So you’re considering your first tattoo. That’s cool—but don’t rush it. You need time to think about what you want needled into your skin, how badly you want it, and how to get it done safely (namely, by someone who knows what they’re doing).

Since there are so many things to consider before you get a tattoo, we presented a few common ink-quiries to Tiffany Tattooz, owner and tattoo artist of Ink Gallery Tattoo Shop in Woodland Park, NJ, and mainstay of Black Ink Crew on VH1.

If you’re in the market for your first ink, read through her starter’s guide. It’ll inform every decision you make about the emblem you’ll soon wear for (hopefully) the rest of your days.

1. What are the least (and most) painful body parts to tattoo?

Everyone has a different type of pain tolerance when it comes to tattoos, but most seem to experience the least amount of pain in the arm and thigh areas. These areas of the body have more fat tissue and less nerve density, which in turn causes less discomfort. The most painful will have to be the ribs, feet, and middle chest. There is less fat, the skin is very thin, and the bone is closer to the surface of the skin, allowing one to feel the sensitivity of the needle more.

2. What actually happens to the skin while receiving a tattoo?

Basically, ink is being deposited and penetrated into the dermis layer of the skin. The pigments are too big to be fought off by our white blood cells, so they just pretty much stay in the dermis layer of our skin forever.

3. How should someone prepare for a tattoo?

It’s recommended that you wash the area of the skin or take a shower before coming in to get the tattoo, especially if you work with paint, construction materials, garbage, or sewage. Although it’s my job as an artist to make sure the area is cleaned, cleaning up beforehand does help reduce the risk of other unclean body parts contaminating the clean area.

On site, I always make sure to first clean the area being tattooed. I’ll then shave the customer’s skin and then spray it with alcohol to make sure the skin is fully sterile.

4. How long do tattoos take to heal?

Tattoos need about two weeks to heal, on average, although sometimes it can take more time, depending on the client's skin and how long it took to complete the tattoo.

I tell my clients to keep the bandage on for 8-12 hours, because it allows plasma—our body's natural way of healing itself—to regenerate skin tissue, thus allowing a quicker healing process and preventing scabbing. Once the wrap is taken off, I tell clients to use a fragrance-free antibacterial soap to wash the tattoo. They should use lukewarm water—never hot water. However, after completely washing the tattoo, they have to pour cold water on the skin to close up the pores.

5. How should someone care for their tattoo immediately after inking?

Wash the tattoo twice a day for the first three or four days, since tattoos are pretty much an open wound at this point. After washing the tattoo, pat it dry with a paper towel. (Don’t use a cloth towel, because cloth towels hold bacteria.) Wait 15 minutes and then apply a light coat of moisturizing ointment with clean hands. Apply the ointment twice a day (morning and night) for two days. Less is better: Using too much ointment will cause problems with healing and fade the tattoo, since thick ointment can clog the pores.

After the second day, switch to a fragrance-free lotion and apply 3-5 times a day depending on the consistency, for up to two weeks. Do not pick or scratch your tattoo during the healing process. Hands should always be cleaned when applying any ointment or lotion on skin. You will have to avoid being in the sun or pool for two weeks, and, most important, in order for the tattoo to stay vibrant for many years, you should always use sun block when outside. 

6. How often do people typically need to get their tattoos touched up?

It really all comes down to how they take care of their tattoos and if there were any scabs that have formed. If there were any issues during the healing process, then you will be able to tell within two weeks whether or not a tattoo needs to be touched up. If there are no issues, then I would say a tattoo can hold up well for 10 years before seeing that it needs to be brand new again. As you get older, so does your ink. If one is always in the sun it will dull out the ink in your tattoo way sooner than someone who is never in the sun. 

7. What’s your advice to someone who isn't sure if they should get a tattoo?

Don't do it until you wake up one day and say, “I'm ready and I know what I want.” I never recommend someone to get a tattoo if they're unsure of their ideas or whether or not tattoos are for them. It’s a permanent procedure—so you want to make sure that you’re confident having something etched on you for the rest your life.

If you finally find yourself ready to get tattooed, then the next big step is to find an artist who “specializes” in the “style” you want. Review their portfolio to see if you like his or her work, and then you can set an appointment.

8. How do you know if your tattoo artist is legit?

You can tell by their recognition, their portfolio, how long their wait is, and their prices. 

9. How do prices vary for tattoos?

Some artists charge hourly, or some charge by the piece. For larger tattoos, however, some will charge by the day (half-day sessions might be $400-600, or full-day sessions around $1,000 or more).

10. Is it easy to remove a tattoo? Painful?

Laser tattoo removal is a painful process and requires many sessions. The healing process is also rough, and could potentially take years, depending on how big the tattoo is. 

11. How has tattoo technology progressed in recent years?

  • Ink: There are now quality ink brands that last longer on the skin throughout the years. Some black inks are so dark, I can't even use them for shading in a realistic tattoo—I can only use them for solid black work like tribal tattoos.
  • Machinery: New tattoo machines called "rotaries" make no sound while tattooing and feel lightweight on the wrist and hand, which decreases the chances of tendinitis and carpal tunnel for the artist. It almost feels like you’re tattooing with a pencil.
  • Cost: I now even have a "wireless power supply" to run my tattoo machine—it actually keeps track of how long I’ve spent with the client, and how long I’ve been actually "tattooing" them. This never existed nine years ago. The power supply even shows me how much my clients should pay based off the time I spent on them. 
  • Needles: Previous needles required different machines to use. Now, there are needle cartridges that you can attach and detach so it can all be done from one machine.
  • Resources: Even social media, YouTube, and online podcasts have made it much easier to learn and grow as an artist quickly. The resources are enormous.