Podcast 160: Herbal Tattoo Care

Herbal tattoo care starts a while before your appointment. You’ve got to prepare the skin in advance, get hydrated, and ideally do a little work to keep inflammation down in the lead-up time. You want that skin to be in the best possible shape before you get work done. You might even want to get some test spots done, if you have very reactive skin.

We don’t actually like to throw a ton of different plants together in our herbal tattoo care preparations. Instead there are just a few excellent, simple preparations we turn to again and again. Rosewater is a beautiful light astringent & refrigerant, toning and cooling the skin. A honey salve or other light, simple salve is protective & soothing. We might try a chamomile compress as well. But we’re not going to come at the tattoo with strong vulnerary herbs or lymph-moving plants, because these might actually interfere with the healing process and the settling-in of the ink. So let’s keep it simple!

Mentioned in this episode:

Herbs discussed include: oak, comfrey, rose, chamomile, sage.

Many of our listeners would describe themselves as budding herbalists. They already know some herbs, and they’ve been making teas, tinctures, and salves for themselves and their loved ones for a while. Is that you? If you’d like to take the next steps to develop the herbal skills you need to support your community, then our Community Herbalist Program is for you! You’ll expand your knowledge and build your confidence to work with a broad array of topics, including energetics, formulation, basic phytochemistry, and systematic support with holistic herbal practices. Join us in weekly live Q&A sessions, and connect directly with Ryn & Katja. Your courses never expire, and whenever we add new material, that’s added to your account automatically at no extra charge. Get the full details here and keep your herbal education moving forward!

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:02):
Hi. I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:17):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:17):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:23):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Well, all right. This week we’re going to talk about herbal tattoo care.

Katja (00:31):
Yeah. That’s pretty exciting actually. We like tattoos, and we have a lot of tattoos.

Ryn (00:38):
We do. We do. Somebody in this podcast tent here has spent several eight hour sessions getting her tattoo done.

Katja (00:47):
Yeah. Yeah.

Ryn (00:48):
There’s your cred for ya.

Katja (00:51):
Well, so I have a tattoo that goes the whole length of my body, and I’m six feet tall. So it’s a big tattoo.

Ryn (00:58):
Took a minute.

Katja (00:59):
It took a minute. Yeah.

Ryn (01:01):
We should probably count out the number of minutes, but another time.

Katja (01:05):
Oh, I think we shouldn’t.

Ryn (01:05):
You know, but now that things are…oh, do we even say this… Things are opening back up again.

Katja (01:10):
Knock on wood.

Ryn (01:10):
Like maybe you’re going to go get that tattoo you’ve been waiting forever to get, right?

Katja (01:15):
So we thought we would share some ideas about tattoos. But first…

Ryn (01:19):
But first we want to remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (01:26):
Ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (01:38):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So we’re not trying to present a dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (01:52):
Also everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about, and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (02:03):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make.

Katja (02:19):
All right. Oh, you know, also this week we decided to sponsor the podcast ourselves this week, actually. Because I think that most of y’all know that we have a whole online school, because we do mention our courses sometimes. But I don’t think we’ve ever really taken a minute to share about our program kind of a little more intentionally.

Ryn (02:43):
Yeah. It’s been awhile. So, today we want to do that by sharing with you some comments from one of our students, MacKenzie, who was sharing what she likes about our school. And she says…

Katja (02:54):
Commonwealth herbs is my favorite herb school that I’ve tried hands down. I’m working through the family and community herbalist programs concurrently. First of all, I love that the courses never expire. I have a two-year-old son plus work and general life duties, and that makes studying herbalism really difficult sometimes. But with the layout that you guys have provided, I’ve been able to make time to watch and listen to the videos in any way that works for me, without feeling like I need to rush through everything. I love the way that you and Ryn are so relaxed and down to earth in all of your videos, while still being super informative. It’s especially helpful that you each share your personal experiences about the herb or the topic that you’re discussing.

Ryn (03:38):
Wow, this is pretty nice actually. I’m hearing this for the first time.

Katja (03:43):
Okay. She goes on to say, when I listen to you talk about herbs I just feel so inspired and supported through my herbal journey. And I just love how you both are so open about answering our questions, especially with the live question and answer sessions every week. It’s also very helpful that we’re able to type questions into whatever lesson we’re working on and pretty much get a response right away. And you guys have reminded me that learning herbalism isn’t just about books and videos and stuff. It’s also about actually making medicine and spending time outside and maybe gardening and whatever else helps me to feel connected to the plants as well as to my own body. And I feel supported to actually do it. My goal is to practice clinical herbalism, and I feel like that’s actually really possible if I continue my journey with Commonwealth Herbs.

Ryn (04:31):
Wow. This was great. This is exactly what we want people to be experiencing out there.

Katja (04:35):
Yeah. So first off, thanks MacKenzie for sharing that. But yeah, this is how we want people to feel. And so I’m pretty excited to hear that Mackenzie feels this way.

Ryn (04:48):
Yeah. And, you know, especially that last part about the goals. It is possible, right? That’s our whole point really. We want you to not just have some entertaining distraction, although we can provide that sometimes, you know, but to really be able to do what you want to do with herbs. And so if that’s to take care of your family, we want to make sure that you can do it. If it’s to build a clinical practice or start an herbal products business, we want to make sure that you can do that. So we have lots of ways for you to get directly in touch with us, to answer your questions, and to get you the support you need.

Katja (05:20):
And also we have mentorship programs that will take you beyond just learning, but straight into your first years of being in clinical practice or running your business, so that you’re really never alone in this. You always have our support and the whole community to lean on.

Ryn (05:36):
Yeah. So whether you want to learn how to work with the plants in your garden or in the woods around you, or if you want to start a whole new career. If you’re listening to this podcast, you’ll probably like our school.

Katja (05:49):
And we made a special coupon just for our podcast listeners. You can get $50 off your first course. Just put in coupon code PODCAST when you check out. And you can find all of our courses also including some free ones that you can try first, at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (06:11):
Yeah. That’s where. Okay. So, let’s talk about tattoos a little bit, you know. And just a couple of little tidbits of history here for a moment.

Katja (06:22):
Because it’s fun.

Ryn (06:23):
Yeah. Well first like many, many plants have had a historical or traditional association or involvement with tattooing. All kinds of different things, including like the spines from prickly pear cactuses, because you do need a needle.

Katja (06:39):
Yeah. You do need a pokey bit.

Ryn (06:41):
Right. Well, speaking of poke, right? Poke, you know, it makes those dark purple berries. And if you ever thought, hey, that’s ink. Well, it turns out you actually can tattoo with poke ink, and it’ll stick around for a while.

Otzi’s Tattoos

Katja (06:55):
Yeah. It’s not like the kind of tattoo you imagine today. But you can get pigment under your skin that way. You know, Otzi the ice man, who is one of my favorite characters in history. If you haven’t heard of Otzi the ice man, he is a like, not mummified, but like preserved in an iceberg human from about 3,300 BCE. And we’ve learned a ton from this poor fellow who got trapped in an iceberg.

Ryn (07:33):
Yeah. And possibly murdered first.

Katja (07:37):
Yeah. Poor Otzi.

Ryn (07:38):
So, yeah. That was rough.

Katja (07:39):
But one cool thing is that he had tattoos. And these were short lines that appear to be on Meridian points. And this was about 2000 years before those meridians were documented in China. Of course, that doesn’t mean that…

Ryn (07:55):
The idea, the concept, the map, you know, didn’t already exist.

Katja (07:59):
Right. It’s just that it was before it had been written down. So yeah.

Ryn (08:03):
Yeah. And, you know, he was found in the Italian Alps, so it’s a little way over there.

Katja (08:08):
Yeah. Yeah.

Ryn (08:09):
So yeah, pretty interesting.

Katja (08:11):
Yeah. So just it really tells me that, like when we think about written history or we look at traditional Asian medicine as like some of the oldest recorded history of medicine. We need to remember that that wasn’t really the beginning. Like, just because people didn’t write it down before then doesn’t mean that they weren’t working with it. And like, of course they were working with it, because then later they wrote it down. So I would expect that also throughout Asia they obviously had that technology, knowledge, whatever around the meridians much earlier as well.

Ryn (08:51):
Yeah. Well, you know, when we think about herbal history we’re often interested in what did the physiomedicalists do about it? So these are some folks from around the 1800s. And so I went and I checked, and I found a couple of things. I found one I wanted to share. It was a reference from 1897 about oak, but actually a particular expression of the oak, let’s call it, in a process for removing tattoos.

Katja (09:18):
Okay. So first off before you even start, this cracks me up, because it’s like, well. Even in 1897, people wanted to remove tattoos.

Early Herbal (& Other) Tattoo Removal

Ryn (09:28):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s a whole process though, right? So this is from a book called Physiomedical Therapeutics, Materia, Medica, and Pharmacy by TJ Lyle. And he’s writing here about oak galls actually. So he text says the excrescences upon the young branches formed by the puncture of a fly, and immediately thereafter the deposit of an egg. The egg hatches. The fly grows, and finally escapes. But then this remains, right? And he says, these excrescences are denominated nut galls. And from them is obtained acidum tannicum. It’s a very Harry Potter situation here, but a pure astringent without the stimulation. So, he’s contrasting it with other astringent herbs, like for instance bayberry, which is one they would have worked with and considered both astringent, but also with a stimulatory effect on the tissue underneath. Describing this as being different in not having that latter effect here. It says it may be used on a bleeding surfaces or used internally for hemorrhages and for diarrhea. And then a little later there’s this comment, tannin has been successfully used to remove tattoo marks. But listen here, cover the parts with a saturated solution of tannin and pick into the skin. Then rub with lunar caustic – we’ll come back to that – and allow to turn black.

Katja (10:46):
Black. Wait, what?

Ryn (10:48):
Now wash off the excess. It will pain for some two or three days. In 14 to 18 days the scab peels off and leaves a pink surface, which disappears in a month or two. Sounds great, huh? Sign me up.

Katja (11:02):
I don’t think this is a good idea.

Ryn (11:03):
Sign me up for that one. Lunar caustic, by the way, is silver nitrate which they would have in these kinds of little sticks. And they would kind of like wet an end, and then rub it on the body. And it would cauterize the tissue.

Katja (11:17):
Like a chemical cauterization.

Ryn (11:18):
Chemical burn, yeah.

Katja (11:18):
So that’s actually just as a total tangent here, that is something that’s worth knowing. That right around the turn of the century, and I know that we just had another turn of the century to get to the two thousands. But still in my life turn of the century refers to like 1900. I don’t know. I guess that’s because I’m old. But right around that period in time, if you’re reading the old herbal texts, it wasn’t all herbs. A lot of stuff was like, I want to say adulterated, because that’s my bias. But actually they would say formulated, with some pretty dangerous chemicals actually. And so it is important to recognize that, and then to be really clear, like, oh. I think that’s a formula I don’t actually. Yeah.

Ryn (12:11):
Yeah. So interesting that we could take some really purified astringency out of oak with the help of some bugs. And then use that on the skin to prepare for a cautery burn, but let’s not do that.

Katja (12:26):
Let’s not do that. You know, it is worth knowing some about tattoo removal techniques though, actually, like before you get a tattoo. Because that’s going to help us to understand what’s going on when you get one, right? If we understand how you un-get one, like how you remove one, then that does tell you something about what’s going on. So if you’re going to get a tattoo laser removed, what’s happening is that they’re using the lasers to break up and dislodge the pigments. And then your immune system can more easily sweep them up through the lymphatic channels.

Ryn (13:05):
Yeah. You can basically construct your laser in different ways or like use different materials to create the kind of light. And then you can change the color or the wavelengths of it in various directions. And what they’ll do ideally for this is like try to find a wavelength that will preferentially excite the ink, but hopefully not damage your skin too much.

Katja (13:27):
Too much.

Ryn (13:28):
I mean, too much more than it absolutely is going to. Yeah.

Katja (13:32):
And so then those pigments get taken into the lymph and removed. But the definition of remove here is kind of unclear. It does leave the tattoo. But it’s not like your poop is going to turn whatever color your tattoo was. And honestly it might be that you just move those pigments somewhere else in your body and kind of keep them there. And that’s actually kind of unclear to me. But we do have this cool naval medical guide from like 1913, I’m pretty sure is the date on that. And in that guide they were talking about tattoos and tattoo removals. And they were talking about on autopsy finding the organs of elimination that had like accumulations of tattoo ink in them.

Ryn (14:20):
Yeah. There was a comment about like lymphatic channels in the thighs and nodes like around the groin area that had kind of been saturated with tattoo ink.

Katja (14:32):
Okay. So, but if this sounds a little judgey or something, please remember we have a lot of tattoos. We’re not judging. But I just feel like, you know, I mean, we don’t fully understand how tattoos work. And there’s probably some suboptimal health aspects of getting tattoos. I’m not like blind to that. I just really like them anyway. So whatever. All this stuff is really fascinating. But the part here that is really important is that when you are removing a tattoo, what you’re trying to do is get your lymphatic system to carry those pigments away. And that’s important because if we’re thinking about getting a tattoo, and then healing that spot, and we are herbalists, then we need to realize that many of our healing herbs have lymphatic stimulation action. And that’s not really desirable when we’re healing a tattoo. Right? If we stimulate that lymphatic movement, we might clear away some of the ink instead of letting it set. So when we’re thinking about how we want to work to heal the tattoo in a way that takes care of the skin, but keeps the tattoo looking really good, then we need to be really thinking carefully about which herbs we might choose to work.

Pre-Tattoo Checklist

Ryn (15:52):
Yeah. Hmm. All right. Well, we’re going to come back to that thought again. So, for now let’s just say before your tattoo, here are some things to think about.

Katja (16:05):
There is some pre-tattoo checklist work to be done here.

Ryn (16:09):
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, we want to say some things here, like know your artist. Be able to trust your artist, whatever that means for you. Sometimes you do want to wander into a shop off of a street and be like, well, I don’t know. Let’s try something.

Katja (16:24):
Yeah. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just wander into a reputable shop.

Ryn (16:29):
Or, you know, be able to trust your gut, right? Look around and say, hmm, what’s going on in here? How do these people strike me? Is this a groove that I want to get into? You know? Yeah. That kind of thing. But not just art wise actually, right? We are interested in…

Katja (16:42):
Yeah, definitely art wise because you’re going to live with this design.

Ryn (16:47):
Yeah. I trust you to understand the permanence of what you’re embarking upon here, my friend.

Katja (16:51):
Yeah, I trust you to be a good artist, and put a pretty picture on my body.

Ryn (16:55):
Yeah. Right on.

Ryn (16:56):
Okay. But also, yeah, it is a collaboration, right? So, but you know, we’re thinking also like, are they familiar with working on the kind of skin that you want to get worked on, right?

Katja (17:06):
Yeah. I have a bunch of varicosities, and I do have a tattoo that starts from the top of my foot. And so it does go through that area. And I had to work with a tattoo artist who was willing to take some time to make sure that we would avoid areas that shouldn’t be beat with a needle for an hour. And also like what areas would be safe to tattoo on and what wouldn’t.

Ryn (17:37):
Kind of a balance too, because you could imagine an impulse to be like, well, could you just tattoo over and cover up all of the darkest spots with the most pooled blood in them, right? And this was your awareness of why that’s not a great idea. But also the artist’s awareness of why that’s not a great idea coming together and saying, all right. We can navigate around them.

Katja (17:56):
Yeah. And some of them we were able to cover. But then some of them we were like, Hmm. That’s not a great idea in this particular spot. Because again, it comes back to healing. If there is a varicosity and a bunch of pooled blood that maybe you’ve had for a couple of years, that’s an indication that that area is not healing well. And so it wouldn’t be a fantastic idea to then choose to injure that area, because a tattoo is an injury. And so we want to be careful about choosing the places where we put them, and make sure that we’re choosing places that can heal well. And it’s really important that your tattoo artists will talk to you about that, and not just be like, hey. Whatever you want. But actually push back a little and say, listen. This spot, isn’t such a great idea.

Ryn (18:51):
Yeah. If that happens, be, you know, grateful.

Katja (18:54):

Ryn (18:55):
Be like, oh, great. Thank you for watching out for me. Because I was really committed to just having that go exactly there. And now we’re going to figure out another way to do this, you know.

Katja (19:03):
There was a guy who came in when I was getting my last tattoo. And I could hear him talking to one of the other artists. And he had just really pronounced edema in both ankles, and mentioned that he was diabetic. And he wanted to get a tattoo, kind of a large one actually, on his ankle. And he’d never had a tattoo before. And the artist had to say I’m perfectly happy to tattoo you. But we really can’t touch you there, because it’s just never going to heal, right? Like already there’s so much edema there. Like it was really, really puffy. So also that would have been super-duper painful. Although if you’re getting a tattoo, like, okay. It’s painful. That’s fine.

Ryn (19:55):
It’s part of it, for sure.

Katja (19:56):
Yeah. But because that area would already be so sensitive. But that’s an indication that that area is not being nourished. It has poor circulation. We’re not getting the stuff there that is required to do the healing. So it wouldn’t be a good idea to try to tattoo that area. And so the person was like, you know, this is a great design. I’d be happy to tattoo it on you. But we need to do it in a different spot on your body, where you’re going to be able to heal this. And so even though that can be disappointing to hear if you really have your heart set on something, it’s important to hear. And it’s important to work with an artist who’s going to tell you that and be really honest about it.

Ryn (20:38):
Yeah. Right. So yeah, there can be these aspects around like skin health and suggestions around that kind of thing. There might also be experience questions, you know, about have they tattooed on your skin tone before, right? There can be a difference there for sure. And that can be color, but that can also be like the degree of moisture that you have in your skin. If you have pretty dry skin, maybe you feel like, I don’t know. Maybe I can’t even get a tattoo done. Would I react with too much inflammation? How’s that going to go down for me? But some experienced artists have been around, and seen a lot of different things, and might have some ideas around how to compensate for that. Yeah.

Inks & Inflammation

Katja (21:18):
You know, it’s also worth talking about the inks themselves. Because inks in the US are not regulated. They are becoming regulated in the EU. And it’s pretty cool that tattoo artists are fortunately being involved in that process. I think that’s important. Because if you’re going to regulate something, then you should be collaborating with the people who are working with that tool every day. But in the US they’re not regulated yet. So what that means is to make sure that that’s something that your artist is thinking about. To maybe research the brand of inks that your artists likes. Ask to see pictures of healed tattoos that the artist has done. Not just a fresh picture, but the healed ones, so that you can see that they really are, you know, going through that full process. And if you’re a person with a lot of sensitivities, you can ask to have a tattoo, like a test tattoo, of all the inks that are planned for your tattoo. And it’s worth doing each ink, if you are a person with a lot of sensitivities. Because the different pigments, the different colors, are differently reactive.

Ryn (22:34):
Right. So what you’d do here is you would get like a tiny little spot or a series of short lines of each of the different ink colors that you’re planning to involve in your finished design. Do it in some spot where it won’t show too much to make sure that you don’t react. This might be in an area that’s later going to get covered up with a black line or just covered up by the design that you’ve got planned, if that’s an a non-obtrusive area also. But it gives you a chance to see like, all right. So I got the needle done. I got the ink in there. It’s settling into the tissue. Let’s see how it reacts. So you could take some time before the main event to see how that plays out.

Katja (23:15):
Yeah. If you are a person who is really reactive, then it’s worth knowing that red pigments are the most likely to cause irritation. So if that concerns you, then you can plan a tattoo that doesn’t involve red ink.

Ryn (23:32):
Yeah. All right. Some other things to do in the before time is to moisturize your skin extra for not just like the day of.

Katja (23:42):
Yeah, it’s kind of too late on that day.

Ryn (23:44):
Not for like, oh. I’m having this done in three days. I’m going to start now. But for some time before. For a couple of weeks beforehand, you know. Skin is interesting because it will respond pretty immediately to things that we put on it. But for that response to kind of stick and become the new normal, that can take more time.

Katja (24:03):
I mean, the whole point of a tattoo is to get deep into the layers of the skin. And if you moisturize today, you didn’t get deep into the layers of the skin, right? So you need to. And the moisturizing is important just because you can think about it like with a sunburn too. If your skin is already super dry, you are so much more likely to burn. Because you’re already…like a burn is like going through that process of drying out. And actually a tattoo has a lot in common with a really bad sunburn.

Ryn (24:40):
Yeah. Parts of the healing process are really like that. Especially the peeling one.

Katja (24:43):
Yeah. Ew. I hate that part. So anyway, so moisturizing with a really good quality moisturizer – I prefer to make it myself – is really important to get that skin to be its best quality.

Ryn (25:00):
A tattoo will cause a bunch of inflammation, right? You’re going to need to clear that. You’re going to need to allow enough inflammation that the normal healing and the necessary healing can take place, but not so much that it goes on too long or even interferes with the way that the color sets in or the way that it heals. So as always, we just want to make sure that the body has all the resources it needs to get that job done. And there’s lots of things we can do there. But it really starts with laying off the sugar and the junk food, doesn’t it?

Katja (25:29):
Yes. And it’s not even, you know, like it’s not that you need to take a bunch of herbs to reduce inflammation in your body. It’s not that. It’s just like, hey. A tattoo is like voluntary inflammation, right. It’s inflammation that is going to happen, because you made an optional choice. And there is nothing wrong with that. But candy creates optional inflammation as well. And your body can only handle so much. You think about like, you’re going out for the day, and you’re getting your backpack ready or your bag or whatever. And you put a bunch of stuff in it. And then you’re like, oh. This is really heavy. Like, do I really need all this stuff? Maybe I’ll take a little bit out. And it’s the exact same thing here. Like, it is fine to have some candy sometimes if you want to, or a little bit of junk food sometimes. Like that doesn’t make you a bad person. And it doesn’t make you unhealthy. But if you’re going to put something really heavy into your bag, like a tattoo, then don’t put a bunch of other heavy things in your bag today.

Ryn (26:32):
Makes some room in there,

Katja (26:32):
Yeah, make some room in there. Right. So just give yourself like a week of eating really well, and avoiding junk food and avoiding sugar.

Ryn (26:40):
And resting up, you know.

Katja (26:41):
Yeah, make sure you get enough sleep going into this process.

Ryn (26:44):
Yeah. All right. Okay. So now it’s like getting to be day of, and basic first aid self-care kind of stuff, you know. Hydrate. Have you had a drink? Have you had some food? How’s your blood sugar level feeling? All that kind of good thing.

Katja (27:00):
Yeah. For me, you know, protein is going to be involved in this process as well. And so for me, I really have gotten into this groove where I like to eat cherries. I tend to get tattoos in the summer. I don’t know why. It’s kind of actually the most annoying time of year to do it. But I like to eat cherries and watermelon. And I like sushi, and then like a giant steak. Like that’s my tattoo routine.

Ryn (27:29):
Yeah, kind of like before, during and after.

Katja (27:32):
Yeah, exactly why that has happened that way. But that’s what I do.

During Your Tattoo

Ryn (27:38):
It’s true though. You do want to keep your iron up. I mean, even beforehand for a little while before the session, you know. Get some red meat that week. It’s probably a good, helpful thing. Yeah. And bring some snacks with you according to whatever protocols are in place at your studio. All right. So during your tattoo, and even in like the very moments before, there might be some things that could help you out here, right? You might feel a little nervous, and maybe you want some herbal nervines.

Katja (28:09):
Maybe you do.

Ryn (28:10):
Maybe you do.

Katja (28:11):
I am kind of a…

Ryn (28:15):
Grin and bear it.

Katja (28:16):
Spartan kind of a person when I get tattooed. I’m like, eh, whatever.

Ryn (28:23):
Yeah, no. I took some kava before my last one. It was fine. It was helpful.

Katja (28:26):
Nicer. Yeah.

Ryn (28:27):
Yeah. Pretty good. You know, maybe if you do feel though. You feel some anxiety rising. You feel some racing heart. Maybe you reach for some motherwort tincture. Or you feel some are rising anxiety and the butterflies in the stomach situation, then you get some catnip. But think about what happens to you when you feel nervous. Expect that that may happen, and bring some friends, you know?

Katja (28:52):
Yeah. And like if you’re the kind of person who gets a little nauseous at the beginning of your tattoo, then some ginger is a great idea. And it’s really easy to just have even little ginger candies that you can sort of suck on especially in the beginning, because it is kind of boosting…I know I just said not candy. But like a little ginger candy in that moment is not what I’m talking about.

Ryn (29:12):
Right. This is…yeah.

Katja (29:14):
Yeah. Like that’s fine. But that can also kind of boost blood sugar levels. Keep you a little bit more stable during that initial process before the adrenaline kind of kicks in. Right? There’s just that beginning phase where you’re like, whoa, okay. This was a good idea.

Ryn (29:30):
Yeah, it takes a minute. I mean, it’s kind of like the adrenaline gets there. And then you have to wait maybe 10 minutes or so for like cortisol to shift over like. And then you’re like, okay. Yep. Now I’m kind of just grooving through this.

Katja (29:40):
Yeah. Then you hit that point where you’re just like, ah, this is fine. This is not a problem.

Ryn (29:44):
Shifts in your endocannabinoid system are happening. All of this goes down. But yeah, it takes a little moment to get you there, but that’s no problem, right? You’ve got some herbal friends. And look. Especially if you have those blood sugar fluctuations, maybe bring it as an electuary, you know. An electuary, that’s like herbal powder mixed into honey. Suspended in kind of like a paste thing. But I mean, you could just get a little spoon and take some of that. Get some blood sugar boost from the honey. Get some calming action from the herbs you’ve put in there. All together, you know?

Katja (30:15):

Ryn (30:15):
Yeah. But we’re not really big advocates – I don’t know, anti-advocates perhaps – for like what are some herbs I can take that are painkillers? I’ll go take that before I get my tattoo done. No. No, thank you.

Katja (30:31):
I don’t know. That’s not my style. And, I mean, I can maybe see where there might be times where that might be the thing. But I think I can’t even think about like, what would be a good herb for that? Like I just can’t even…

Ryn (30:48):
It’s going to be like the corydalis and the, you know, pasqueflower and things like this.

Katja (30:52):
I don’t know. I think more it’s going to be like, just stay calm, you know. It will be over at some point. So I’m more thinking about herbs that will help you stay calm. Because tattooing, I mean, you are like battering yourself with a needle for a long time. Like it’s going to hurt. I don’t think there’s an herb that will stop that from hurting is what I guess I’m trying to say. So I think it’s maybe more effective to think about herbs that will help keep you calm. And I’m thinking about people maybe who don’t get tattooed very often, but have like something really meaningful that is important to them, like a mastectomy tattoo or something like that. Where this is not a super common experience, so they’re not familiar with this type of pain, and they’re nervous about it. But also it’s important to them emotionally. So yeah. Like stuff that can just help you stay calm, and help you stay in that parasympathetic space. Calamus could be really, really nice. Keep you kind of more shifted towards that meditative space.

Tattoo Aftercare

Ryn (32:04):
Yeah. Find some ways to breathe through it. Yep. Okay. Well, so you get through it, right? Drink what you need to drink. Go through. Have some food after. Get some protein in there, you know. But now it’s aftercare time. And so your artist is going to have some suggestions for you, and then we have some suggestions for you also.

Katja (32:24):
Yes. So the first thing is it’s got to stay clean. It’s got to, got to, got to stay clean. So just wash with soap and water. And listen, the whole theme of the aftercare section here is keep it super simple. So that starts right now. Just a basic soap like Dr. Bronner’s unscented bar soap, you know, like something super simple.

Ryn (32:54):
Yeah. I feel like their rose one is mild enough that that’s not irritating either. But I wouldn’t go with probably not like their peppermint, which is pretty pretty pepperminty.

Katja (33:03):
That would be very uncomfortable. It would be very uncomfortable. And listen, it is, especially those first couple of days, it’s super uncomfortable to wash your tattoo. And it’s super important to do it.

Ryn (33:15):
You just have to do it.

Katja (33:15):
You have to do it.

Ryn (33:15):
You have to touch it, and you have to make the little circles. And you have to feel the texture, and it doesn’t feel good. But you’ve got to keep it clean.

Katja (33:23):
You’ve got to keep it clean.

Ryn (33:25):
And you’re not being obsessive about it. You’re not like doing this every 20 minutes, and drying the skin out and irritating it, right?

Katja (33:31):
Right. Like three times a day. And I find it personally easiest to just get right in the shower, and to use like water that is body temperature. And we have like one of those spray handles for the shower, because it makes it easier to wash our dog. So if you have one of those, then that is pretty ideal. But to kind of be able to let the water run from higher up on your body, so that it doesn’t like hit the tattoo full force is what I’m trying to get at here. And if jumping in the shower isn’t a really good option, then like get a measuring cup or any kind of cup really. And kind of pour it over gently so that you don’t just have the full force of the water. It just feels nicer. And the soapier you get your hands before you touch the tattoo a) the safer, right, because your hands are cleaner. But b) the gentler it will feel, because the soap is like lubricating, so, yeah.

Ryn (34:39):
Yeah. You know, so when we think about herbal tattoo care, a lot of times this is like the place, the moment in time when people are the most focused, right? They’re like, all right, right, right. Right after I get it, when it’s still kind of bleeding and it hurts and everything, like that’s when I want to get some, I’ll be cautious. I’ll be cautious. I’ll put a basic gentle vulnerary salve on there, right? I won’t do anything crazy like put comfrey on, because that would be too fast. And that would cause problems. Okay. Yes, you’re pointing in the right direction. We don’t want to put comfrey on. It would be too fast of a healing process, and could potentially cause problems in the way that the ink sets or just the wound itself heals. So we’re not going to work with that. We’re not going to find like the most potent, fast acting vulnerary herb in whatever your biosphere is, and throw that all over there. We are going to be a little slower about it, but hang on. What was this basic vulnerary salve you said?

Katja (35:44):
So like, you know, a lot of people make tattoo care salves and sell them on Etsy or whatever, with like sort of the standard vulnerary herbs like plantain and calendula and goldenrod and St. John’s wort and even comfrey. I’ve seen ones with comfrey in them. And listen, you get to do what you want, because you are you. And you are the one who gets to make decisions about your health. But me personally, I avoid every single one of those. There are so many stories from so many herbalists about ruining their tattoos, even just with calendula. And I know there are also many, many stories from many folks who used this or that herbal salve, and it was fine. But if you want my advice, keep it super simple, because it’s better. You don’t actually need a bunch of herbs in there. Everybody’s body heals at a different speed, and even different parts of your own body heal at different speeds.

Ryn (36:41):
Plus the way people react to even a vulnerary salve, right? Not everybody’s skin is the same skin. The degree of response and turnover and underlying fluid movement, and how much that influences the layers that have the ink suspended in them, is going to vary from person to person. And from you know, how deep does your particular tattoo artists dig when they put the ink in. And like lots of different factors are going to play in there. So we can see many success stories and be like, cool. That worked out for you. But we don’t actually need to involve these herbs that could potentially drive that. Like, if you just work with even a salve made with olive oil and the wax in it. You know, just a little bit, you could do that. We work with salves like that. Have a little bit of honey in there as well. Making your own honey salve can be a little bit of a tricky thing. So we’re going to put in the show notes here one that you can buy. I don’t know. Midsize, small company situation.

Katja (37:44):
Yeah, we’ve been working with their stuff for a really long time, and they’ve grown. But it’s Medicine Mama’s Sweet Bee Magic. And I don’t know them. I just love their…

Ryn (37:57):
It’s really good stuff.

Katja (37:58):
…their honey salve. It is amazing. And it doesn’t actually have any herbs in it. It’s just olive oil and bee stuff.

Ryn (38:07):
Bee stuff, yeah. Honey. A little bit of propolis is in there.

Katja (38:10):
Yeah, a little royal jelly. But it’s just, it’s very, very simple. And also, honestly, I avoid almost all herbs on a tattoo at all times.

Ryn (38:22):
Well, this is like primarily in the first week, let’s say.

Katja (38:25):
Yeah. Well, you know, once it’s healed fine, whatever. But when I’m in that first and second week, and especially the tattoos on my leg. They do take a little bit longer to heal. So even like kind of into the third week. The only herbs I ever work with are rose water, which is cooling and soothing and mildly antiseptic. And then I will wash it with soap and water. And then I’ll spray it with rose water, because after you wash it in the beginning, it’s like, ow, ow, ow. And so then I spray it with rose water for a minute, and let that air dry. And then I rub…

Ryn (39:07):
Not to like bone dry, not to like, not to like itchy dry.

Katja (39:10):
No. Just like, you know, I give it like three or four minutes to kind of absorb in. And then I just put on a thin layer of that Sweet Bee Salve, and that’s really it. I might do a chamomile, a strong infusion of chamomile tea if I’m worried about a potential infection. Or maybe a sage tea, like as a wash. Not in the salve, just as a wash. And definitely not the essential oil, just like the tea. But mostly just rose water and a plain honey salve. And that’s really it. And wash, wash, wash, wash.

Ryn (39:54):
Yeah. Right, right. Yeah. And I mean, if you take the rosewater and you spray it on. And then you take like, again, just some plain good quality olive oil and, and lightly rub that on and apply that in there. It’s sort of like making lotion on the spot. You know, it’s kind of like what you do on the face in the morning.

Katja (40:14):
Exactly, and, you know, when you get to that point in the healing process, when you’re switching from salve to lotion. Almost all lotions have alcohol in them or other preservative junk. And the alcohol is going to hurt. It’s going to actually end up being drying and whatever. So, I don’t use any lotion. Ideally I would make my own lotion, but usually I don’t have time. So what I just do is spray on the rose water and rub in some oil, or spray on the rose water and while it is still really wet rub in some of that Bee Magic salve.

Ryn (40:50):
It’s not a wicked thick salve, you know.

Katja (40:53):
No, it’s not.

Ryn (40:53):
It’s not like you have to get a big glop and then push real hard into the tattoo to move it around.

Katja (40:58):
No, it’s a nice soft salve.

Ryn (41:00):
Yeah. And if you do want to make a salve, again like a plain simple one, or maybe even to make a salve with something like lard or with lanolin, because sometimes these animal oils can feel a little more soothing on this particular type of irritated tissue.

Katja (41:19):
They absorb into skin better. But, you know, whatever. You can make a lot of different, nice ones. But the key here is just keep it super, super simple. You can, if you want to involve herbs in your healing process, drink them as tea. But I just keep it really simple on the surface of my skin. I trust my body to do its job. I drink a lot of ginger chamomile after a tattoo. I drink a lot of tulsi. I drink a lot of nettle. Again, super nourishing stuff. I don’t go straight for the like you know, poke and whatever the most strong lymphatic stimulant is. Because again, I don’t really want to be. I want everything to stay in the Goldilocks zone. And I want to trust my body to do that instead of me trying to push that around. So instead I stick with drinking tea that is nourishing and really supportive and relaxing.

Longer-Term Tattoo Care

Ryn (42:23):
Yeah. Take it easy, rest up. All right. Well, so actually let’s shift timeframe a little bit and think about long-term care because it matters. It’s actually important that after you’re fully healed that you still give a little bit of extra attention to the spots that got tattooed.

Katja (42:43):
You know, it turns out that fully healed takes longer than you think. It takes longer than you think. It might be several months. It might be as much as even a year that you still have a little sensitivity there. And that’s okay. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your body or that you’re like not healthy and not healing well. It means that you got stabbed with a jillion needles, and it takes a minute for your body to really fully heal that.

Ryn (43:13):
Yeah. And it can vary, you know, probably with constitution and like your skin type and texture and everything. For me, most of the places that I’ve got tattooed, the skin is pretty much permanently drier than the tissue around it. Even a little bit tighter. That kind of tracks with my constitutional tendencies anyway. It’s just a little exacerbated right there, you know? So that may be the way that this plays out for other people. But I think that providing the kind of skin care that your skin usually needs, but a little extra to your tattoo spots, make sense. So for me, that’s like I need to make sure that I put on some of that, actually that same honey salve is what I like to put on for moisturizer.

Katja (43:59):
Yeah, just for general skincare.

Ryn (44:00):
Just a thin layer, but it’s always like, oh yeah. A little bit extra on the compass with all of the herbs in it. And a little bit more over here on this one. And like that’s just become necessary to take care of them.

Katja (44:14):
Protecting your tattoos from the sun is ah. It’s so hard. You know, especially as herbalists, a lot of us are people who like to spend a lot of time outdoors. And I admit that I do just go ahead and tan over my tattoos. My brother puts sunscreen on every single tattoo every time he goes outside for years and years and years. And he doesn’t ever really get very tan, and his tattoos are brighter. And I just tan over my tattoos, and my tattoos are not as bright. But not a new tattoo. For the whole first year I cover that tattoo anytime I go outdoors, even if it’s cloudy with clothing. I don’t use sunscreen. I don’t like it. It’s…I just don’t like it. And so what that means for me is I have to wear clothing – long sleeves, long pants, long, whatever, like clothing – that will cover that tattoo every time I go outside. Even though it’s a pain in the butt, because, oh. Getting a sunburn on a new tattoo, even if the definition of new is eight months old, that’s no good. That is really uncomfortable.

Ryn (45:29):
Yeah. Give it that first year to really heal up well and thoroughly. Give it a little extra love during that time.

Katja (45:35):
You can tan later.

Ryn (45:36):
And then, yeah. And then after that, remember that you’re not breaking a cosmic rule if your tattoo fades a little bit, or it gets a little blurry over time.

Katja (45:45):
Look, they’re going to. They’re going to do that.

Ryn (45:48):
You know, the rest of you might do that also. We say this with love, you know?

Katja (45:53):
Yeah. And hey. You know, your tattoo artist will appreciate it, because it just means that in a few years, you’ll just go and ask them to do a touch-up. And they’ll appreciate your dollars.

Ryn (46:06):
There you go. There you go. All right. Well, those are some thoughts for you. Feel free to reach out if you want to share any experiences or anything like that with us. We always love to hear that. We’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcasts. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.

Katja (46:24):
Take care of your tattoos.

Ryn (46:27):
Nice. And drink some tea.

Katja (46:28):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (46:28):

Katja (46:28):
Bye bye.


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