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10 Steps to Prepare for a New Tattoo, According to a Dermatologist

Getting a tattoo is such an exciting experience. As someone who has dozens of them, I can say with confidence it never gets old—it’s a life-changing occurrence every time. But in all that excitement, you may find yourself forgetting to take every possible step to prepare. And what you do in the days, weeks, and even months leading up to your appointment can have a big impact on how your new tattoo heals and lasts.

We spoke with tattoo artists Pierre Bustos and Pony Wave and board-certified dermatologist Elliot Love, DO, to learn everything needed for tattoo prep. From when to stop taking medications that can alter your skin’s healing process to what to wear on the big day, we’ve got 10 steps to take for your best tattoo outcome.

Meet the Expert

  • Elliot Love, DO, is a board-certified dermatologist, fellowship-trained skin cancer and reconstructive surgeon (Mohs Surgeon), and board member for Mad Rabbit Tattoo.
  • Pierre Bustos is a tattoo artist who works with Hustle Butter.
  • Pony Wave is a Mad Rabbit professional tattoo artist and owner of PW Gallery Tattoo Studio.

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6-12 Months Before: Discuss Prescriptions With Your Doctor

Safe is always better than sorry, especially when you’re dealing with permanent changes to your skin. Because of that, think far ahead if you take any prescription medications that can affect your skin, and discuss your potential tattoo timing with your physician. “According to a review in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, wound healing and abnormal scarring was associated with patients taking oral retinoids (Accutane, for example) and undergoing surgical procedures,” Love explains.

To avoid this, timing is crucial. “Some still recommend stopping the medication 6-12 months before procedures,” says Love. “I think this is an important discussion to have with the prescribing doctor to ascertain if you are at risk.” Wave adds, “Some medications can affect the skin’s sensitivity and healing process, so it’s crucial to be aware of any potential issues.”

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1-3 Months Before: Do Your Research

Many artists book well in advance, and you want to choose an appropriate one for the work you want. “Researching an artist is important, as not all artists work in the same style,” explains Bustos. “It is important to research for as long as it takes to find the right artist for the type of artwork that suits both you and the artist.” He suggests, “Instagram is a great place to research artists, their styles, and previous works.”

“Start your research well in advance; ideally, several weeks or even months before your desired tattoo date,” says Wave. She recommends taking time “to browse portfolios, read reviews, and visit tattoo studios in person to see their cleanliness and professionalism.”

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1-2 Weeks Before: Consider Your Blood

Green vegetables might not be the first thing on your mind when it comes to tattoo prep, but they can actually help quite a bit—especially if your tattoo is going to be located somewhere on your body that naturally bleeds a lot. “If [you are] getting the tattoo in a highly vascularized area, such as the head or neck or backs of the hands and feet,” you might want to consider upping your intake of leafy green vegetables leading up to your appointment. (Think spinach, kale, or Brussels sprouts.) “These vegetables are high in vitamin K, which can potentially help decrease bleeding,” he says. “You can also drink these vegetables by juicing or purchasing pre-made green vegetable drinks.”

In addition to adding foods high in K to your diet, you’ll want to stop consuming anything that can make you bleed more. “If taking supplements, steer clear of anything containing ginkgo, garlic, ginseng, and vitamin E for two weeks,” instructs Love.

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1 Week Before: Avoid the Sun

We love spending time in the great outdoors, but hitting the beach or spending too much time outside before a tattoo is a bad idea. “Avoid excessive sun exposure, as sunburned skin cannot be tattooed,” says Wave. Additionally, if you have a tan, the colors of your tattoo will initially appear different than they will when your skin lightens back up.

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The Day Before: Stop Alcohol Consumption

Not only is it a terrible idea to get a tattoo when under the influence of alcohol, but even drinking the night before should be avoided. Wave and Bustos recommend also avoiding caffeine, too. “These substances can increase bleeding, which may affect the tattooing process and the final result,” Wave says. Additionally, Love explains that after drinking, “your perception and reaction to pain may be altered.”

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The Night Before: Get Plenty of Sleep

Both of our artists and our derm agree: A good night’s sleep is paramount for a successful tattoo. “It is extremely important to get a good night’s sleep before getting a tattoo,” says Bustos. “A proper sleep prepares the body and mind for the trauma of receiving a tattoo and is also instrumental in the healing process.”

Wave notes that quality sleep aids our immune system, too. Love adds that sleep deprivation is crucial to avoid before a tattoo because “although it is very unlikely one night of bad sleep will make a difference—except just being really tired and cranky—prolonged sleep deprivation (less than seven to eight hours)” can, among other things, “decrease your ability to fight infection, which may increase the risk of the newly tattooed skin becoming infected.”

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The Night Before: Prep Your Skin

Getting your skin into a hydrated, moisturized, and hair-free place will help your tattoo overall. “The night before tattooing, the skin should be shaved if necessary, cleaned with antibacterial soap, and kept moisturized,” says Love, who notes that “the tattoo artist will likely do this again when you arrive.” Bustos says you should “not enter a tattoo session with overly dry, irritated, bruised or infected skin,” and everyone agrees that exfoliating should be avoided before a tattoo, as it can irritate the skin. Wave adds you’re better off skipping shaving altogether if you’re unsure you can avoid cutting the skin.

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The Day Of: Eat a Nutritious Meal

No surprises here: You’ll want to be well-fed before getting a tattoo. “Have a healthy meal before your tattoo session,” Wave suggests. “It will help you stay focused and maintain your blood sugar levels.” Love adds that you should avoid any foods that are uncomfortable in your stomach after eating since you’ll be sitting for hours for the tattoo.

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The Day Of: Skip the Gym

Exercise is great, but you may want to take a rest day when it’s time for your tattoo. If you have enough hours between the gym and your tattoo, it’s fine, but avoid any close timing. “Exercise immediately [before] tattooing is probably a bad idea because your blood pressure may stay partially elevated and increase bleeding,” explains Love.

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The Day of: Remember the Details

There are lots of little things that you’ll need to remember for your appointment. Wave says to show up on time: “Being punctual and relaxed for your appointment ensures a smoother tattooing experience for both you and the artist,” she says. She also suggests wearing loose, comfortable clothing and avoiding anything that reduces access to the area being tattooed. You’ll also want to remember to “carry a valid ID, any reference materials for your design, and cash for the payment, including a tip for the artist if you’re satisfied with their work.”

Article Sources

Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. Spring LK, Krakowski AC, Alam M, et al. Isotretinoin and timing of procedural interventions: a systematic review with consensus recommendations. JAMA Dermatology. 2017;153(8):802-809.

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