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Thinking of getting a tattoo? Here’s what you should know

Gone are the days when tattoos were seen as a gesticulation of satanism and markings of unruliness. Well, at least to millennials and Gen Zs.

The older generations still remain adamant with their perceptions of tattoos and body piercings, which is rather ironic seeing as many cultures, like the Maasai, used to pierce their ears as part of their tradition. 

Tattoos, on the other hand, have been categorized as taboo in many cultures and it goes without saying that there is no African household that welcomes the idea of having a permanent marking on your skin that signifies only God knows what. 

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In this new era, however, tattoos are seen as more of an emblem of personality and a sigil of spirituality than a rune of defiance and ungodliness. Tattoos are now embraced as works of art that carry deeper meaning about the bearer of the mark. These ink-infused designs on the skin tell many stories about a person than you could ever possibly decipher, yet still, add mystery to their character.

It took me two years of serious thought before I finally decided to get my first tattoo. There were so many things I considered and consulted about that helped me pluck up some courage in the end, and I went for it. I didn’t tell my mum about it at first because I knew she would not agree to it, so I told her once it was already engraved on my skin. She lectured me for half an hour asking me about its meaning (which is a unalome with a spiritual interpretation), but she still didn’t like the idea of her daughter having what to her seems satanic.

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Locally we see celebrities like Mitchelle Ntalami, Khaligraph Jones, Tanasha Donna, Vera Sidika, Shaffie Weru, and many others who have several tattoos on their bodies with various meanings.

Many people, however, neglect the thought process that is necessary to have prior to getting inked. Getting a tattoo because your favorite celebrity has one isn’t reason enough to settle for one.

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Getting your first tattoo is both terrifying and exciting, and you probably have a million and one questions already. How bad will it hurt? How do you know if a parlor is safe?

How much will it cost? Before you get anything permanently placed on your body, you should delve into deep research and consultation. Talk to friends who already have them and get a different perspective. However, from my experience, here’s what you should know beforehand:

  • Think about your tattoo for at least a year before you commit to it.

Getting a tattoo is a life-long commitment, and just like marriage, you need to take time to learn what you’re committing yourself to. When you’re designing, try to think of the word ‘timeless’ because your tattoo will be timeless. What you think will look cool in a moment’s thought may change so you want to think hard about the design and make sure you will still be into it months, and years later.

  • Which body part

Before you embark on getting a tattoo, take time to decide where exactly you want it on your body. Think about the long-term implication of the tattoo placement because there will come a time when the positioning of your tattoo will be a matter of concern.

  • Prices vary depending on size.

Tattoo parlors adjust prices based on the size and style of the tattoo you want, and FYI, if they know you’re a tat virgin, they might try to up the price on you. It’s a good idea to call and ask for an estimate before you go in, although that number may change significantly once the design is drawn. If you can, bring someone who has gotten inked before to help you negotiate, or do research on pricing beforehand to make sure you don’t get ripped off.

  • Allergy to tattoo ink is a possibility.

Ink allergies and allergic reactions to the prep and aftercare process can happen. Ink allergies, though rare, aren’t unheard of. But if you’re experiencing a reaction, it’s likely due to a substance used in the tattoo process or aftercare products.

Often people with sensitive skin mount a reaction to the prep process that cleans and sterilizes the skin, which is more common than a true allergic reaction to the ink and tattoo itself.

If you do react badly, the tattoo might break out in an itchy red rash but it can be treated with prescribed ointment from your doctor.

  • Tattoos fade over time 

You’d think that ink pierced into your skin would last forever looking the same, but no. Tattoos fade over time, no matter how well you treat them because your skin is always shedding new layers. 

So you’ll probably have to go back under the needle at some point to keep it in tip-top shape. You can go to any artist to get it touched up, but if you liked your original artist, it’s always best to go back to them. I would recommend the latter.

  • The pain depends on the tattoo placement.

Disclaimer: getting a tattoo will never not hurt. Pain tolerance differs from person to person, but generally, tattoos placed right over bones tend to hurt the most. A tattoo on your foot or ribs might be an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, while a bicep tat might only be a 4. And of course, the bigger the tattoo, the longer you’ll be in pain. 

  • If you don’t end up liking your tattoo, you can get it covered up.

It’s pretty easy to get a tattoo covered up, especially if it’s small. A good artist can put a new design over it, covering the original tattoo completely — some parlors even specialize in cover-ups. So even if you do change your mind one day, you won’t be stuck with a tattoo that you hate.

  • You can also get tattoos removed.

You can get your tattoo removed with laser treatment. Depending on the ink color, stubbornness of the ink, and size of the tattoo, it can take up to several sessions. But keep in mind, while the process eliminates the tattoo, it can leave scarring and the procedure can be pricey.

  • You might not be able to get the exact tattoo you want.

Many people go for internet-generated tattoo designs, some of which are irrefutably ridiculous and unrealistic. If you want to get a lyric in a really tiny font, your artist might refuse – and for good reason. If a font is too small, it can bleed together over time and basically just turn into a smudge. Remember: Your artist is a professional, so if they have some reservations about the logistics of your design, hear them out. Choose wisely.

  • It will itch afterward.

This is a no-brainer and goes without saying. A tattoo in a sense is a wound on your skin that heals after some time. After about a week (sometimes sooner) new tattoos will start to have a mild itch which is a symptom of healing – but whatever you do, DON’T scratch it. Your fingernails can peel off the ink, leaving spots of un-tattooed skin on your tattoo. Scratching can also lead to infection, so instead, Tap your tattoo gently with a clean hand for relief. 

  • Avoid long showers while you’re healing.

It’s important to keep your new ink clean by gently washing the area with water, then patting it dry three times a day. A little water won’t hurt it, but try to avoid spending too much time in the shower. Soaking your tattoo isn’t good for it, because the water will slow down the healing process by deteriorating your newly-forming skin. If you get a design on a part of your body that gets a lot of water in the shower, like your back, try to keep your showers short and limit the area’s contact with water until it heals.