So, you’re going to get a new piece of art added to your body - so exciting! But wait, you’re living a low waste lifestyle now, so how are you going to get this done sustainably?? This was the exact question I asked myself when I committed to my new quarantine hobby of feverishly researching tattoo artists, tattoo designs, and comparing tattoos with my coworkers and friends. Eventually, it comes time to put a non-refundable deposit down, committing to the new tattoos... but not until after those few late night mental breakdowns! But we’ve all been there, right?
When it comes to tattoos, a lot of work goes into not only the art of the piece itself, but also into the preparation and care of the creation when it has been finished. Not to mention the subsequent worry of waste that comes along with adding a new piece of art to the temple that is your body. The disposable razor used to shave the area, the plastic casing on fresh tattoo needles, the plastic wrap to cover up the work when it's done- it all adds up to a bit of waste. This is where the mind of a zero waster can come into play. Now, I’m not saying to go out and throw traditional tattoo methods out the window; the most important aspect of getting a tattoo is to be both sanitary and safe, and this, unfortunately, can mean a little trash. It is also important to remember that a low waste life isn’t perfect. I personally see tattoos as a form of self care, and time that I allow myself some looseness when it comes to my waste worries.
Prep for Your Tat
There are certainly some sustainable measures you can take when it comes to getting your new ink! Before my appointment, I try to shave the area the tattoo will be going, hopefully avoiding the artist having to sacrifice a disposable razor that will wind up right in the trash. For shaving, I love to use a safety razor, which is a sustainable swap to a traditional plastic one, accompanied with one single recyclable blade (and no plastic casing, yay!).
Also, before appointments, it is great to look out for what kinds of inks a tattoo artist uses. I try to always opt for places that use vegan inks, which are becoming much more common in the tattoo scene, especially in Seattle. I got my most recent ink done at Slave to the Needle right here in Ballard, and was pleased to see their use of all vegan inks. Some vegan and ethical ink companies to keep an eye out for are; Intenze, Fusion, Silverback, Waverly, Classic, and Starbrite.
I’ve found one of the biggest ways you can reduce your waste when getting tattooed comes with your aftercare. This is when you can really take things into your own hands.
The first few days after your appointment, your tattoo is going to be in its most sensitive state. Typically, I have been recommended products such as Aquaphor and other ointments to aid the area. Though those are good tattoo care products, I’ve found some alternatives I enjoy much more, and that also happen to be more sustainable!
Some of my favorites include Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Organic Magic Balm, Badger Tattoo Balm (both of these come in recyclable/reusable metal tins), or Healthy Jelly, a plant-based alternative to petroleum jelly made from beeswax. You can use these types of products for the first few days before switching to something lighter. During this time, it is also important to be cleaning the tattoo area with an unscented and/or antibacterial soap. I’ve been loving using Eco’s unscented coconut milk soap from Flourish Botanicals, but you can always opt for a local drugstore's bar soap that comes in cardboard.
Once the tattooed area has calmed down, I like to switch to a gentle unscented lotion. My favorite has always been our Shea Butter Lotion, which I’ll apply a couple of times a day for the first few weeks after getting my new tattoo. My coworker Rachel swears by using Yay for Earth on hers, saying they heal much faster this way, given that it's intended for healing sensitive skin! Through the zero waste grapevine, I’ve also heard of using cocoa butter or coconut oil for the after-care process as well. With the trial and error of products, just comes the need for more tattoos!
Tattoo Care is Forever
It is important to remember that once you get a tattoo, you are devoted to tattoo care for life! That means just one word: SUNSCREEN. Every time you go outside, just as you should always be putting sunscreen on your face, you should also always be putting it on your tattoo! Seriously please do this, it protects not only the health of your skin but also the longevity of your ink and its color! Remember y’all, we wanna be those cool hip old people with still fresh looking tats! At least, that's my plan anyway. I always hunt for reef-safe sunscreens, and my all-time favorite is the Raw Elements Face + Body Sunscreen!
Lastly, I always try to seek out local tattoo artists to support small businesses and get the most beautiful original pieces of work. I had another tattoo done recently by Eli Jorgenson, a Seattle-based tattoo artist running their own small business, and absolutely loved my experience there. I’ve also recently come across an artist who is devoted to all zero waste tattoos here!
We always love to hear your experiences and tips too! Feel free to send us questions or recommendations. We can’t wait to see your new art!