannah Valdezco. Woman with tattoo by © Mikhail Nilov. Painting of angels by © Leah Newhouse. Tattoo machine by © solidcolours. Gold vintage frame by © krimkate via

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