Tattoo Aftercare – How to care for a new tattoo
Tattoos are a lifelong piece of art that you will carry all the way to the grave. As such, there is certainly a measure of responsibility that comes along with getting one! It’s important that the tattoo is well thought-out and well executed, but it’s equally important that you follow the proper tattoo aftercare guidelines, so it will be properly cared for in the very first few hours as well as the following weeks, until it’s fully healed. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste all the time and money that went into the creation of your tattoo by not taking care of it as it heals, right?
Taking proper care of your tattoo in this beginning stage is crucial as it will maximize the quality of your tattoo for the rest of its life. Read our guide below to keep your new body art looking as vibrant as possible!
Cleaning Your Tattoo
As soon as your tattoo is complete, your tattoo artist will often put a bandage or plastic wrap over the fresh tattoo. This serves two purposes; for one, it keeps the tattoo protected from possible infection while the open pores, agitated from your time under the needle, close up. Second, it keeps any blood and plasma that will surely result from the trauma to your skin from drying out and forming a scab. Most tattoo artists advise leaving this bandage on anywhere between an hour and three hours. Make sure not to bandage the tattoo for too long however, as after a while, dead skin cells, plasma, and blood need to be cleaned off to reduce the likelihood of infection.
- Always wash your hands before touching your new tattoo!
- Use anti-bacterial soap (non-scented!) and your bare hand to wash your new tattoo. Avoid bar soap because it is more likely to harbor bacteria from sitting out in the open air. Make sure not to use loofahs, washcloths, or anything that will be abrasive against your tattoo.
- Thoroughly rinse your tattoo and gently pat it down with a clean paper towel or cloth. Don’t rub it dry; remember, we don’t want anything abrasive to rub against it!
- Don’t re-bandage the tattoo. Tattoos, like any other skin wound, need exposure to air in order to heal!
- Wash your tattoo at least once per day, making sure there is no excess plasma or blood that could potentially cause scabbing to occur.
A healed tattoos natural ‘fade’
Keeping Your Tattoo Moist
While tattoos do require air to heal quickly, they aren’t an everyday scratch on the knee. Keeping your tattoo moist will keep it from scabbing, and this is a good thing! When scabs form on a tattoo, they have the potential to fade or scar a tattoo, especially if a scab gets scratched off during the healing process. Keeping your tattoo moist will preserve your art and minimize the chances of fading.
- For the first few days, most tattoo artists recommend using a light ointment to keep the tattoo moist. Ointment with vitamins A and D, or Eucerin brand Aquaphor (which is used for infants) are the top recommended brands of ointment to use on tattoos. Check out the tattoo aftercare products section below for links to these. Do not use Neosporin, as it encourages scabbing to quickly heal a wound. Do not use Vaseline; it’s too thick to allow the tattoo to breathe.
- Go minimal with the ointment! Three times a day, apply the smallest amount possible that will cover the entire tattoo. Rub the ointment in completely so that it is barely shiny, and remove any excess with your finger or a paper towel. Excess ointment will actually break down the ink in your skin and cause your tattoo to fade. If your tattoo appears to be oozing color after you apply ointment, then you’ll know you have put on too much.
- Ointment should only be used for the first few days of a tattoo’s life; as the tattoo heals, ointment will suffocate the tattoo and cause it to take longer to heal. After about three to five days (depending on your tattoo’s location and your artist’s instructions), the ointment will be replaced with non-scented lotion, which will be applied four to six times daily.
- Use your best judgement. If your tattoo looks dry and feels rough like a scab, add more lotion or ointment! The rule of thumb is to keep your tattoo as close to your normal skin texture as possible.
Example image of normal tattoo peeling
As your tattoo continues to heal, it will look very different! There’s usually nothing to worry about here; tattoos go through a process of flaking and peeling after a few days as the tattoo settles and the damaged top layers of your skin rejuvenate. After about 9 to 14 days, after the top layer of skin has peeled, the tattoo will appear shiny. After the tattoo is no longer shiny and takes on the texture of your normal skin, your tattoo will be completely healed!
Things to Avoid
- While your tattoo is healing, do not pick or scratch at it. It can be very tempting to pick at your tattoo as you would a sunburn, but try not to help the process along. A piece of skin that appears to be on only the top layer might actually be attached to skin healing in the lower layers where your tattoo resides, and you risk the ink fading in small spots if the skin comes off before it’s ready.
- Make sure your tattoo gets enough air, and don’t irritate it. Don’t wear restrictive or abrasive clothing. If your tattoo is in an area where clothing rubs against it, make sure the clothing isn’t too tight so that the tattoo doesn’t scab.
- While it’s important to wash your tattoo at least once daily, avoid submerging it in water, such as in baths, pools, or lakes. Lakes and baths can harbor a lot of bacteria, and pools or hot tubs are filled with chemicals that can dry out or irritate your tattoo. Peeling skin is also more vulnerable when wet; it becomes soggy and detach prematurely.
- Most importantly, avoid sunlight like it’s the plague. Sunlight is the absolute worst enemy of all tattoos! Exposing a tattoo to the sun when it’s new not only hurts, but a sunburn on a new tattoo can fade it by 50% or more by the time it’s done healing. UV rays penetrate deep into our skin and can disrupt the cells holding your tattoo ink! It’s also very important for this reason to always wear sunscreen after your tattoo is healed. Because you can’t put sunscreen on a healing tattoo, you’ll need to wear clothing that covers it, or avoid spending more than a few minutes at a time in direct sunlight.
Recommended Tattoo Aftercare Products
If you notice any prolonged swelling, puffiness or redness, contact the tattoo artist that did it and go show them. They will have the best knowledge on what you should do to avoid any mishaps. If you weren’t particularly happy with their answer then try different tattoo shops. If in desperate need you can always consult a doctor.