During a decade of doing tattoos, Denver artist Chris Roberts — today the owner of Fortify Luxury Tattoo in Lakewood — learned to make his designs look exactly the way he wanted them to. But he had less control over how his customers healed after their tattoos as they suffered though redness, itchiness and swelling.
Roberts had tried one drugstore brand after another, but never found the ideal ointment to promote quick healing. He decided to experiment on his own, testing out formulas at home for a year, but those were never quite right, either. A friend suggested infusing his recipe with CBD. Roberts threw some into the pot, and the results were exactly what he'd been looking for.
Eighteen months ago, Roberts introduced his own CBD-based aftercare brand, Fortify Tattoo Aftercare, which includes an ointment and foam rinse. We caught up with him to talk more about his CBD company and his art career.
Westword: What got you into tattoos?
Chris Roberts: I started tattooing pretty much straight out of high school. I was heavily into graffiti, which was not necessarily the best way of getting my art out into the world. I was getting into a lot of trouble with that stuff, went to jail a couple of times for it. It started to feel like my life was going nowhere, and I wanted to do something that was more beneficial as far as building a career. The only other thing that I could think of that would be artistic was tattooing, and I was always into drawing and stuff. So it just kind of fell into place, really.
How'd you get your foot in the door?
I used to live with a couple of my buddies — I was probably around sixteen years old – and one of them had a tattoo machine. So while they're tattooing, I'm drawing in my sketchbook or whatever, and they're like, "Hey, you should try this out." I literally drew something on my leg with a pen and tattooed it.
I started taking it more seriously, and went to tattoo shops to get permission to spray-paint their walls to make a little extra money. One of the shops let me do it and really liked my work, and we started talking. One thing led to another, and they offered me an apprenticeship, and it just kind of went from there. It's been a long ride, for sure. I worked at a few different shops before I finally decided that it was time to open up my own — and then everything just went in the right direction.
What gave you the idea to make your own CBD ointment?
It actually didn't start as a CBD product; it was more of just a regular tattoo aftercare ointment. I started really getting into it because I literally have used every single tattoo aftercare brand that was on the market. I kept striving and looking for something more out of it, and I just couldn't find it; a little something was missing in each one. So I decided to just try to make something myself.
How did you find the right formula?
I started making it in my kitchen, just putting together different recipes and messing with the consistency. I tried a million different things before I finally found a formula that I really liked that worked. I brought it to my friend, who actually runs a CBD company, and told him I wanted to make it a more legit product. I tried doing some isolates to see if it would work, and I just wasn't getting much luck with it; it was turning really grainy, and it didn't have a very good shelf life. So we tried a bunch of different things, and one thing led to another, and we finally have a product that works. I went through probably 100 different samples trying to get it to where I wanted it to be with the consistency, the color, the smell, you know, and we finally got to a point where we were like, "This is the one."
How does a CBD-based formula measure up against drugstore products like Aquaphor or Vaseline?
So, Aquaphor and A+D ointment — not to drop names or anything, but they're actually really bad to put into your skin. They're petroleum-based, so it can clog your pores, and it can cause the ink to be forced out of the skin and cause you to break out.
What I wanted to do was make a more natural-based ointment that was more moisturizing and long-lasting, where it doesn't feel sticky on your skin and it absorbs better. Kind of like cocoa butter or coconut oil, where you can put it on throughout the day and it's almost like a body butter or something. The CBD speeds up the healing process, and I've noticed that the tattoos I give that usually take maybe three to four weeks to heal end up healing in like two weeks, and the ink holds really well.
Tell us about the products. Are you planning to introduce more?
Yes, definitely. The ointment comes in three sizes. Our foam rinse is Castile-based, so it works really well to keep the redness down [alongside the CBD], especially after a longer tattoo session. The CBD and the Castile aloe soap we use are super-calming, and right now we're working on a new line to introduce sunscreen and stencil gel for artists and a second skin [an alternative to cellophane wrap], and are planning to rework the foam rinse into wipes [for artists] as well.
How's the response been so far?
It's been doing really well. A lot of people have been liking it, and all of my clients use it. There are a couple of tattoo shops in Oklahoma and Florida that carry it, and a few glass shops around here sell it. (Positive Vibes is one.) We actually decided to take the Fortify name and turn it into an entire tattoo shop, and it's been doing pretty well. We're really excited about it, and I couldn't be more humbled.
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