Don't Ignore These 6 Red Flags When Getting A Tattoo

People get tattoos for a variety of very personal reasons. Whether your "why" is a desire for full self-expression, or just because you think it would be cool to sport some ink doesn't really matter. What is critical to the tattoo experience is that it's overwhelmingly positive and 100% safe. Otherwise, you might wind up with a lifelong reminder of a very unfortunate event, and no one wants that.


If you're going to throw your hard-earned cash into the $1.89 billion global tattoo market (per Fortune Business Insights), however, it pays to do some due diligence before committing to a particular location or artist. It can cost hundreds of dollars per laser treatment to have a tattoo removed, and some require multiple treatments depending on how large and involved they are. So be discerning about your tattoo parlor up front and hopefully avoid that unnecessary cost (and discomfort) down the line.

Anything less than perfect hygiene

Anything involving needles and/or bodily fluids requires someone who's extra meticulous to keep things safe and sound. Contaminated equipment can transmit bloodborne diseases like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), says Mayo Clinic. Hep B, in particular, is incurable, and not exactly the type of permanent commitment one usually looks for in a tattoo parlor. All needles should be properly disposed of immediately after use, so visit your chosen artist/parlor in advance and observe their habits.


Also, ensure that the shop keeps its furniture sanitized. You'll be lying in a chair (sometimes facedown) that other people use, which could expose you to any of the bacteria and viruses they're carrying. No one wants to leave an ink session with COVID or the flu, so make sure all surfaces are given a thorough scrub-down before settling in. Tormented Souls says that chairs should also be wrapped in a fresh polythene covering after each use. A sanitized environment will also hopefully prevent any post-tattoo skin infections, as the area will be more vulnerable in the days afterward.

It's a home-based shop

People often operate out of their homes because they don't want to pay the massive overhead that comes with renting a business space. That's understandable and all, but if they can't pay for that can they foot the bill for medical-grade sterilization equipment? Tormented Souls says this is a major concern for home-based tattoo shops, which are less likely to have all of the necessary bells and whistles that keep clients safe.


Then there's the fact that homes are naturally filled with all kinds of bacteria, pet dander, mold, and other undesirable stuff. The average house or apartment simply lacks the level of sanitation and air purification that a lot of corporate sites spring for. Along the same lines, experts like those at Cleveland Clinic emphasize that people should not use home tattooing kits. The risk of blood or skin infection is too great, and let's face it, so is the possibility of winding up with a really bad tattoo.

The portfolio is lacking

There's a time and an occasion for an amateur. Hair, for instance, will grow back out after an unfortunate novice haircut. Fingernail polish can be changed or redone. A tattoo, however, is pretty much for life, laser removal notwithstanding. Always review the portfolio of any tattoo artist you're considering. Look at their technique and personal style and see if it meshes with your vision. Also, try to find someone who has extra skill in the type of tattoo you're interested in. Some artists, for example, specialize in portraiture or superheroes, or whatever, so they'll probably do a better job than someone who excels in blackwork.


There should be at least 50 to 100 images of finished work in a great tattoo portfolio. Most artists have physical hard copies, as well as an online version to review. Also, inquire as to how long the artist has been in the field, and where they were trained.

Steep discounts

This is one service where you get what you pay for. Call around to multiple shops and ask for a ballpark figure on the type and size of tattoo you want to get. Any place that is dramatically less expensive than others is potentially cutting some very important corners, rushing through sessions to squeeze more appointments in, or both. Tattoo cost varies widely by location, of course, so factor that into the equation. A suburban tattoo shop might not cost as much as one in a busy city spot.


Also, double-check before booking that the artist and the shop are licensed to operate. Look for the license and any applicable permits to be on display. If they're not immediately visible, ask to see them. The government requires certain permits and licensing to operate, which is all an effort to keep customers safe and make sure that parlors abide by certain rules and codes.

The reviews are bad

In this age of Yelp, most people check the reviews for any service before booking an appointment. Most people and places will have at least one bad review, though, so measure the complaint against the others realistically. Are reviewers saying the same bad thing over and over again? Or does it seem like the bad review(s) are from one or two disgruntled people?


Also, cull through some of the positive reviews to make sure they're legit. Such reviewers typically have celebrity pictures as their profile images or review the same types of services over and over again. Put a little more weight into reviews that use obviously personal language and anecdotes to describe their experience, as they're likely humans (not bots) who actually got a tattoo from the place in question. When possible, take referrals from friends you trust who have a great tattoo. Or, don't hesitate to ask the artist for a few references, so that you can ask them about the overall experience.

The general vibe is off

No matter how tough you are, getting a tattoo can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience. Most people simply have that reaction to repeated jabs with needles, no matter how bad they want it. A tattoo shop and its employees should make you feel at ease throughout the visit, from the initial check-in and design selection on through to the after-care counseling process. To that end, ask them before the tattoo what the aftercare process is like. If they plan to hand you a pamphlet and send you on your way, back away slowly. The post-tattoo care phase is critically important to preventing infection and maximizing appearance, and anyone who's too busy or bored to help you clearly navigate it is probably not a good fit.


Ideally, the first tattoo experience will leave you happy, even chomping to come back for more. If not, contact the artist and the shop to see what can be done to make it right. At the very least, they'll want to know how to improve for the sake of future customers, as well as their reputations.