What to expect when you’re expecting a head tattoo

I got a houndstooth tattoo on the side of my head in May 2015. Because I’m sucker for punishment, I got a tilde on the other side in April 2016. Here’s what’s the same (and different!) about getting a head tattoo, and some photos of my ink at different stages of healing.

The houndstooth piece wasn’t my first ride on the tattoo-go-round. Any artist who would agree to do a head piece on a total newb shouldn’t be allowed to wield a needle.

The consultation‘s pretty standard. Make sure your artist has done head tattoos before. The skin on the scalp is thinner and tends to bleed more, making it a challenging area to work on. I chose the talented and badass Hannah Wolf at Castro Tattoo.

For most tattoos, the artist will go over your skin with a disposable razor right before they start. Head tattoos are a bit different. You must visit a barber to get your head shaved directly before your tattoo appointment. Hannah explained that if I tried to shave myself, I’d cause a lot of small nicks in my scalp and make her job harder.

I emailed my regular hairstylist and asked if she’d be able to shave my head prior to my tattoo appointment. She said yes. When I came into the salon, she said “I’m just gonna cut it with clippers, and the tattoo artist will shave it with a razor, right?

…no, I thought you could shave it all the way,” I said, panicking a bit.

I don’t have the right kind of license for that,” said my hairstylist. “I can operate clippers but I can’t shave you, there are two kinds of hair cutting licenses.

We thought about what McGyver would do. Went across the street to a bodega. Purchased disposable razors. Shaved my head illegally with said razors and conditioner. Don’t make my mistake. Be explicit with your barber.

When I arrived at Castro Tattoo, Hannah cleaned my scalp with iodine and applied the carbon transfer. This stage isn’t terribly different from getting a tattoo on any other part of your body, except that the scalp’s curves makes placement a bit trickier.

As previously stated, I’m no stranger to ink. I have tats on my chest, ankle, tops of both feet, ear, wrist, back of neck, and just above my bikini line. My head hurt the worst. I did my best to meditate and breathe through the pain.

The gun vibrating so close to your ear is incredibly loud. Bring earplugs.

Hannah did a fast and precise job. She got the houndstooth done in 2.5 hours. The tilde took about 90 minutes.

Bad news about healing: hair growing back into a head tattoo itches intensely. On the plus side, there are abundant oil glands on your head. You shouldn’t need to worry about the skin drying out.

The skin texture of a healing head tattoo is weird. You’re going to want to touch it. Don’t.

Hannah recommended not shaving my sides for at least 4 weeks. Your sweet undercut’s gonna get a little shaggy.

In the end, the pain was well worth it. I couldn’t be more pleased with how my ink turned out.

houndstooth head tattoo, just after completion
Houndstooth tattoo, fully healed (photo by Rubin Starset)
tilde head tattoo, just after completion
tilde head tattoo, 1 week old, just after a shower
tilde head tattoo, fully healed (photo by Rubin Starset)
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