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SihanoukVille, Cambodia

Getting Your Tattoo

Appropriate Behaviour in Tattoo Studios

These are general guidelines which you would be wise to bear in mind wherever you get your tattoo, they will help you to get a better tattoo, and may even help to get you a cheaper tattoo.

Sitting Well:

This means keeping still, and staying in what may be an uncomfortable position for a length of time; staying in the position your tattoo puts you in and not necessarily making the most comfortable use of the furniture.

Relax and Respond:

For example, when you go for a haircut, a light touch on your temple, tells you to move your head. If I have to move the dead weight of an arm to work across a tattoo, you are making a more difficult job. Do however, try to relax: when you are tense, things hurt more and your blood pressure will increase, resulting in more bleeding than necessary.

Dress Appropriately:

Wear loose, clean, comfortable clothing, preferably not expensive or white. We are using rich, concentrated pigment, and I want to be thinking about your tattoo and not the sleeve of your designer T-shirt.

Don’t be too Shy:

To tattoo properly, we need about 2 to 3 inches of bare skin around the tattoo for stretching the skin and wiping excess ink. Personally, I have seen it all before, and I have screens available for your privacy.

Don’t be a Baby!:
You are here as an adult volunteer. An excess of sighing, oo`ing, aa`ing and ee`ing is an unhelpful distraction. (Don’t even think about crying). It can mean your tattooist tries to finish your tattoo with undue haste, and casts them in the role of torturer, which is most stressful, emotionally exhausting, and will do nothing for the quality of your tattoo. Most tattooists have spent many hours under the needle. WE KNOW IT HURTS. Although its really not that bad.

Take Advice:

Your tattooist will have done hundreds, if not thousands (personally), of tattoos before and should have better advice than even the most heavily tattooed friends, family or bar-room experts.


Trust your tattooist; you have checked the studio, the photographs, and spoken with your tattooist: either you feel confident this person can do the work you want or perhaps you should look elsewhere. Customers who try to back seat drive the tattooing process tend to end up with mediocre work. In my studio you will see your design either stencilled or freehanded on your skin and combined with any other reference for your design, what you see will be what you get. I will draw your attention to mirrors as required and show you the new clean equipment as I unpack it for your session.

Communicate Clearly:

Get and bring visual references, as even a bad sketch on the back of an envelope can be worth 30 minutes of consultation time.


Arrive for your tattoo with the minimum necessary `support crew`. One or none can be a good number. A studio full of people who have come to watch, hold hands and photo document is an unnecessary distraction, and deters other customers from coming into the studio. If you must make a social event out of your tattoo, please make this secondary.

What to Watch:

Bearing in mind what has been mentioned under the heading Trust, it is not helpful to watch EVERYTHING your tattooist does. Ask any tradesman if he enjoys his work with somebody watching from between 20 cm and 1 meter without a pause. Precisely.

What Not to Watch:

Constantly looking away and back at your work in progress, is the equivalent of looking at your watch every minute on a Friday afternoon when you are waiting to go home.
It makes you impatient, and with the best will in the world, it is patient customers who tend to get the better tattoos.

Pain and Tattoos:

Tattoos hurt. Pain thresholds vary slightly, and you have different concentrations of nerves in different parts of your body. Relax and focus on anything other than the pain, and after 10 or so minutes, the pain reduces to intense sensation in the back ground of your mind, with occasional sharp twinges. The sensation has a scraping feeling rather than a stabbing feeling, something like a cat scratch. No pain, no gain. Good motivation to get a tattoo will get you through the experience and no-one has died recently.

Your Physical Make-up:

This one is out of your hands, but old, damaged and skin that has lost a lot of weight is harder and sometimes much harder to tattoo. This can mean your tattoo has to be applied with more force, resulting in more trauma to your skin and requiring more on your part in the form of aftercare.

A good tattooist will minimise bleeding, many people do not shed a drop, but there are always some bleeders and they make any tattooist’s job more difficult. As with skin, good aftercare can compensate for this problem in the main.


There are three main things that effect how a tattoo heals. These are the force with which you are tattooed, your physical make-up (see above), and the quality of your aftercare. Good aftercare compensates hard or bleedy tattooing and will make all tattoos heal quicker and smoother.
The primary function of tattoo aftercare is to reduce ink loss in the healing process, most commonly caused by heavy scabbing and unfriendly bacteria.
Clean tattoos by dabbing with a clean damp flannel or similar, water pressure (the Asian style bum gun is ideal) and small amounts of preferably non-perfumed soap.

THE FIRST WASH: The Important One!
Leave plastic dressing on for a minimum of two hours. This is enough time for the red blood and the white, clear fluid (lymph) to start to clot. Leaving the plastic on keeps it from drying out. If it dries it is hard to clean properly.

The first wash should be with uncomfortably hot water. If your guest house does not have hot water, ask the kitchen to boil some for you and use after it has cooled sufficiently. (Test with elbow as per baby’s bath). Heat breaks down the body fluid and loose ink, resulting in less scabbing. For comfort, you can rinse the tattoo off with cool water. Always dry healing tattoos only by dabbing. Check the tattoo a couple of hours later, and if it looks `sweaty`, wash and dry again.

Thereafter, cream the tattoo morning and night-time, and as required in the day, if the tattoo feels dry, tight or itchy.


Recommended Aftercare Creams:

· Bacitracin Zinc Ointment (first aid antibiotic), may only be available at pharmacy De La Gare in Phnom Penh. Usually around $5. 1st Choice.
· Bepanthen Cream, recommended for medium or large or heavy work. Widely available. Sold as a treatment for nappy rash. Between $3 and $4.
· Trimoderm – Gentricreem, broad spectrum first aid cream, with mild antibiotic, antifungal and anti-inflammatory in a cold cream base, recommended for small, light work, especially on feet.

· Vaseline Intensive Care, moisturising cream for sensitive skin (Yellow bottle) or Nivea Aftersun with Aloe Vera (Blue bottle). These are both moisturisers and easily available, especially good for getting skin to settle down after scabbing or scaling is finished.

There are other products you can use, but these are all available in Cambodia and I will not complicate these instructions with a comprehensive list of what are agreed to be good aftercare products as there are more than a few. It is worth mentioning, that the current consensus in the business is that antiseptic creams previously widely recommended are on the whole harsh on healing tattoos.

Lightly wash the tattoo before applying cream or you may be rubbing surface dirt into it.

Scabs form on a tattoo within 48 hours and start to fall off within a few days after that. After 8 days most will be gone on most tattoos. Stubborn bits of scabs (referred to as hot spots) may stay for up to a couple of weeks in some cases. After two weeks it is suitable to soften these by bathing, but DON’T pick or scratch any scabbing/scaling.

Keep out of direct sun while healing and if you want it to stay vivid, use sun block for at least the first couple of months after the tattoo has shed any scab.

Quite often tattoos will not scab but just peel heavily like bad sunburn. In this case tattoos will heal more quickly.

ABSOLUTELY NO chlorine swimming when healing. Best practice is not to let any healing tattoo get too wet or too dry for too long, so sea water is best avoided (sea water will also stop you feeling the strength of the sun on your skin), salt water will have an excessive drying effect and sand will stick to it while it is wet. If you must visit the beach with your new tattoo, stick to quick dips, sitting in the shade, rinsing the tattoo with fresh water, for example the bum gun, and a good coat of Bepanthen (as it is partly a barrier cream) before dipping is recommended. Taking your new tattoo to the beach is not `best practice` aftercare.


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