We who are about to dye

By Phil Plait | September 12, 2009 9:07 am

So on Monday I take the plunge: I’ll be getting my tattoo. The design is pretty much set, the body part has been prepped, and my appointment is on the docket. The terror and panic I felt yesterday has mostly subsided, and I’m ready to go.

Except… I’m not sure what to do beforehand. I’ll be in a hotel the night before. I’ll get up, have a normal breakfast, get coffee, the usual. But I wonder. Should I go to the hotel exercise room and do a few bicep blasts so that my arms will look good in pictures? Or will that stretch the skin too much?

And do I need any special food? Orange juice, ginger ale, water? What about acetaminophen or ibuprofen? I know aspirin is a bad idea, but FSM, who uses aspirin anymore? Being a wuss, I worry a bit about how much this will hurt — it’s on my upper arm, which I’m told isn’t too bad, but the whole thing will be about 5×8 cm, an alarming amount of surface area.

I know a lot of BABloggees have tats. What’s your advice? Warning: anyone suggesting anything alt-med will be forced to take 100,000 doses of 30C gingko. And acupuncture jokes? Too obvious.

So whaddya got for me?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, Cool stuff, Humor

Comments (184)

  1. Whats the design? “The Stupid..it burns!” would be soooo cool.

  2. First post. No, seriously. That would make a great tattoo.

    What did you eventually choose Phil? Or is that part of the surprise?

    Advice? Painkillers. Lots’n’lots of painkillers.

  3. Kevin

    No alt-meds here. Old-time meds…

    Be a man, and bring a bottle of rotgut with you. Or a bottle of Jack.

    Just before they start, take a big pull from the bottle, and then say “do it!” 😀

  4. dre

    It’s not gonna hurt that bad. I have a tattoo in the same place, and if you have a lot of color fill in it, it will get annoying. Just annoying, not excruciating. If it’s just lines, it might not even get annoying.

  5. It seems that humanity has married alcohol and tattoos quite well and that combination has become the stereotype for (leading to?) tats. So take a couple of shots of your liquor of choice and you’re good to go. (I don’t suggest beer or wine, as it would increase the possibility that you’ll need to run to the restroom at some point, then get scared to go back, crawl out the window [cutting your hands on the broken glass], drop to the alley [breaking an ankle], and then run into the back alley Cult of Failed Tattoosism [to be indoctrinated as their new poster boy, of course].)

    However, I really suggest: nothing. Revel in the pain. Take it like a conscious un-medicated human being. It’s the perfect time to unleash your inner masochist (maybe for the second time based on stories about grad school).

    Then after the deed, if needed, take a couple over the counter pain killers.

    But I don’t have any tats yet so my data are all from secondary sources.

  6. Porky Pine

    “I know aspirin is a bad idea, but FSM, who uses aspirin anymore?”

    Me. Asprin’s theonly thing that works for me. All the rest might as well be placebo’s.

    BTW, why the need for a tattoo? I never understood the appeal.

  7. 1. eat a decent breakfast – preferably with some meat in it.
    2. take some decent painkillers about 20 mins before – i normally take some midol.
    3. make sure you are hydrated – me i bring a bottle of die coke and salt’n’vinger crisps :)
    4. some thing sweet for the half way mark – i bring galaxy chocolate

    the best bit of advise is go to the washroom before you go in – and empty everything. nothing worse than that full bladder feeling!

    it doesn’t hurt for long – its more like sunburn that you then touch. the minute they wipe you down when it is done, that’s when it stops hurting and the high kicks in.

    do not scratch the itchies!!

    and welcome to the club and be warned they are addictive.

  8. ps. don’t do alcohol – if your tattooist is any good, he’ll refuse to do your ink if he think you have alcohol in your system – it stops your blood from doing its thing.

  9. Zach

    Do whatever you would normally do, don’t take any pain meds or anything that will thin your blood. Accept that it will hurt a little bit, but know that the pain is only for a short time.

  10. PhilZ

    I’ve got several, including a half-sleeve on my upper right arm. I’ve never taken anything in advance, on the advice of my artist. They don’t want you to take anything that could thin your blood. The endorphins will kick in after a couple minutes, so any pain is more like a dull throb. I would recommend just leaving it alone afterwards, and slapping the area when it itches (but DON’T scratch). Good luck!

  11. no worries. you just wait about fifteen minutes into the work, the body will have desensitized the area to such a degree that it will not be painful at all. the first five minutes or so it might hurt a bit but nothing that you will not be able to get through without needing any meds of any sort. remember tattoos have been around a long time and now with the fancy machines that do most of the work for the artist it’s not even that terribly painful. not unless you have gone for the traditional long needles and hammers method.

  12. Brigid

    Tats are no biggie, unless they’re on “sensitive” areas. My advice–if you’re squeamish about seeing your blood mixed with ink, don’t watch. It doesn’t hurt, it’s just a mild stinging sensation that can make you feel a little drained later on, but it’s not fatal. The outline “hurts” more than the color part of the tattoo. I never get too chatty with the artist, as I don’t want him or her to make a mistake!

    Usually you use bacitracin on the tat for a couple of weeks afterward, and keep it out of the sun. If it happens to get infected, (i.e. swells up, hurts, turns red), use hydrocortisone, not neosporin, to clear it up. Besides that–go on with life as you normally do!

  13. Dreamer

    Find a good salve for use with bad sunburns or dry skin. Aquaphor works well. Once you take the dressing off, slather some of that on regularly for a week or two.

    Wear an old T-shirt to bed, or you’ll stain the sheets with blood/ink for the first few days.

    Eat something moderately filling, with a good sugar content. It’ll help prevent you from getting dizzy. Bring a soda or sugary drink with you, just in case. If you do feel dizzy, say so, and take a break to drink that. Passing out suddenly while getting ink permanently placed in your skin is a bad idea. Drinking alcohol is a bad idea. It’ll make you bleed more, and increase your chance of fainting.

    Don’t take breaks if you don’t have to. That’ll just give your skin time to feel inflamed and sore. Get it all done at once, if you and your artist have that sort of stamina.

    Don’t use the lidocaine spray if they offer it. It’ll affect the quality of the tattoo.

    And of course, the old infection control measures: Ask to see their autoclave (if they don’t use disposable needles), see how often they QC it with spore strips, make sure they use disposable secondary containers for ink. Watch how carefully they sterilize their working areas between customers.

  14. Write down the address of the trailer park where you live, in case you forget it while getting your tattoo.

    You don’t live in a trailer park? Oh. I thought everyone who gets a tattoo lived in a trailer park. Or maybe an aircraft carrier.

    Learn something every day.

  15. squawky

    I can’t speak for the bicep blasting (it sounds like some crazy alt-med term, to be honest…), but I do have a tat on my upper arm (maybe 5cm square, black only, with some filled in areas). It did bleed a little bit, but the pain was comparable to that of a nasty sunburn that someone keeps poking (for about an hour). It’s not painless, but I wouldn’t see the need to do any special medicating beforehand :).

    If you’re at all squeamish once there, don’t ask for the tour of the equipment (I thought the needles looked a lot scarier than they actually felt). I wanted to see how it all worked, and its interesting, but its not for the nervous or anxious mind to enjoy.

    We were a bit spontaneous the day I got my tat, so I can’t speak to any special things to do ahead of time – I would recommend NOT skipping the coffee if you get caffeine withdrawal symptoms, though (tattoo inking plus caffeine headache is probably a recipe for a really bad time.) Afterwards is the time for celebrating/medicating – just remind your friends/family of the tat location so they avoid bumping it (seriously – I got a playful smack on the arm square on my tattoo the day after getting it, and that hurt worse than the actual inking did.) You should get good care instructions from the tattoo artist – follow them!

  16. Haven’t you been following Carl Zimmer’s blog? He has lots of tat ideas.

  17. gruebait

    I gotta agree with Porky – if there is pain less than the kind demanding morphine, aspirin does it for me. I haven’t had any of those aspirin-substitutes in many years, and I have never had a hint of stomach upset from it.

    Personalized Medicine in practice, I suppose.

  18. Hank

    Fluids are good, for the simple reason that you’ll be sitting still for awhile. For the same reason coffee and/or tea might be a bad idea.

  19. From somebody who has ink (both arms), I offer three things to remember: 1: Be sure you really (really) want the work done and that everybody understands what it’s supposed to look like. 2: As soon as the needle is taken out of the wrapper, you’re committed to the cost of the needle, but it’s not too late to back out on the work. 3: As soon as the needle makes the first line, you’re committed to the work and the full price; no point in wussing out at that point.

    So, what to do? Not much really. It’s going to be anything from uncomfortable to painful. That’s part of the point. Do not take any sort of pain killers (you must be clear-headed). Do not take any analgesics (you must not bleed too much).

    Some people say the outline hurts more than the fill. Sometimes the other way round. One truth is that there are parts of your body that will hurt more than others. In particular, anywhere bones are close to the skin.

    Oh, and we want photos of before, durning, and after!

  20. Good luck. I hope it isn’t to stressful of an issue for you.

  21. Megan

    I agree with Brigid. It’s really not that bad. I sat for 9 hours for part of my half sleeve and I’m a wuss. It will get itchy once it starts to peel, do not scratch. Don’t re-wrap it, if it feels icky, rinse with cool water and let it air dry a bit before you put more goo on it. I used Eucerin’s Aquaphor because that’s what the artist wanted me to use and it’s wonderful. Good luck!

  22. level20monkey

    Its all about pain tolerance. I have had 3 tattoos so far and they did not hurt at all, but my pain threshold is rather high. Honestly, it feels a little like someone rubbing against a sunburn, and the line work actually hurts more than the fill. Getting a vaccine shot hurts a lot more, You will be fine. I remember getting all worked up before my first tattoo and then when they started, I though “oh, that’s it?”

  23. I just like that you measure in cms instead of those obsolete inch things.

  24. Rules for tattooage, from one who has sat in the chair for 15+ hours:

    1. no alcohol beforehand (duh)
    2. eat and drink before you go (your body will demand blood sugar/fluids)
    3. if it hurts, don’t wiggle. just pinch a finger + thumb together (it will keep you still and distract you a little from the feeling)
    4. don’t be afraid to ask for a break if you’re feeling light-headed (duh)
    5. it will bleed, but it’s more of a “seeping”. Don’t worry

    Aside from the artist’s experience, HEALING is the second most important part of tattooing. Wait a 3-4 hours for your wounds to seal up (the artist may stick a bandage or plastic wrap over it before you leave), LIGHTLY wash with timid soap (use your fingers). Always blot dry with a very clean towel.

    Afterward, I would avoid plastic wrap, bandages, etc. Bandages especially — they stick to the tattoo and can damage your healing. Just keep it dry, and wear a clean shirt. Change it when in doubt. If you sense sticking, don’t freak — have someone moisten the area with water and the scabs will loosen up. Since it’s on your arm, however, and that might be exposed, you may want to try Tattoo Goo.

    When the tattoo starts to get itchy, DO NOT scratch it/scrub it/etc. Aka, be careful in the shower/during any activity. Some people tap it with fingers to dull the sensation, but I’d just avoid it. If it feels dry, use some oil-free, fragrance-free lotion (St. Ives has a good product).

    It will eventually peel — DO NOT pick at the scabs. Let them slough off naturally. I’d recommend using above lotion.

    After it’s all peeled off, you must protect your art from the sun. UV light from the sun = decomposer of tattoo ink, which is often magazine ink. So think of your tattoo as a prized, limited edition, one-of-a-kind magazine or comic book. Protect it with at least SPF 30 anytime it might be exposed to the sun for more than 5-10 minutes.

    When in doubt about anything, call your artist… and Good luck!

    Btw, if you’re going to be in NYC it might be fun to meet up. I haven’t seen Corey in about 6 months!

  25. The Mutt

    Remember when self-mutilation was considered a sign of mental illness? Good times.

  26. Bill from Fallbrook

    No advice here, but I will say that I never got a tattoo because with my luck, an evil hate group of some sort would probably start using the same design as their logo. And at this point in my life, there is really no “nice looking” body part left to decorate anyway.

  27. First of all, it was great seeing you at Dragon*Con and I learned a lot from you.

    As for advice, here some you probably won’t follow. I recommend NOT taking pictures of it until it heals. Everyone always posts these pictures of red, swollen areas around their freshly inked (and sometimes slightly bloody) tats. Wait until it heals nicely and looks more natural.

    That being said, can’t wait to see what you decided on.

  28. Daniel Snyder



  29. Brian S.

    It doesn’t hurt that much. Man up, already. :)

    Your artist should be giving you specific aftercare instructions. Do what they tell you.

  30. Wendy

    My advice, Phil, is to just chill out!! You’re worrying unnecessarily. Did somebody with a low pain tolerance tell you a horror story or something? Honestly, it’s really, really not that bad. It hurts, sure, but it’s not like being punched in the face repeatedly, or anything… Just an annoying, constant scratching. And if your tattoo means enough to you, which I’m sure it does, the “pain” will be totally worth it. Either way, I know you’ll walk outta there saying “Wow, that wasn’t as bad as I expected!” And then you’ll be hooked. Lol!

    Coming from someone with three tattoos, let me tell you, the very worst part is the itching as it heals. I would rather feel the tattooing itself for two weeks straight than try to tolerate that infernal itching!!!!! But make sure you don’t scratch…. That could wreck the ink!

  31. Pat

    Personally, I have no tattoos, nor do I plan to get one.

    First, I’m not into needles or pain.

    Second, I don’t want to be a permanent walking billboard for any idea. I mean, suppose some astronomer out there finds evidence that the Big Bang theory has to be changed, and you have a tattoo that refers to the old theory (or, if you prefer a different issue, an old girlfriend’s or wife’s name). It’s Just Wrong…

  32. Brian H

    Just don’t cry. I don’t know how hard your artist is going to dig that thing into your arm, so the pain can vary. The important thing to remember is that whatever pain there might be will go away, but the shame will stay with you forever.

  33. Is this one of those mid-life crisis cries for help? Just get a sports car.

  34. Mena

    I sat with my sister while she got one, I have none myself. She didn’t really have a problem with the parts that were on the outer arm but the inner arm was very painful. And yes, it was really neat to watch it all come together. I even took pictures of the process for her. Maybe have Mrs. BA come in with you to talk to you and keep your mind off of what is happening and to document it if she can handle it. There’s blood, but it’s only a bit. No geysers, really!

  35. Kevin

    Heh, I was just reminded of the thought that sure, tats look great now, but wait until you’re old and things start to sag and get out of shape. The tat will as well.

    But Phil… if you get a tat of a nebula, you could say it’s changing with the interstellar medium. 😀

  36. How ’bout a tat that says “My other tattoo is a body piercing”?

  37. So, when do we get to see pics? We’re on pins and needles over here.

  38. Alice

    I’ll agree with others – the pain is really not that bad. I have several tattoos and have never once had to take anything before or after. I always have a slight attack of nerves just before the artist gets going, and then once it starts I remember, “Hey, that’s right, this isn’t so bad!”

    I would agree that having some food and fluid in you wouldn’t hurt.

    And make sure you follow the care instructions after it’s all done! :)

    Looking forward to seeing your ink!

  39. thadd

    If you can get through a dentist visit, you should be able to get through a tattoo without pain killers.

    My big suggestion is this: you can’t give blood for one year after a tattoo, so go out and do it now, don’t be selfish!

    I am just about to be free of my year without blood, so I already have an appointment scheduled. The only reason I got my tattoo when I did was that I was already in a year without donations for a trip overseas.

  40. JR

    So when I got it done. Same spot very similar size it was no big deal. I was very worried under my InotgonnaletanyoneknowIscared exeterior. The best way to describe it: someone stretching your skin to the point where it turns red. There is no need for a pain killer, but you want to keep you blood sugar up so they gave me a hard candy to suck on during.

    Good luck and can’t wait to see the photos.

  41. Mchl

    I do! (use aspirin)

  42. Jason

    I’m not trying to be mean…I’m really not, but how about you man up? I mean seriously, do it or don’t it. This reminds me of people that say they are ready to finally lose weight and get healthy, just as long as they don’t have to sweat, deny themselves anything, or do anything to make themselves uncomfortable.

  43. wtlloyd

    Your body is a temple….again, why are you doing this?

    Eh. I don’t get it.

  44. cope


    Remember when tattoos were a sign of non-conformity?

    OK, wheel me back into the day room…”Matlock” is about to come on.

  45. critical_dev


    The anticipation is worse than the actual pain. My advice: take a deep breath and try to relax. Being anxious and nervous will make you more apt to twitch and jump when the artist is doing their job….making for a bad situation. Good luck and I am looking forward to seeing the Canadarm logo on your bicep soon!

  46. Thanks to everyone for their advice! Lots of good stuff there. I’m not all that worried about the pain, truthfully. More of the discomfort of sitting still for 2-3 hours.

    As for the naysayers…

    Jason (#42): Um, what are you talking about? I said I’m doing it, and looking for advice on how best to prepare. I have no clue where your comment is coming from.

    And for wtlloyd (#43): Congrats! If you don’t get it, then don’t get one. I do get it, so I’m getting one. See how that works?

    And my body is no temple. That’s why I’m altaring it.

  47. Greg

    Darn right my body is a temple. Temples deserve to be decorated! Celebrated!

    My tattoo is in a very different place, Phil, but I can safely say these few points (just reinforcing the massive input you already have):

    1) No alcohol. Take a shot or drink a beer if you must, but don’t get drunk. It will not be a pleasant experience.
    2) Take a small dose of Ibuprofen beforehand, primarily as an anti-inflammatory. But don’t overdo it, or expect drugs to help you much anyway.
    3) Relax!
    4) Have your wife, a friend, or several friends hang out while it gets done. They can help distract you.
    5) I’m a pansy, and the tat was on my very bony spine/back, so you might not need this tip, but they instructed me to breathe deep, then when the needle starts inking, you slowly breathe back out. That helped me stay still very well.
    6) By all means post pics right away! We know it’ll look weird, red, and blotchy, but we want to see it!
    7) Make sure you know the shop’s retouch policy. The place I got mine has a 2 year free retouch, and after that it’s $10 for the lifetime of the tat.

  48. Atalanta

    I’ve got numerous tattoos and one thing I’ve found makes a huge difference is to eat a protein-rich meal beforehand. A big burger or juicy steak is perfect! No aspirin or ibuprofen, they’ll make you bleed more. If caffiene makes you fidgety, try to avoid it. Having a friend to talk to is good, if things get uncomfortable a conversation can help distract you. They can also bring you cold water and M&Ms (or other sweet of your choice, to boost your blood sugar) as you need them.

    As for pain factor, my tattoos have ranged from agonizing to mildly pleasant. One thing that I hadn’t been expecting when I got my first one is how hot it can get, from the friction. But for the most part they’re painful but not horrifically so. So just make yourself as calm and comfortable as you can.

    And don’t wear clothing you’re not willing to get stained!

  49. Joe MA

    ah so a TARDIS tatt nice

  50. Mike

    “And my body is no temple. That’s why I’m altaring it.”

    You might need to change your favorite slogan: The Pun, it Burns!

  51. Jeff Fite

    Here is some medical info that might help (I’m an emergency department physician assistant), although I have to state for the record that I gots no ink:

    Brigid (#12) suggested hydrocortisone if it gets infected. That’s probably not wise. Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid–it (gently) suppresses your immune system on a local level. It’s useful for conditions where your immune system is overreacting to something, like an insect sting or eczema. But, if you have an infection, you really want your immune system attacking the bugs at peak efficiency.

    What’s probably happening is that a tat gets red and painful afterward as a result of inflammation from the trauma, and this can easily be mistaken for an infection. Hydrocortisone will reduce the inflammation–thereby giving the appearance of ‘curing’ an ‘infection.’

    If your new tat does get infected–and Brigid described that perfectly–you should see your doctor (or friendly physician assistant or nurse practitioner) because you’ll probably need oral antibiotics.

    Oh, and about analgesics: all of the NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) reduce your blood’s ability to clot, so if you choose to take one, you might have bleeding problems during and after the tattooing. NSAID’s are also referred to as ‘the aspirin family’–available over-the-counter as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen.

    (There are other prescription medications that reduce clotting, too, like warfarin (Coumadin) and clopidogrel (Plavix). Don’t stop taking those–or a once-a-day aspirin prescribed by your healthcare provider–unless you talk to your provider beforehand.)

    You can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) according to the label directions without causing bleeding problems, because it is the only non-NSAID pain medicine available over-the-counter.

    Otherwise, just keep repeating: “Today is a good day to dye!”

  52. Elliot Robert

    “Darn right my body is a temple. Temples deserve to be decorated! Celebrated!” Given your bodies temple status, shouldn’t do some ink on your temples front end, Your Face?

  53. g

    I suggest homeopathic acupuncture. Relieve pain and cure illness by not poking yourself with needles.

  54. Mark

    Tattoos are stupid. It’ll look gross when you’re 80.

  55. My first tattoo I didn’t have a big enough breakfast and felt dizzy and sick, had to be given a banana to get me through (how embarrassing!) so make sure you eat Phil! Second tattoo was no prob. In my experience the pain was not that bad, certainly not bad enough to justify pain-killers but each to their own. 😉

  56. No booze! When I went in to get my piercings, the sign stated that if the piercer/tat artist detected booze on your breath, they would not do it. The guy asked me if I had anything to drink within the past 12 hours.

  57. Adam English

    I don’t have tats but I am into health and fitness. Just have a normal day, ibuprofen is an anti inflammatory, acetaminophen is what you would want. Take it an hour before you start.

    I would not recommend doing an weight lifting, the stretching of skin is not a concern as you will not build any muscle. The first handful of workouts build up connective tissue and prepare your body to really start working. You will just have a muscle sore to the touch and the tattoo will feel like a torture device =D

    What I would do is spend my time bragging to friends.

  58. Your body is a temple

    I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean. Should I invite a lot of people to come inside my body and give thanks to a deity? Because…that sounds kinda fun, actually.

  59. Daniel J. Andrews

    I can’t even stick with the same avatar or desktop background for more than a month. No way I’d get a tattoo…I’d be bored with it before it even healed.

  60. Daffy

    Putting toxic ink (Google the ingredients in tattoo ink) in your skin. May I just say:


  61. You’ve already got some great advice above on aftercare. The artist will have some suggestions, too. I had it in a rather non-painful spot, so it was just patience and the occasional gasp when a sensitive spot was reached.

    Once it IS healed, sunscreen is your friend. I wasn’t too careful with mine and some of the prettier colors have already faded. I also didn’t have a digital camera at the time I got mine, and I can’t find any good, film pictures of when it was fresh. So do document. (Of course you will, b/c WE want to see it!)

    7 years later, I still love my astronomy-themed tattoo, despite the fading. Hope it all goes well!

  62. Mark (#54): well, it’s better than looking like a jerk right now.

  63. Of course, you can’t use sunscreen for the first few weeks at least, so covering with clothing is your friend. (I KNOW, the first thing you want to do is show it off, do it indoors!)

  64. On the giving blood thing. If you do it, great for you! Every state is different on the rules; where I live, you can give blood a month after your tattoo provided it was done in a certified/recognised establishment. If you give within two days of getting your tattoo, you won’t bleed as much. Serious – I’ve done it, virtually no blood. Do not do it same day. I gave blood and went and got a (small) tattoo that afternoon and nearly fainted. Very dumb in retrospect, but the tat was only about a square inch and took less than ten minutes – wasn’t expecting such a reaction.

    Everyone feels their tat different. I describe mine as someone scratching the worst sunburn you’ve ever had. I’ve heard other people say they tickle. If you’re like me, just remind yourself that time is constantly moving forward – even if it doesn’t feel that way – and there is no way it can actually last forever.

    I second everyone who says don’t take anything. Working out a bit that morning might be a good idea as it will get your endorphins up naturally – however working out can change the resting layout of muscles. You want the artist to be inking on as natural a surface as possible. Your choice there. Do drink liquid, you’ll feel like a pansy forever if you get faint and have to ask the artist to stop. I would not take someone with me again, having someone there just encouraged me (a girl) to be a total wuss about it, when I go on my own I have to tough it up so the artist doesn’t laugh at me.

    Last, 2-3 hours? I’ve got one on my back a bit larger than you 5x8cm and it took just under two hours. Although I suppose if you have colour fill or shadowing you’ll be looking at some extra time. Take some pictures of it fresh, just for record, but I’d wait to post until it’s healed up well. There is a very different look to a fresh tat as a settled one.

    Enjoy it, you’ll only have this exact experience once – and this will be your only first tattoo if you do decide to get more.

  65. BevC

    I’m a 47-year-old woman who got my two largish tatts 20-odd years ago, when I was stone cold sober, at 11:00 in the morning. The one I have on my upper left arm is 10cm x 15cm or so and hurt about as much as having fine sandpaper abrading the skin for a half an hour. That is to say, not very much, considering what people expect from repeated poking with multiple needles. Where you have lots of muscle, skin and fat the sensation of being tattooed is, at worst, uncomfortable. On the other hand, the tatt I have above my breast hurt like fire for a couple of days (not enough padding underneath!). The dark outline hurt more than the colouring in, incidentally, so you can… er… entertain yourself(?) with the difference in sensations while the tattoo artist is working.

    Pain relief? Naaah. You might want something afterward, but you also might surprise yourself. Just take care of the skin surface and wear something that you can fold up so that it doesn’t touch the fresh ink. It will probably sting for a while.

  66. Dick L

    Sorry BadAstronomer, but you have turned me off. I have removed your site from my list of favorites and RSS feeds. I see this as the height of stupidity for someone like you to do.

    I must say that I have thought your blog has been degenerating for some time and I have tried to remain loyal but I am out of here now. I think the rot set in when you moved to the Discover site some time back.

    I suggest everyone should look at http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/ I think that so far it is a good substitute for the BadAstronomer.

  67. John

    And to get you used to needles I recommend you donate blood first, you wont be able to for a year after.

  68. Lyr

    Looking forward to seeing the design!

  69. It’ll look gross when you’re 80.

    One could use that as a reason to avoid marriage, too, if one were so inclined.

  70. PropagandaPanda

    Just act normal, eat whatever meals you usually eat, drink whatever you drink. The pain isn’t exactly an issue on your bicep. It’s a small shock at first, and then you’ll get over it after about 3 seconds.

    Don’t drink alcohol or take any meds or anything like that. That tattooist will be there talking to you anyway, so you wont be focusing much on the actual process.

    Most of the advise you’ve got so far is pretty good.
    I’ve worked as a tattooist and have tattoos obviously.

    You can bring a friend but I’d keep it at one, you really don’t wanna crowd the area or bother anyone.
    Don’t worry about being nervous, everyone is at first, and then many people get the ink bug afterward.
    After the tattoo is done, you can take an advil if it really bothers you. After my first tattoos on my arms, the pain wasn’t much of a problem after a few hours. Even when a friend slapped it haha.

    Can’t wait to see it Phil!

  71. used to hook on the side

    you are an independent thinker – seemingly personable guy – why are you doing something that has permeated the absolute shallowest parts of our society – it is not even unique or daring any more – its a Yawn…you might as well be a freight crate. Set your EGO aside for a few days – and cancel the appointment.

  72. I think you should have a traditional astronaut breakfast of steak and eggs! A belly full of high protein, low residue meal and a tight sphincter will serve you well when you go under the needle.

    FSM be with you!

  73. Again thanks to those who are giving me support and advice! Lots to do to prep, sounds like.

    And to continue the whackamole, Dick (#66): bye! You were tracking outdated values all over the floor anyway. You can stay, #71 if you like, of course, but maybe you should read the link I put at the top of this very post before giving me moral advice. Cuz y’know, reading permeates the absolute shallowest parts of our society as well.

  74. Nicole (#61): I never saw your astronomy tattoo at Dragon*Con! You holding back on me here?

  75. LB

    Cracked has two hilarious topics on Tattoo’s that really say it all. Check it out, Phil



  76. I’d like to say I’m shocked by the vitriol in the comments, but I’ve been on the internet too long to be shocked by anything in the comments section of anything. If you write it, they will hate.

    Anyway…can’t wait to see what you chose! As someone on the brink of a tattoo, I’m looking to others to help my decision. Good luck!

  77. To all the tattoo haters commenting, if you don’t like the idea you don’t have to. If you think tattoos are horrible and wrong, don’t get them. As for “absolute shallowest parts of our society”, uh no. Tattoos are socially acceptable now. It doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person or anything like that.

    Phil, just get some A&D ointment for after care. Apply every 3-4 hours in a very VERY thin layer, like making it only shiny.

  78. Pat Berry

    Geez. I don’t really understand the appeal of tattoos and have no interest in getting any myself, but that’s a PERSONAL CHOICE. It’s not an excuse for insulting anyone who feels differently. Personally, if I have to choose between spending time with a tattoed person and a rude, arrogant, narrow-minded person who judges others based on ignorant prejudices, then I will pick the tattooed person every damn time.

    Phil did NOT ask for your permission to get a tattoo, and he isn’t really interested in whether you approve of his decision to do so. He asked for ADVICE on how to prepare for the experience. If you have none to offer, then perhaps this is a good time to remain silent. Unless you’re a tactless jackass. If that’s the case, then by all means go ahead and embarrass yourself.

  79. Good luck with the tattoo – can’t wait to see it!

    And for those who say “Your body is a temple,” have you ever actually seen a temple? Or a church, or any house of worship? Here’s a Flickr search, go nuts:


    They’re always decorated, embellished and turned out as a tribute to That which they hold dear. The only religions whose temples are completely devoid of decoration are those scary no dancing/drinking/sex/having fun types, and who wants to live like that?

    Revel in the experience, Phil!

  80. Good luck and I cannot wait to see it when done!

    Personally I am not a tat person. But I do have my share of piercings. However, there is one tat I do want to get but no artist will do it because of the location I want it (bottom of foot and they wont do it even if I sign a waiver because it will eventually disappear). There is a long story behind the reasons for the tat I want and I don’t care that it will go away.

    And jeebus murphey! Why must people be such *beeps*? You are a free person and your body is your property. I do not understand why people are taking issue with this.

    As for advice, I can only go by what worked when I get a piercing and it echoes what has been said already. I think the most important thing is to get plenty of rest the night before and EAT a good meal with protein at least 1 hour prior. One of my piercings I failed to eat and ended up fainting due to the pain and shock.

  81. Bryce

    You’ve already gotten a lot of good advice so this is mostly a repeat.
    Eat and be well hydrated before hand.
    Wear shirts you don’t care about. They’ll get stained.
    Bring a candy bar or something to snack on. My wife would sit for 4-6 hrs at a time for her sleeve and back piece so if I could I’d bring a meal too.
    Don’t be afraid to ask for a break if you need one. The artist may need one too but will let you know if that’s the case.
    Entertainment: Book or Ipod. Can’t always keep a conversation going with the artist and they may not have a TV or something you want to watch.
    Follow the after care instructions they give. When you get home wash it off with soap and water. Use lotion to keep it hydrated. My wife usually uses Eucerin, it doesn’t have to be expensive or exotic to work.
    NEVER scratch or peel no matter how much it itches or how tempting colored bits of skin are to peel off.
    Use sun screen on it for the rest of your life when you go outside.

  82. Carlie

    I don’t have any tattoos, but A&D fixes everything, so I would assume spencer’s advice is good.

  83. soitnly

    Seven words of advice: “Red Dragon Tattoo” by Fountains of Wayne.

    Download now. Play frequently.

  84. wench

    I have a fish on my back and I want more. I’d say, skip the painkillers – enjoy the experience. Enjoy the pain. Remember to breathe through it. The pain goes away, the memory lasts a lifetime and is wonderful.

  85. Elizabeth

    “67. John Says: And to get you used to needles I recommend you donate blood first, you wont be able to for a year after.”
    That’s an excellent idea for all of us who can give blood.
    Don’t worry about the pain, Mr. Badassss Astronomer. It really really isn’t that bad.

  86. Pat

    “Damn it, BA, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” ~ apologies to Captain James T. Kirk

    Skip the painkillers. *g*

  87. Pete

    Just another data point re the pain – Mine is a 2″ diameter circular design, took about 30 minutes. Felt like a prolonged bee sting. Didn’t ever feel the endorphins kick in, but it was not agonizing or anything.

  88. Lisa H.

    No tats on me because I’m a coward and easily bored. I do look forward to seeing what you decide on, however — may the Force be with you!

  89. This sort of amuses me: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/09/12/we-who-are-about-to-dye/#comment-212567

    Phil seems like the kind of guy who knows he can do anything he wants with his own danged temple.

    Can’t wait to see the finished project. 😀

  90. Christie

    Pain reference: It feels like dragging a hang nail over a bad sunburn for an hour and a half (or however long your session is. My tattoo artist would never do a session longer than that.) Pete’s “prolonged bee sting” sounds about right too.

    Lots of good advice above. Eat a little something afterward, and take it veeery easy for a bit. Lots of adrenaline and endorphins and such, you’ll probably crash shortly afterward.

    Good luck! Hope you love the results.

  91. David Sharp

    Three words: Single Malt Scotch.
    Minimum 12 years old or older.
    My recommendation: Lagavulin 16 years old.

    …As much of it as you can stand. just make sure you have a ride home after.

    David in Cincinnati

  92. Mark

    LOL! Reading the comments of myopic self-righteous jerks is a great way to start the day.

    Good luck Phil, I’m sure it won’t be anywhere near as bad as you thought.

  93. PeterE

    For 5×8 size it will take 1-1.5 hours fully inked. It can feel uncomfortable but it doesn’t hurt. Keep it clean, slathered in neutral PH moisturiser like Bepanthem cream, and covered with cling wrap for the first three days and it WON’T scab.

  94. I found that having mine (also on the upper arm) didn’t hurt enough to need painkillers. I would describe it as a hot ragged knife scoring your skin. The after-care is tricky if you have to wear formal shirts for work, but hey, you’re a stay-at-home blogger who’s seldom out of his underwear so you should be fine! 😉

    Plenty of good advice from others, so that’s all from me – I’ll just say all the best, and can’t wait to see what you’ve chosen! Mine’s a geek tat (track layout of Nemesis rollercoaster at Alton Towers) and I still love it, nearly five years later. No regrets. :)

  95. Mmm… perhaps I should re-phrase that underwear comment!!! I meant, of course, “seldom fully dressed” :-S

  96. David Sheeks

    I’d suggest leaving the tattoos to the anti-vaccine types. I’m sure they would think jabbing a needle with ink into your arm was perfectly fine, but of course jabbing a needle with one of the dreaded vaccines would be dangerous beyond belief. I’ll take the vaccine myself and skip the silly ink thing.

  97. Daffy

    “As for “absolute shallowest parts of our society”, uh no. Tattoos are socially acceptable now. It doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person or anything like that.”:

    Nope. it means you are a foolish one who is a slave to passing fads.

  98. rotheche

    Upper arms shouldn’t hurt much – it’s when the tattoo is over bone that it gets more painful. But then, pain perception and tolerance is an individual thing, so your mileage will probably vary from mine.

    I’ve found a couple of things help:

    1. Drink water – enough that you’re properly hydrated.
    2. Have some solid and healthy to eat – I found when getting tattooed without something decent to eat beforehand, I actually felt *more* likely to barf than when I’d had something to eat. Something that the stomach can work on, rather than turning on itself, perhaps *grin*

    After my first one, I had some head-spinny moments on the way home. Not physical, mental/emotional. I was rather young at the time (21), and had done very little in my life that was permanent, so I had some moments of ‘my god, what have I done?’ – not regretting it (I still don’t, nearly 20 years on), but the realisation that I’d just done one of those few permanent things.

    (Incidentally, on the booze advice, talk to your tattooist before you start knockin’ ’em back: even if you’re sober when you show up, some artists won’t work on you if you start drinking. Bad for the professional image to have someone staggering out smelling of alcohol, you know?)

    Good luck with it :)

  99. Geoff

    Weird, but I”m getting my first tattoo the same day.

    Coincidences about but at least I’ll feel your pain Phil… or pain similar to it. :)

  100. Daffy

    FYI: Tattoo ink may contain:
    * denatured alcohols (are toxic and can burn the skin)
    * other alcohols (methyl alcohol or methanol and isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol are commonly used, although they are toxic)
    * ethylene glycol (antifreeze, which is toxic)
    * aldehydes, such as formaldehyde and gluteraldehyde (highly toxic)
    * various surfactants or detergents

    There is a reason expensive and very painful tattoo removal businesses are booming.

  101. Geoff

    @91 Whoa David you have expensive taste! Good taste mind you, but expensive. 😉

  102. @Daffy: Being smugly judgmental about other people’s harmless personal decisions, however, never goes out of style.

  103. Xia

    Alcohol is a blood thinner and thus, is a bad idea, tattoos that bleed out their ink are not as pretty. I have a tattoo on either arm in the place you describe. They took about eight hours each. I did each one in one sitting. I’m female, if that makes a difference to you. I actually enjoy the sensation of being tattooed, for me it is a similar sensation to eating spicy food or drinking a small amount of strong liquor. A little burn, a little buzz(from endorphins. If your tattoo goes on long enough they *will* kick in.) I’m not sure why you have so many tattoo haters, but I am not one of them, and I hope you enjoy yours every bit as much as I love mine. Good luck, and relax, it’s not as bad as everyone is saying. It almost never is in any life situation, and this one is no different.

  104. katie

    I have 8 tattoos..3 of them fairly large. I never needed pain meds during the process. It does sting a little at first but dulls. If you have a good artist they should be able to chat you up during. I took a xanax during the large rocketship on my left forearm. This was mainly because I had just driven by myself for a while to get there and was wound up because there had been a wreck on the interstate and traffic was horrible. But I babble. The worst part is the itching in the weeks following. Good luck!! 😀

  105. Oh and, BTW, when I say “harmless”, I’m basing it on articles from the Mayo Clinic, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the FDA, and the NIH, not some guy’s blog comment.

  106. Boardin1

    Bring a candy bar and gatorade (or the like). With my first tattoo, and with giving blood some times, I get a little light headed and I find that a little sugar and something to drink gets me back where I need to be. As to the pain, take it like a man…that is part of what getting a tattoo is all about. Personally I enjoy the slight pain involved in tattooing. After a little while it just kind of numbs itself anyway.

    BTW, can’t wait to see the ink job.

  107. Rob

    The last one I got took about 6-1/2 hours (including two 15 min. breaks) and goes from my elbow to my shoulder. Anyone who tells you they don’t hurt are liers. My personal experience is that, as the tattooist starts it hurts quite a bit. Then as the process continues the area sort of seems to get an uncomfortable numbness to it. The best part is when they use a mild soap solution to clean up the area a little bit before continuing… the room temperature solution feels soooooooooooooo good. As others have mentioned, don’t have alcohol for at least 24 hrs. before your appointment. After it’s all said and done, if it does get itchy, don’t scratch. Try slapping it… not real hard or anything. For whatever reason, it seems to work almost as good as scratching.

    And remember: “Tattoos are like potato chips. You can never have just one.” – Paul Jeffries @ Smilin’ Budda Tattoo

  108. Xia

    @Rob I resent being called a liar. I appreciate that your experience was different, but that’s not good cause to go calling names. Also, you spelled liar wrong. I could make aspersions about your intelligence based on that, but I’ll be the better person.

  109. Mena

    Uh, Daffy @ 97, you do realize that Ötzi the Iceman has tattoos too, don’t you? How many more millennia do you think that this lame little fad has left?

  110. Dave H

    “85. Elizabeth Says:
    67. John Says: And to get you used to needles I recommend you donate blood first, you wont be able to for a year after.
    That’s an excellent idea for all of us who can give blood.”

    Its not just a good idea. It is a federal regulation. I work in the blood plasma industry.

    We collect plasma from donors which is then used to make about a hundred different medications and treatments. These include: hepatitis and tetanus vaccines; rabies vaccines; albumin treatments for burn victims; gamma globulin for post exposure treatment of hepatitis exposure; platelets for hemophiliacs; and dozens more. The FDA requires a one year layoff because of the risk of infections.

    Whole blood donation regs vary from state to state, but that is because the blood is usually for immediate use, and is nowhere near as comprehensively tested as plasma.

    Not just hepatitis from improperly sterilized needles, but also airborne infections entering the tattooed area during healing, and the risks of contamination from the inks. As I understand it, the FDA only recently started regulating the safety of the inks used in the US.
    Blood, plasma, and human source medicines must be as safe as possible, after all, they are used as therapies for seriously sick and/or injured people with compromised immune systems. If a plasma donor lies about a tattoo or piercing less than a year old, and is found out, the FDA requires all his or her donations be destroyed, and they be permanently deferred from future donations.

    Enjoy your new tat, whatever it may be. However, please stay away from blood drives until maybe October 2010.

  111. EP

    #66 Dick, your parents named you well.

  112. ScienceTim

    Who uses aspirin anymore? Those of us who’ve had heart attacks, man. 81 mg daily. Now I feel retro. Cool!

  113. ScienceTim

    I like something I heard about on a documentary about tattooing. This particular Samoan artist (maybe they’re all like this, maybe not) insists on several consultations with a person before he decides whether that person is ready to be tattooed. Then, he (the artist) decides on what the tattoo will be. He’s an artist, not a sign painter.

  114. alfaniner

    Tattoos in my opinion are like piercings. One or two in the proper area can be a nice enhancement, but much more than that or in odd places, then it just becomes about being weird.

    In one of his books, Penn Jillette got an ink-free tattoo, the welts being raised providing the image. Said it hurt like crazy without the ink to lubricate (but then, he admits to being a big wuss also). I’m not sure if the whole thing was just a joke but pictures were provided.

    eta: It was How to Play in Traffic, and in the last line of the article he says it was a joke. The pics looked real though…

  115. mage2

    make sure its a REALLY clean spot. upper arm wasnt too bad
    eat well before and just relax. make sure when they show you the placement its EXACTLY what you are looking for.
    they are addictive and can hurt alot or not at all depending on about a million factors from your pain tolerance to what the image is. outline always hurt more for me shading not so much.
    and good luck.

  116. Fish

    Guys do you want to keep things in perspective here? People calling the blog trash and walking out because Phil is going to get a tattoo? What does it matter to you what he puts on his arm? Are you that bigotted that you attack something so basic? Seriously if you find it that hard to get on with other people get the hell off the net ok? You’re not welcome here anyway if you think like it’s the 18th century. Go practise christianity or something.

  117. Lyr

    I love my velociraptor tattoo. :)

  118. Jeff
  119. Hank Fox

    Phil, I’m not a fan of tattoos, and I really hope you don’t get one. But does that make me a “tattoo hater”? I doubt it.

    Something I think we’ve all noticed in the liberal-conservative divide in the U.S. is that liberals often get accused of hating America, or hating the institution of marriage, or hating babies. And yet when you actually TALK to a liberal (or if you are one), you understand that most of what motivates them is caring. Compassion. Love. It’s just that it’s a more intelligent caring than small-minded people can understand. It’s the caring that comes from deeper thought and broader understanding.

    For instance, if you opposed the Iraq War early on, to the Bush lovers that could only mean you hated America. And they were so vehement and loud in their ceaseless attacks, for Bush’s entire tragic reign, that nobody ever got to explain that war opponents actually loved the country – loved PEOPLE – more than the dullards who supported that destructive, tragically misguided war. Some people opposed the war because they could see more clearly than the war supporters what was really going on, and what effect it would really have. On our image in the world, on human lives, on the economy, on trust in government and media and each other, on all the victims of explosions and depleted uranium and chemical weapons, on and on.

    Reading over some of the comments on Facebook, and others on your blog, I get it that a lot of people are tattoo devotees.

    But to see those critical of tattoos labeled here and there as haters and trolls and Calvinist doofuses, smugly judgmental, myopic self-righteous jerks …

    It throws me right back into the worst of the neo-con excesses. Really makes me feel like an outsider … not because of the worst in me, but because of the best.

    Not everybody who “hates” tattoos is evil. And not everybody who loves tattoos and encourages you to get one is your friend.

  120. wb

    I am anti-tattoo. I’ve seen too many 65 year-olds with ancient tattoos….ick!!! I suppose if you plan to die before you wrinkle, ymmv.

    I’ve never owned a piece of art I still loved 10 years later, so I’m sure I’d hate my tat within a few years.

    And I’ve seen a case of a young woman with a full-back tattoo who developed a toxic blood condition probably related to the inks used.

    And, as a blood donor, I won’t do anything PURPOSEFULLY to jeopardize my ability to give blood for a year.

    I love the commenter who pointed out anti-vaxxers who have tats… I’m sure many of them smoke, too…

  121. Nim

    I feel like such a late-comer commenting here..

    I have well over 24 hours worth of ink done over my lower leg, full back (neck to tailbone, wrapped around my ribs) and upper arm like you’re getting. The upper arm is CAKE, srsly.

    Don’t take anything for it, your body should have NO problem with producing enough endorphines to take care of the pain.

    For healing (and some people will undoubtably freak out about this, even just in their heads) but I swear by vaseline and saran wrap bandage taped over top. It keeps the ink *in* and off my sheets and clothing. I had a fair bit of problem with it weeping out of my back before that. My tattoo artist suggested it and I haven’t had any problems with it healing that way.

    I’m about 2/3 of the way through a huge Mucha illustration of Medea atm.. and THEN I’ll get my math tattoos :)

    GOOD LUCK! I’m so jealous :)

  122. Stan

    Gotta agree with wb. As a nurse it took only a few geriatric patients with ancient tattoos to make me realize that my skin will be ugly enough without a saggy inky blot that might once have said, “<3 mother."

    But these days, if you're sick of it you can pretty much erase it, so have fun!

  123. Lee

    Listen to your tattoo artist, follow the aftercare instructions is the biggest thing.
    Booze before hand is a big no-no.
    Tip your artist.
    And I’m fond of taking my tattoo artist out for a beer after.

  124. Tweefo

    A tattoo is a permanent reminder of temporary insanity.

  125. If I feel like marking my body, I’ll find a good reason to pick up a scar.

    Good luck with the Tat, Phil.

  126. Fish

    The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe should use Hank Fox’s post above (number 119) for their “name that logical phallacy” segment. It’s a gold mine!

  127. John

    Clear the pipes first…if you know what I mean — that’ll lower your stress levels.

  128. Cool on the tat! I have 2 myself and have given consideration to get another one. Definitely don’t take aspirin or ibuporofin – you’ll bleed more. Aleve is ok. But you won’t need it anyway, it’s really not that bad. Mild burning sensation. Can’t wait to see it!

  129. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    You [have soon] got a tatau? Holy Haleakalā!

    Body modifications are a liberating possibility (outside of religious in-group differentiation use, of course), and it’s a nice Discover theme. I’m very curious if and when it places in Zimmer’s series.

    Its not just a good idea. It is a federal regulation. […] Not just hepatitis from improperly sterilized needles, but also airborne infections entering the tattooed area during healing, and the risks of contamination from the inks. As I understand it, the FDA only recently started regulating the safety of the inks used in the US.

    Oh snap! I did know about the contamination and non-testing of ink issues. After all contamination problems have been written about plenty, on the modern fashion of having tattoos covering the lower back preventing having spinal blocks or therapies after injury. But I didn’t know it was so serious that it affects blood donations.

    Enough to make you a skeptic about the whole idea?! 😀

    [But seriously, there’s something decidedly odd about the described lack of testing outside donor situations. “An old tradition” doesn’t quite cut it, people were using cosmetics early on (and harmed/dying from it, for example from using mercury colors) and still they were started to being tested much earlier. Why did tattoo inks and methods slip by?

    Not enough consumer skepticism/criticism?]

  130. Bill Ringo

    Asparin is a worthy medication for routine use by people with certain heart conditions subject to infarction and a reasonably safe blood thinner. Thin blood is not a great idea tat-wise but asparin does have its place.

  131. Wow. You actually spelled out acetaminophen and ibuprofen. You also gave us the dimensions of your tattoo in centimeters. My nerd-o-meter just broke. Freakin awesome. We absolutely love you!

  132. D

    Aspirin, NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.), ginkgo, garlic, and ginseng increase bleeding. Take acetaminophen if you need anything at all.

  133. Colin

    I have one tattoo and several piercings. The tattoo took a couple of hours and the piercings seconds to do. The piercings were the more painful by far. I also set off the alarm at every airport body scanner I go through.

  134. TGAP Dad

    Sorry, I’m having trouble with the whole successful-scientist-and-author-goes-biker concept. Why in the world would you get a tattoo??? I’m reminded of the line in the beginning of “An Officer and a Gentleman” where Mayo’s father berates him with “Christ, look at yourself. Officers don’t have tattoos!”

  135. zck

    Not sure if anyone is still reading down this far, but there’s a very good article on getting a tattoo here: http://www.joethepeacock.com/2009/05/how-to-actually-get-decent-tattoo-or-at.php (NSFW language). Apparently you’re not supposed to exercise the day of. So no bicep curls beforehand.

  136. Sespetoxri

    Everyone has hit the important bits- no booze the night before. No aspirin BEFORE the tat. Both thin your blood too much- it makes it difficult to get colors/outline correct when you’re bleeding the ink out due to thinned blood. Aside from that, you’re golden. I wouldn’t go too heavy on the coffee that morning, but it shouldn’t affect things.

    Just be prepared for an odd side-effect- you’ll taste ink for the entire day. It’s very odd.

    Oh, and my personal reaction? I was exceedingly amorous following my tats… might want to warn Mrs BA. :)

  137. Siphoneuphoria

    Jeebus people, this isn‘t some twelve year old girl asking if she should get a picture of Edward the Vampire tattooed on her ass. Phil is a well-informed grownup who has decided to get some ink. If you are against tattoos, yay you! Why the crap do you care if Plait gets one? The man just asked for some advice on the process of getting that tat, not a treatise on your moral objection to them. Man, is there any topic that wouldn’t bring the self-righteous jerkfaces out of the woodwork?

  138. @Dick L:

    My, what an apt name you have 😛

  139. CWorthington

    Woot Tattoo!

    I didn’t read everything. But I will put my opinion about tats here.. I think tats should be indicative of the person that is getting them. And I prefer things that flow. The disparate jumble of tattoos on a body is unappealing to me.

    One day I hope to get my shoulder tattoo.. it will be dragon and delicious. But I have to design in my interests. Probably physics and biology designs and concepts in the scales… and geek stuff.

    I just won’t get a tattoo on my saggy bits. Mostly because I am losing weight and they would look funny shortly after the inking.

    So congrats for finally breaking through the anti-tat barrier our society, in all its prudishness, has erected!

  140. Dave H

    129. Torbjörn Larsson, OM Says:
    [But seriously, there’s something decidedly odd about the described lack of testing outside donor situations. “An old tradition” doesn’t quite cut it, people were using cosmetics early on (and harmed/dying from it, for example from using mercury colors) and still they were started to being tested much earlier. Why did tattoo inks and methods slip by?

    Not enough consumer skepticism/criticism?]

    Its not that odd. Until very recently tattoos were worn mostly by the lower classes. There were a few exceptions. However, until the mid 1970s, a person with more than one tattoo was most likely from the lower rungs of society. There was a time, not so long ago, when Tattoo parlors were few and usually located in the skid row areas of town. Now there seems to be one in almost every strip mall.

    When the fad took off in the 1980s more and more middle class people began getting tattoos. Some were emulating their Rock idols. Some have more personal reasons. I consider it a fad until it becomes commonplace over a few more generations. Will tattoos be as popular 50 years from now?

    The increase in tattoo popularity happened to coincide with the rise of HIV and Hepaitis C, both of which killed thousands of plasma product recipients. In the early 1980s when HIV/AIDS was killing just a few hundred people, it was not perceived as much of a problem.

    There were not many tests to diagnose it or Hep C. This caused a serious issue when suddenly, thousands of people were dying of these diseases. In England, almost everyone suffering from hemophilia and other blood problems including immune deficiency problems died of HIV/AIDS and/or Hep C. The cause? Contaminated plasma and blood products.

    As soon as the diseases spread from a minor segment of society and began affecting the upper classes, and in greater numbers, the FDA stepped in and began the process of investigating causes and establishing prevention protocols.

  141. Joe

    Take a look here:


    I don’t have any experience, but his advice looked pretty solid.

  142. Daffy

    “Uh, Daffy @ 97, you do realize that Ötzi the Iceman has tattoos too, don’t you? How many more millennia do you think that this lame little fad has left?”

    Sorry, I thought we were talking about our culture, in which it is a lame little fad.

  143. Daffy

    “@Daffy: Being smugly judgmental about other people’s harmless personal decisions, however, never goes out of style.”

    Lighten up, Bunny. Stupid is stupid. And injecting toxic ink into your body is stupid. I defy you to give me one—any!—logical reason for doing it. I have no problem with studded leather clothing, eggplant colored mohawks, or any of the other passing fashion fads. But toxic ink in the skin is a “Hi, I’m a dummy” label.

    As I said earlier, tattoo removal businesses are booming. There must be a reason, don’t you think?

  144. Daffy

    Interesting article about the risks of injecting ink in your skin.


    Bunny is right; it’s a personal decision and people are perfectly free to do this if they want to. And I am perfectly free to think they have made an astoundingly foolish decision that they will later regret (ask ANY person in their 60s if they are still happy with their tattoos). At least the pet rock fad was mildly amusing and harmless.

  145. Kim

    In my opinion, generalizing all tattoos as “biker concept”, “stupid” or people getting them only because it is a “fad” is as bad as calling people who don’t go for them “self-righteous jerkfaces”. In my mind, how the opinion is expressed is as important as the opinion. Generalizations, assumptions and blanket statements show a superficial consideration of the ideas and values of others. I think an appropriate way to express would be to say something like tattoos aren’t for them and give a reason why. The health concerns, the social aspect, etc.
    @120 wb said it well, he/she said how they feel about it but didn’t pass judgment on how others should feel or how society feels about it. Others cautioned to think about it for a while and really think to how you will feel about the design years from now, including those that have several.
    I happen to have one tattoo, it is on my lower stomach, front of the hip area (yes, I am female). I got it 20 years ago and still like it, it is a flower design. I have thought about getting another one, but haven’t gotten around to it. I see it more as decoration rather than a personal statement of what is important to me.

  146. cope

    For the record, my snarky previous comment (#44) was meant to simply describe the generational gulf between old people my age and younger folk such as Phil. I was only observing that long ago, tattoos meant one thing, now they mean something else. I don’t disparage him his tat, I offer no advice pro or con and I hope it makes him happy.

    I had not read his linked post about the wager with his boss and, having now done so, I commend Phil as a man of honor for not welching on a bet.

  147. Daffy, of course if you want to express yourself here about your own taste, that’s fine. But don’t you think it’s maybe just a wee bit, just a scosh, just a little tiny teeny tiny bit rude to go to someone’s blog and say you think what they’re doing is “lame” and and “foolish” and “stupid”, especially when they’ve (meaning me) clearly stated that this is going to be fun, exciting, and are really looking forward to it?

    When you’re invited to a friend’s house for dinner, do you tell them the chicken is lame and the vegetables were stupid? Because in a sense I’ve invited you here to my blog, and while I certainly don’t expect everyone to like everything here — in fact, I expect people will disagree strongly with me on many issues– I do expect, and even demand, you remain polite. You have failed to do that.

    If you have an opinion, fine. You might even have a right to express it. But that doesn’t mean you have to.

  148. I’ll add that despite the astonishing lack of tact from a few folks here, I plan on having a great time. I’m excited about this! So again, thanks to everyone for their help. It’s been entertaining to hear your stories and I appreciate the advice.

  149. OMG, Phil, I’m so jealous. I’ve been meaning to get a tattoo for a few years now, already have the design and concept and everything (astronomy related, DUH) but – admittedly – I’m freakin’ out about it. I’m not too fond of needles, and my friends are lame, they won’t come with me to hold my hand..

    From a few acquaintances that did get tattoos I understand that the fear of the pain is worse than the actual pain.. I was told it’s not THAT painful, mostly, depending on where you do the tattoo. I’m guessing you’re not about to do it on an overly-sensitive area of your body, so I don’t think you have too much to worry about.

    Maybe take something to take your mind off the pain, like your iPhone, and tweet us the process! 😉

    When I was researching this I remember one advice in particular that a few friends gave me about picking the spot for the tattoo. Apparently, some people recommend that the location should be one that you won’t constantly see on yourself so you won’t get tired of it.
    I’m not too sure what they meant there (uh.. I see my fingers all the time and that didn’t get me to get tired of them..) but I figured I’ll plug that in, if it’s relevant.

    I can’t wait to see what you chose as the design.. maybe I’ll use this as a boost for my own nerves and go get mine too .. maybe… soon…

    Good luck Phil, that is AWESOME!


  150. Daffy

    Phil, I respect and admire you a LOT…if I didn’t, my attitude would be, go ahead get your silly tattoo. I have a lot of older family members who have tattoos from WWII and Korea; to a man they say they regret it.

    However, if posting dissenting opinions is considered bad form here, then so be it. I will continue to read things here, but will not post again. I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings (I am actually serious about that).

    Enjoy your tattoo. 20 years from now when it is an ugly splotch, remember me. 😉

  151. saganite

    Phil! I hope the tattooing goes great. I, for one, LOVE having a tattoo and having people say to me, “I never thought you’d be the type.” It just goes to show that getting a tattoo is a personal experience that people do for personal reasons. It doesn’t make you a “biker type” or any other kind of type. It just makes you more you.

    Okay, that said — when I got mine, on my shoulderblade, I did not need any sort of pain meds. I was on a high the whole time from the excitement of getting it done. What also helped to distract me was having a friend there; we made conversation the whole time and I was often able to completely tune out the tattoo-getting. I was also a nerd and asked the tattoo artist a bunch of questions (“what’s the most popular tattoo right now? What’s the most painful place people get tats? How long have you been doing this?”)

    Can’t wait to see the end result for myself at the next TAM.

  152. Daffy, to be fair here, I think the comparison is lacking on a few very important levels.

    First, twenty years ago the ink and method of tattooing was different; tattoos from 20 years ago turn “splotchy” much more than a tattoo from our day and age does.

    Second, WWII and Korean were wartimes. I would assume your family members were soldiers and got their tattoos during their service. That means that the tattoo is also a reminder of a specific time in their lives.. one they might not be too keen on having a constant reminder of. I would totally understand their feelings towards their tattoos if they got them as soldiers during a war.

    That said, I don’t think it’s the content of what you’re saying that caused the dissent, I think it was the method.. First off, this is the second (at least) post that Phil makes about the subject. This is already after he considered it, talked about it, and asked for opinions about the design and location in a previous post. You are, essentially, coming to a post in which he is already after the “considering” time, and making a comment that sounds as if he didn’t consider all aspects of it.

    We’re not talking about a rash decision (not that it would be any of our business if it WAS one, but just saying), and Phil is an intelligent guy. He considered, he decided, that’s all there is to it.

    You didn’t just say you disagree with it, you used the words “Stupid” and “foolish”. Are you really surprised to be getting the reply you did? Perhaps a rephrasing, a nicer, more polite advocacy of your position would be better accepted.
    It would still be irrelevant in practice, seeing as Phil is a grown man who made up his mind in a totally personal matter, but I have a feeling it would’ve been accepted a little bit better.


  153. Kim

    I don’t have a problem with someone having an opinion and expressing it. But realize it is your opinion and don’t phrase it in an insulting way if the other person doesn’t agree with your outlook. We aren’t talking about him trying to push someone else into doing it. There were several people who said tattos aren’t for them. And that is how they phrased it, that they don’t think it is right for themself.
    @146 cope, I thought your comment was good, you pointed out that conventions and cultural norms change. Which is certainly something to consider. But you didn’t say that someone getting a tattoo would be judged to be in a specific niche based.
    The best advice, as many people have posted, is to make sure you put thought into it and you have considered the concequences. Then take good medical care of it.

  154. Daffy

    Folks, your points are well taken. I was rude and I sincerely apologize.


  155. Jim

    Personaly I don’t do anything special. No pain killers or any thing else. I have five tats now, and only one of then really hurt bad. That one was done by the shop owners apprentice, and he went a little too deep. it doesn’t look all that great either, as the ink tends to spread more when it’s too deep. On all the others, after the first few minutes the endorphins kick in and it kinda feels … well if not actually “good” at least bearable and kind of … interesting. Just remember to keep it covered for the first two hours then keep it moist ’till ths scabs fall of on thier own. Also keep it out of the sun for a while. Other than that, enjoy.

  156. Jim

    By the way, after reading a few more of the posts, I thought I’d add my $.02 worth on tattoos in general. Personaly I like them, but they are a VERY personal thing. I think they should only be aquired after considerable thought, (I’m sure Phil has already reached this point) and NEVER by young people. I tell this to my students on a regular basis. I know if I had gotten a tattoo when I was a teenager it probably would be something I wouldn’t like now. As it is my first one was at age 36. My wife and I got tats to celebrate our anniversary. It has become a tradition now for us on important dates. BTW just to put aside the stereotypes, I am a 53 year old high school math and physics teacher, not a biker. I was in the Navy I’m a retired officer and a Naval Academy grad, but none of my tats are Navy related. I plan to keep getting inked, and I’m leaning towards Math/Science Geek designs. So Phil, enjoy the expericence, and prepare to become addicted!

  157. Blizzarrrg!!!

    …just curious – were you deliberately making a play on the tagline to the Marvel Strikeforce: Morituri comic book (“We who are about to die”)…or is that just me?

  158. I too recommend the bladder emptying. And have some Gatorade or something similar on hand with you while being inkd. OJ works well. Stings. then goes numb. Or you can ask for a topical numbing agent. Most artists will have that. I have two tats on my fore arms. much less fleshy down there. took two hours each and I have a low tolerance for pain. They are addictive.

    Have fun! And moisturize after.

  159. LyonTamer73

    Ditto on the no alcohol, no painkillers. Nothing that can thin the blood. Ditto also with the slapping and not scratching when it itches, if you scratch scabs off the ink will come with it. And if you use a lotion on it, do not use a lotion containing vitamin E, this will also ruin the ink.
    I have a tattoo and I thought it felt equivalent to a gazillion mosquito bites. More irritating than painful.

  160. Kaye

    I don’t think of myself as squeamish, but I get light-headed if I watch the artist, so I don’t anymore. Best experience was me watching the Simpsons while the artist worked (that one was also on my upper back, so there was no way I could see it). Worst experience was on my ankle: didn’t eat anything all day, got light-headed half-way through, asked the artist to stop, and promptly passed out. He claimed (he was trying to ease my embarrassment) that it sometimes happens; get all psyched up, the work starts, and then your body doesn’t know what to do with all the endorphins because it really doesn’t hurt that much. However, a couple minutes sucking on a lollipop (yay sugar!) and I was fine for the rest of the work.

  161. Dave H

    157. Blizzarrrg!!! Says:
    “…just curious – were you deliberately making a play on the tagline to the Marvel Strikeforce: Morituri comic book (”We who are about to die”)…or is that just me?”

    BA is probably old enough to be referencing the original source.

  162. Kels

    No advice; looks like there’s plenty here.

    But, I thought I’d come out of lurking to offer my own little tattoo story. My grandpa was in the service and had a tattoo on his forearm. I was fascinated with it when I was little and loved hearing him tell stories about him and his friends when they were young and how they’d all gone together and gotten their tattoos at the same time. I didn’t find out until I was much older that both his friends who got tattooed with him were killed in action. It was the last tangible reminder he had of them. And yeah, it was a blob of faded colors and blurry lines. It was a exactly what a tattoo that had weathered so many years should look like. It was a badge and he was proud of it.

    My tattoo is nothing so important, nothing so visceral but I’m still proud of it. I’m even looking forward to being an old lady and having a blob of faded color on my arm to remind me of why I got it.

    Enjoy your tattoo, Phil. I hope it makes you happy for years to come.

  163. Annaraven

    My tattoo artist, who worked with plastic surgeons at the local University School of Medicine, gave me a tube of antibiotic ointment and taught me to put on a *VERY* thin layer, OFTEN. The idea is to let it breathe but keep it moist with the antibiotic ointment. I’ve got some great tats that are from the 80s and others from 2000s, that are all in beautiful shape.

  164. Good idea. We’ll finally be able to tell you apart from Richard Wiseman.

  165. Scott

    I think the hardest part about getting a tattoo is telling our parents, and if you’ve already got that covered, well then enjoy the process. Eat whatever you normally eat, go in and love that art for teh rest of your life, i know i have so far.

    P.S. definitely no alcohol, The artist who did mine said something I’ll always remember which is “there’s no easy way to get a tattoo” and to try and dull it with anything is not only dangerous for the obvious medical reasons, but you’ll miss out on what makes the experience so memorable.

  166. Phil,

    I know it is bit late but I want to add few thoughts.

    It never stops to amaze me to see tattoo haters preaching on what to do and not to do on someone else’s body. Nobody is asking them to get a tattoo, so what is the complaint for?

    I have four tattoos, and I am a medical doctor. And I am alive, I didn’t get any diseases b/c I got a tattoo and I don’t live in a trailer park either.

    After you get your tattoo, you will get even more reactions like those, so you should get used to it.

    Getting a tattoo is a very personal thing. So I hope you decided on something you really like and want, something with a special meaning for you. People do get bored of shapes but if your tattoo has a deep meaning for you, it is not a shape anymore, it is part of who you are.

    Upper arm doesn’t hurt much. Much better than back or waist. As a rule the more muscle under your skin the less it hurts. If yu are closer to the bone, it hurts much more.

    The feeling will be a buzzing-burning feeling. You don’t need a medication for it, you get used to it after five minutes.

    Absolutely no alcohol, and no aspirin. Tattoo artists refuse to work on people with alcohol, and aspirin makes you bleed more.

    Have a balanced meal before the tattooing. Take a bottle of cold water with you. Your mouth will get dry, and hydration will make you feel better. Also take some candies, if you have a hypoglycemia they help. And do not hesitate to ask for a brake if you need one.

    After a week you will start to itch. I think itching is the worst part. But if you hydrate it well it will feel more comfortable.

    People will ask “What if you regret that you have a tattoo when you are 70?”

    Personally, I hope that would be my biggest regret in life. Seriously. :)

    Good luck with the new tattoo!

  167. HipChick

    Phil, I love your responses especially #46. I get them because I want to. I went to Japan a few years ago and had the symbol for Mother on the back of my neck. I also have 2 others.

    Anam has the same advice I would give you. Except, use sunscreen on the tat if you are out in the sun. It makes it last longer especially if there is color. The pain isn’t that bad and it’s worth it. It is kind of addictive. I actually like the pain. I just can’t explain it but then again I can tolerate A LOT of pain.

    I loved this quote from above and it is true. “Tattoos are like potato chips. You can never have just one.” – Paul Jeffries @ Smilin’ Budda Tattoo

    Enjoy. Looking forward to the photos.

  168. Amanda

    This is going to sound wierd but…after getting my tattoo (7 years ago now) I think I can understand where the ahem…”appreciation” for BDSM and the like can come from. I got such a huge endorphin rush from the pain that I almost enjoyed it.

    I am a well educated person, with a middle management job. I am clean, tidy and middle class. My tattoo wasn’t a rush decision – I took 6 months to choose it, and was very careful to match it to my life. It’s as relevant to me now, as the picture was 20 years ago, and still will be relevant to me 50 years from now. I call it my “piece of body art” to anyone who questions my sanity.

    My advise is to try and regulate your breathing – that’s the best I could do without being allowed alcohol or painkillers.

  169. jeanli

    good luck mr bad astronomer
    i got my first and only tattoo right before moving to your town
    i got a compass rose
    so I could find my way home if I needed to
    also useful for star-gazing 😉
    oh yeah, dont forget to BREATHE

  170. To those who are about to dye, we salute you. :)

    Can’t wait to see the pics!

  171. Make sure the instruments have been autoclaved and the autoclaves have been inspected regularly – there will be a stick on it with a date.

    Take an anti-inflammatory; acetaminphen is not one but ibuprofen is.

    Don’t drink alcohol. Be well- hydrated and in a good mood. Sleep well the night before.

    I prefer piercings because they’re reversible and they’re quicker; they’re painfully pleasurable and the interaction between you and the piercer can be intimate to the point of eroticism – trust is essential for the job to get done.

    I saw a guy on the subway with a salamander on his leg. It had a “shadow” surrounding 1/2 of it, giving it depth. It looked as though he had a pet sitting his calf. If I were to get a tatoo I’d probably have a shadowed dragonfly.

  172. Shelley

    I know you have a lot of comments already and so if you happen to read mine, here is my two cents:

    My tattoo did not cause much pain – the weirdest thing was the slight vibration from the needle (sort of like the drilling at the dentist, only less creepy somehow). The only wussy part for me was the bleeding, I get light-headed and occasionally my vision fuzzes out when I have blood drawn, etc. and the same thing happened to me when I got my tattoo (and I didn’t even see the blood).

    So, any prep you do should be about the same as what you would do before having blood drawn – not so much as donating blood, more like a doctors visit when they have to run a few tests – it will make a difference if you are in any way susceptible to blood loss.

    Also, don’t go work out before – just don’t, you’ll probably want a nap after they’re done. Don’t strain yourself before you go in.

    I’m excited to see your choice! Whoo! And of course, as many others have said – Breathe deep and slow! (Especially if you’re nervous about it!!)

  173. Michel

    Jts bite your teeth and take it like a man.

  174. Gebo

    Are you sure about this? Anyway, make sure you don’t fall asleep while being tatooed. We had a tatoo incident a while ago here in Belgium (http://is.gd/3fKo6).

  175. Guysmiley

    Maybe if they figure out computer aided tattooing I’d want like the Pillars of Creation across my entire back, that would be friggin’ sweet. But I don’t think a tattoo artist could really capture it well enough to justify the thousands of dollars something like that would run.

  176. JenniferRuth

    I’ve been drunk when I got most of my tattoos so I really don’t have any advice that you should actually listen too.

  177. ThatPirateGuy

    Don’t worry phil the pain will be manageable and if you picked a good artist it will look good. I look foward to seeing it at TAM 8.

  178. I hope the tattoo-getting goes well, Phil! I can’t wait to see what you’re getting…and now you’ll have an excuse not to workout because if you make your biceps any more bulging you might stretch the tattoo 😉

    I want to get a tattoo but I’m far to indecisive so I commend you!

  179. QT

    Atheist blog watch: If you want to see someone become an ego-victim to their sycophantic audience/choir, read Bad Astronomy. Read (and weep) as Mr PP demands comment on his upcoming tattoo and proceeds to shoot down any criticisms faster than a creationist on a post-baptismal frenzy.

    PP/BA has jumped the shark. True believers can stay, others may choose to read blogs whose writers don’t make themsleves the dominating topic.

  180. LB
  181. Dennis

    Do we ever get to actually see the tattoo?


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