Should I Shave My Arms to Show off My Tattoo Sleeves?

woman with tattoo sleeves and nose piercings wearing white t-shirt

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Before you opt for any tattoo placement, you should always consider the long term tattoo aftercare. After all, a tattoo is a true commitment. You should think about not only the type of art you want, but where on the body you want it to live. While not everyone gets tattoos in order to show them off, if you have hairy arms, back, or legs, it's worth considering whether you'll want to keep an area shaved in order to allow your ink to be more easily seen.

With that said, you may still want tattoo sleeves and by all means you should go for it, if that's your style. Like any tattoo placement, sleeves and leg tattoos require careful consideration. You'll want to think about whether you want the ink to be visible or easily hidden, and how you plan to take care of it. Keep reading for expert advice on whether you should plan to shave your arms often if you get a tattoo sleeve.

Should You Remove Body Hair to Show Off Tattoos?

Shave gently​ in the direction of hair growth to help prevent irritation and avoid ingrown hair.

Naturally, having "no hair on arms helps make tattoos more visible," says dermatologist Dr. Shari Sperling. The results will be more or less dramatic depending on certain factors, like how much body hair you have and how thick or coarse it is. There's more you can do besides shaving to make your tattoo pop. For example, "lotioning daily will keep your tattoo vibrant and beautiful," says tattoo artist Gianna Caranfa.

No matter what you decide to do after the ink is healed, removing body hair before your tattoo appointment is a good idea. "It is easier for the tattoo artist to do their work without hair in the way," Sperling adds. "Hair can harbor bacteria and should be removed gently to avoid any razor burn or irritation before tattooing," notes Shaughnessy Otsuji owner of Studio Sashiko. According to Caranfa, most artists will actually shave the area themselves before they begin tattooing. "Before every tattoo an artist scrubs 'green soap' which is an antibacterial soap to the desired area, from there we shave everything our tattoo stencil will touch. After all hair is removed from the area we clean the skin with alcohol," she says.

"Once the tattoo is fully healed it is up to the client to shave the tattoo or not, whether it is just for them to appreciate or to shave and show it off," Caranfa says. It's a completely personal decision and you should not feel pressured to remove hair anywhere on your body.

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Safe Ways to Remove Body Hair That Covers Tattoos

  • Waxing: This leads to a smoother surface for a longer period of time, up to six weeks roughly. The downside is that your body hair will have to reach a length of at least a quarter inch long in between waxes, which equates to about three-four weeks of growth. In addition, body waxing is the more painful approach. Is it bearable? Let's just say, after being fully tattooed, waxing pain should be the least of your worries.
  • Shaving: Shaving with a razor is a quicker and more affordable approach that will lead to smooth results for several days in between. On the downside, you will have "stubble" every few days that you'll need to maintain by shaving several times weekly.
  • Laser hair removal: Laser treatments require repeat visits, as the initial process yields only 10-25% hair reduction. They can also be expensive. "Shaving and waxing can cause ingrown hairs but laser avoids that issue," says Sperling.
  • Electrolysis: The last approach, electrolysis, is the most effective yet costly option for permanent results.

How to Protect Your Tattoo Sleeve

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If you do decide to remove the hair from a tattooed area, be sure not to do it too soon. "While healing a tattoo you should never shave over the fresh tattoo. This will prematurely take ink out of your skin," says Caranfa. "If any knicks or ingrown hairs occur from shaving, these issues can cause excess irritation and scabbing which can lead to premature fall out or fading of the ink," agrees Otsuji.

"Clean the tattoo with Gold Dial Antibacterial Soap ($2) bar or liquid form, only using your hands, never a washcloth or loofa. Pat the tattoo dry with a clean paper towel, let it dry for 2 minutes, then apply non scented lotion," says Caranfa. Sperling recommends Aquaphor ($10).

In addition to hair removal, watch out for the sun, says Caranfa and Otsuji. "The sun can sometimes cause the a tattoo to raise," she says. Your tattoo sleeves should be covered up to help prevent fading. This means long-sleeved, lightweight cotton shirts in the summer and a mild SPF daily, even when you are driving in the car. Not only will you protect your body art, but you'll also help to prevent skin cancer.

While some people find this overall maintenance of hair removal and sun protection too much to bear, others go into tattoo sleeves with the understanding that their body art is an investment and should be protected to look its best.

 The Final Takeaway 

In the end, it's up to you. As long as you have an understanding that the visibility of your tattoo sleeve and its small details may be impacted by the amount of body hair on your arms, you can do whatever you want. The most important thing for any tattoo is proper tattoo aftercare and protection. "Make sure to go somewhere that takes safety precautions and uses sterile techniques to avoid any risk of infections," says Sperling

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