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During a decade of tattooing, Denver artist Chris Roberts – now the owner of Fortify Luxury Tattoo in Lakewood – learned to make his designs look exactly the way he wanted them. But he had less control over how his clients healed after their tattoos, as they suffered from redness, itching, and swelling.
Roberts had tried one drug store brand after another but never found the ideal ointment to promote quick healing. He decided to experiment himself and try formulas at home for a year, but even these were never right. A friend suggested adding CBD to their recipe. Roberts tossed something in the pot and the results were exactly what he was looking for.
Eighteen months ago, Roberts launched his own CBD-based aftercare brand, Fortify Tattoo Aftercare, which includes an ointment and foam conditioner. We met him to talk more about his CBD company and art career.
Westword: what got you into tattoos?
Chris Roberts: I started tattooing straight out of high school. I was very interested in graffiti, which wasn’t necessarily the best way to get my art out into the world. I got in a lot of trouble with this stuff and went to jail a couple of times for it. It felt like my life was going nowhere and I wanted to do something that was more beneficial in building a career. The only other thing I could think of was artistic, was tattooing, and I was always into drawing and stuff. So it just kind of teamed up.
How did you get your foot in the door?
I lived with a couple of my pals – I was probably around sixteen – and one of them had a tattoo machine. While they are tattooing, I draw in my sketchbook or whatever and they say, “Hey, you should try this.” I literally drew and tattooed something on my leg with a pen.
I started to take it more seriously and went to tattoo shops to get permission to spray paint their walls to make a bit more money. One of the shops let me do it and liked my job a lot, and we started talking. One thing led to another and they offered me an apprenticeship and from then on it just went on. It must have been a long drive. I worked in a couple of different shops before finally deciding to open my own – and then everything went in the right direction.
What gave you the idea of making your own CBD ointment?
It didn’t actually start out as a CBD product; it was more of a regular tattoo aftercare ointment. I started really digging into it because I literally used every single tattoo aftercare brand that was on the market. I kept pushing and looking for something more and I just couldn’t find it; something was missing in each. So I decided to just try and do something myself.
CBD can help speed the healing process of tattoos through its anti-inflammatory and calming effects.
Courtesy Chris Roberts
How did you find the right formula?
I started making it in my kitchen by simply putting together different recipes and playing around with the consistency. I tried a million different things before I finally found a formula that I really liked and that worked. I took it to my friend who actually runs a CBD company and told him I wanted to make it a more legitimate product. I tried making some isolates to see if it would work and I just wasn’t very lucky with it; it got really grainy and didn’t have a very good shelf life. So we tried a lot of different things and one thing led to another and we finally have a product that works. I went through probably 100 different samples to get it where I wanted it, with the consistency, the color, the smell, you know, and we finally got to a point where we said, “This is this a.”
How does a CBD-based formula compare to drugstore products like Aquaphor or Vaseline?
So, Aquaphor and A + D ointment – not to lose names or anything, but they’re really bad to put on your skin. They’re petroleum-based, so it can clog your pores, pushing the ink out of your skin and breaking out.
I wanted to make a more natural ointment that was more moisturizing and long lasting, where it wouldn’t feel sticky to the skin and would be better absorbed. A bit like cocoa butter or coconut oil where you can put it on all day and it’s almost like a body butter or something. The CBD speeds the healing process and I’ve found that the tattoos I give, which usually take three to four weeks to heal, heal in about two weeks and the ink holds up really well.
Tell us about the products. Are you planning to introduce more?
Yes, definitely. The ointment is available in three sizes. Our foam conditioner is based on Castile, so it works very well to reduce redness [alongside the CBD], especially after a long tattoo session. The CBD and Castilian aloe soap we use are super soothing and we’re currently working on a new line to introduce sunscreen and stencil gel for artists and a second skin [an alternative to cellophane wrap], and plan to revamp the foam conditioner to wipes [for artists] also.
How has the response been so far?
It’s going really well. Lots of people like it, and all of my clients are using it. There are a couple of tattoo shops in Oklahoma and Florida that run it, and a couple of glass shops here sell it. (Positive Vibes is one of them.) We actually decided to take the Fortify name and turn it into an entire tattoo shop, and it’s going pretty well. We are very happy about it and I couldn’t be more humble.
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Hilal is an alumni of the Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in political science. She has written for Denver Life Magazine and 303 Magazine and is currently the cannabis intern for Westword.