Tattoos have different meanings across different cultures, and it's a practice that has been around since ancient times—the oldest skin markings have been found on a Peruvian mummy dating back to 6000 BCE.
While some people have no issues jumping into a tattoo artist's chair for ink, others have a different experience altogether that's wrought with nerves and the grueling healing process.
There are many ways to address tattoo pain these days, from taking oral painkillers before the appointment to numbing cream, but a highly popular compound for tattoo nerves and aftercare is CBD oil.
CBD comes from the hemp plant, and it's a compound that's gaining a lot of attention in the health and wellness space for its gentle effects towards supporting inflammation, calming nerves, and easing minor discomfort.
In this article, we'll look at ways you can use CBD oil to help make your tattoo session more comfortable and choose topical CBD balms for your tattoo aftercare.
How Do Tattoos Stay Permanent In The Skin?
Tattooing involves applying pigment into deeper layers of the skin than the outermost layer that we shed daily. These special pigments aren't easily metabolized in the body, which is why it remains visible through the skin.
With time, tattoos will fade naturally as the body tries to eliminate the foreign ink particles by the immune system's macrophages (the clean-up crew). Sun exposure can also contribute to tattoo fading as UV rays break down the integrity of the pigment, but the majority of the ink will remain in the deep layers of skin.
Why Are Tattoos So Painful?
If you love the look of body ink, but can't stand the tattoo pain, there's not too much you can do to get around it as the process itself involves inflicting wounds into the skin to leave permanent markings.
Modern tattoo guns use tiny needles loaded with special dye into the skin at a very high frequency. The needles punch through the epidermis to deliver the pigment into the dermis, consisting of nerve glands, collagen fibers, and blood vessels.
Every time the needle punctures the skin, it creates a wound, and the body responds to this by initiating the inflammatory process to begin repairing the damaged skin. One way people reduce the aftermath of your tattoo session is by taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs and numbing cream to calm the effects of redness and swelling.
What Is CBD And How Does It Work?
CBD stands for cannabidiol, a naturally occurring compound harvested from cannabis plants found to have potential health benefits in animals and humans.
One of the most notable uses of CBD is its potential anti-inflammatory properties through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system—a cell-signaling system in all mammals that support homeostasis.
It consists of neurotransmitters (endocannabinoids), receptors (CB1 and CB2), and enzymes that relay messages throughout the body like read-receipts on a text message to keep vital systems like our immune response, pain signaling, metabolism, and stress response in a state of balance.
CBD and other cannabinoids closely resemble endocannabinoids, which is how they can interact in the body. Unlike THC, CBD doesn't have intoxicating effects, as it doesn't have an affinity to bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, it seems to have broad-ranging effects because it enhances endocannabinoid receptor sensitivity and inhibits the release of enzymes that break down endocannabinoids. With higher levels of endocannabinoids, the system can run much more smoothly.
CBD may also have interesting effects at other receptor sites in the central nervous system (brain and spine) and the peripheral nervous system (the nerves and ganglia outside the brain and spine).
How Can CBD Oil Help You Prep For Getting A Tattoo?
Many people swear by using CBD oil or gummies to ease their pre-tattoo jitters before their tattoo session. To help make the tattoo experience go a lot smoother, you must choose a tattoo artist that you're comfortable with, and while many people can jump into their session without a second thought, that feeling of unease and nervousness before your tattoo session is completely normal.
One of the ways CBD products may help with the feelings of anxiety before getting a tattoo has to do with its actions in the central nervous system. CBD has become extremely popular for its relaxation effects.
Research suggests that CBD increases GABA activity in the brain to help combat feelings of nervousness and stress .
GABA is a neurotransmitter that acts as a brake pedal to the effects of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, which can help you relax tense muscles and give you a more uplifted and calm mood.
Some tattoo artists even recommend using CBD oil internally before your appointment for gentle pain relief. In pre-clinal studies, CBD has been found to inhibit vanilloid receptor activation in the peripheral nervous system . The vanilloid receptors relay information about pain to the brain, which may help make the tattoo process much more comfortable for you.
Tattoo Aftercare With CBD
After your tattoo session, you must take careful precautions with your tattoo healing, as you now have an open wound on your skin that's prone to infection.
Your tattoo artist may cover your tattoo with a thin layer of petroleum jelly and a bandage and instruct you to keep it on for 24 hours before you clean it with gentle antimicrobial soap and pat it dry. You can apply a layer of anti-bacterial ointment or CBD-infused tattoo creams to protect it from infection and support healing.
CBD Has Anti-Bacterial Properties
One of the biggest concerns after getting a tattoo is the increased risk of infection. You should regularly clean your tattoo and keep it dry to avoid bacterial infection.
Researchers believe that cannabis plants produce cannabinoids to defend against bacteria and pests, making it a natural anti-bacterial compound . Applying a strong CBD cream or ointment can help keep your wound clean and help with the tattoo healing process.
Topical CBD May Support Healthy Inflammatory Response
Tattooing essentially involves wounding the skin to deliver pigment. The inflammatory response kicks in to heal the damage, but it can leave you feeling sore and inflamed. CBD's potential anti-inflammatory benefits may help to calm down some of the swelling and irritation.
The skin is our largest organ, containing endocannabinoid receptors to relay messages for our immune system and pain perception. CBD interacts with these endocannabinoid receptors to help fight off inflammation for a much more comfortable healing process post-tattoo.
Topical CBD May Support Discomfort
Tattoo pain will leave you feeling sensitive, tender, and itchy for the next several days, which can become distracting when you have your life to get back to.
Many people use topical CBD for mild pain relief for muscles and joint pain and skin irritation, and it may be effective because CBD has been shown in preclinical trials to inhibit the pain signals to the brain .
How Much CBD Should I Take Before My Tattoo Session?
We want to clarify that while CBD has been shown to have many promising benefits to support comfort from pain. However, CBD oil is not a painkiller—and one person's experience with CBD can vary greatly from the next due to genetics and other lifestyle factors.
When it comes to easing minor discomfort, some experts believe that higher doses of 50MG+ can help. But if you're new to CBD oil, it's best to start with lower doses, as taking too much can lead to negative side effects like headache, drowsiness, and an upset stomach.
The best benefits from using CBD come with consistent use—which is why it's best to take CBD daily at the same time each day to support your endocannabinoid system. Rather than treating it as a band-aid when something goes wrong, think of CBD as something that supports your body's natural ability to be more resistant to stressors.
If you're deciding to take CBD to relax your body and take the edge off the nervousness, some tattoo artists online have said that 15-25MG of CBD an hour before your tattoo session may be helpful for some. Make sure you also drink plenty of water and feel comfortable before you go to your appointment.
Best CBD For Tattoo Care
There are many different CBD products on the market, and not all of them will offer the same amount of support. CBD oil can contain other compounds besides cannabidiol, and CBD ointments and lotions have a long list of other ingredients that you should carefully consider.
Let's go over some of the factors you should think about if you're planning to use CBD oil for the tattoo process and topical CBD for post-tattoo care.
1. Use Full Spectrum Or THC-Free Broad Spectrum Products
Hemp flowers are sprinkled with tiny crystal resins that house cannabinoids and terpenes.
CBD is just one of over a hundred known cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, and when it's combined with other minor cannabinoids and terpenes, it can provide more well-rounded benefits when used topically and internally and strengthen the effects of CBD. This is called the entourage effect.
Extracts that maintain as close to the hemp plant's natural phytochemical makeup are called full spectrum extracts. These may contain up to 0.3% THC, but if you're concerned about these trace amounts of THC, then a broad spectrum extract may be the better option for you.
Through sophisticated distillation processes, we can identify and remove certain cannabinoids from a full spectrum of extracts. Our broad spectrum extracts still contain a diverse range of cannabinoids but are completely THC-free.
CBD isolate products are stripped from all other minor cannabinoids and terpenes. They tend to be cheaper for brands to purchase in bulk because the extraction process doesn't require strict temperature control and pressure to preserve heat-sensitive compounds. You can still get the benefits of CBD from isolate products, but they won't be as potent.
2. Read The Certificate Of Analysis
Unfortunately, you can't always trust the label on your CBD products. The only way to tell exactly what's in your CBD oil is to reference a certificate of analysis.
We've come across CBD oils that claim to be full spectrum extracts only to find out from the certificate of analysis that it only contains CBD. And worse still, hemp oil—made from seeds of hemp plants that contain no cannabinoids—marketed the benefits of CBD.
A certificate of analysis is a report conducted by a non-biased lab to identify the cannabinoid profile, potency, and presence of contamination. This is the only way to verify that you're getting what you're paying for. These should be accessible on the brand's website. On all Neruogan products, you can scan the QR code to read the report on the batch of CBD extract in your product.
3. Use High Potency CBD
CBD oils and topicals come in a range of strengths indicated by how many MG of CBD it contains.
To get the most use out of your CBD product, choose a CBD oil with at least 2000MG of CBD—if you choose a higher potency, even better. Higher potency CBD oils often come at a better cost per mg of CBD, and you can still dial in your doses drop by drop to meet your needs.
If you choose something too weak, like 200MG, you may end up using half of the bottle before you feel any of its effects kick in.
When it comes to CBD balms and lotions for tattoo aftercare, a high CBD strength of at least 8MG/mL of product is best, or you might not offer any benefits towards inflammation support and mild discomfort.
Some CBD lotions for tattoos don't indicate the CBD content. They'll sprinkle just enough CBD to have it as a list of ingredients, but it may not provide any effects, so always be sure to shop with brands that offer this transparency with a certificate of analysis.
4. Check The Ingredient List
People use CBD for several reasons, from sleep support, stress, energy boost, and more.
Look to see that the ingredients in the formula make sense for the application you want to use it for. For example, a CBD oil with melatonin probably wouldn't be ideal for your three-hour tattoo session.
Most CBD oils contain two simple ingredients—hemp extract and carrier oil. If you want CBD to help with your pre-tattoo jitters, a simple CBD oil like this should do the trick.
For CBD topical formulas, you can find sports rubs containing compounds like menthol and capsaicin that provide cooling and effects to promote muscle recovery, but that's not ideal for tattoo aftercare as it can irritate your wound.
Look for specially made CBD ointments designed for tattoo aftercare with gentle skin ingredients like jojoba oil and are unscented (to prevent irritation) to help protect your new tattoo and offer some relief in your healing process.
The Takeaway: CBD And Tattoos
A high potency, quality CBD oil may help limit tattoo pain and nervousness by supporting the endocannabinoid system's ability to regulate inflammation and mitigate pain signals, but it's not a pain killer.
Topical CBD products designed for tattoo aftercare can also help make the recovery process more comfortable as CBD can interact with endocannabinoid receptors on the skin to provide localized comfort and fight off infection-causing bacteria.
Not all CBD products are the same, so make sure you do your research before ingesting CBD oil or applying the product to your fresh tattoo.
- Bakas, T., Van Nieuwenhuijzen, P. S., Devenish, S. O., McGregor, I. S., Arnold, J. C., & Chebib, M. (2017). The direct actions of cannabidiol and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol at GABAA receptors. Pharmacological research, 119, 358-370.
- Costa, B., Giagnoni, G., Franke, C., Trovato, A. E., & Colleoni, M. (2004). Vanilloid TRPV1 receptor mediates the antihyperalgesic effect of the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid, cannabidiol, in a rat model of acute inflammation. British journal of pharmacology, 143(2), 247-250.
- Karas, J. A., Wong, L. J., Paulin, O. K., Mazeh, A. C., Hussein, M. H., Li, J., & Velkov, T. (2020). The antimicrobial activity of cannabinoids. Antibiotics, 9(7), 406.