Tattoo Aftercare - An In Depth View
Updated: Jun 4
There are many things that can be said about tattoo aftercare. Almost every tattoo shop and artist has their own methods and recommendations. I want to break down not only the specific aftercare step you should take, but also get a little more in depth and explain why as well.
When your new tattoo is complete, the tattoo artist should put a layer of some type of ointment or aftercare salve on your tattoo and bandage it. The reason for the bandage is to protect your new tattoo which is essentially an open wound from any outside elements or bacteria getting introduced into your new tattoo.
We typically tell our clients to leave the new tattoo wrapped overnight. We recommend this because it is important to protect your tattoo while you are sleeping. Most of us sleep 7-8 hours per night, and that is a significant time to have an open wound exposed to the elements. This also helps avoid any excess ink or plasma from sticking to your bedding and leaving behind stains.
Another important thing to keep in mind, and this is one that most tattoo artists skip, is to make sure that your bedding has been washed and is clean. We shed a lot of skin while we sleep and our beds can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
This is especially important if you have pets. Pet dander can get into a fresh tattoo and cause complications. If you have pets that sleep in bed with you, try to keep them off of your bed during the duration of the healing process.
Upon removing the bandage the next morning, your tattoo may have a buildup of excess ink, plasma, and leftover ointment. The next step is to wash your tattoo thoroughly with soap and water. We recommend a plain fragrance free liquid soap. Avoid body washes or fragrances because the chemicals used in them can have a reaction with your new tattoo.
When washing your tattoo we recommend using just your fingertips, do not scrub it with a wash cloth or anything else. It is also helpful to wash it in the hottest water that is comfortable for you. The hot water will help loosen up excess plasma.
When rinsing your tattoo, run your fingers across it. It should feel as smooth as the rest of your skin. If you feel any slick or slimy areas, go ahead and wash it again. Don't be afraid to wash your tattoo, it's one of the best things you can do for it and you won't wash the ink out, we promise!
You should wash your tattoo at least 3-5 times per day. It is common for your body to push out plasma (a clear, shiny and sticky fluid) for the first 48-72 hours after taking off the bandage. Any time you notice plasma building up on your tattoo, that's when you want to wash it. You want it to look as clean and smooth as possible the first few days.
You will want to moisturize your tattoo about 3-5 times per day as well. We recommend a fragrance free, water based lotion such as Lubriderm or Aveeno. When applying the lotion, make sure your hands are clean. Use a very small amount on your fingertips and massage it in for at least 30-45 seconds until it is fully absorbed into the skin. Don't over do it. Too much lotion can clog the pores and cause complications. A little bit of lotion a few times a day is all it takes.
Avoid using any petroleum products on your tattoo. This includes Vaseline, Aquaphor and A and D ointment, or any other similar ointments. The reason you want to avoid these products is because petroleum based ointments sit on top of the skin. They do not absorb into the skin nor do they allow the tattoo to breathe. This can cause the body to push out more excess plasma which can cause more scabbing than normal. It can also clog the pores bad enough your body could begin to push the ink out.
After a few days, your tattoo may begin to scab or start lightly peeling. This is completely normal. Do not pick or scratch at it. During this phase of the healing process you do not want to do anything that can tear these scabs. You want to let them fall off on their own. All of the scabs and flakes are connected to the ink underneath your skin. If they do come off before they are ready, it is possible to pull the ink out in those areas and it can also cause scarring.
Avoid Direct Sunlight for the first 2-3 weeks. The UV rays from the sun can break down the ink particles before they have a chance to set in your skin. This can cause premature fading of your tattoo and affect how well it holds up over time. Some people have also reported scarring or other adverse affects from direct sunlight on their new tattoos.
Avoid Swimming or soaking your new tattoo for at least 2-3 weeks. I can't stress this one enough. Quick showers are fine and so is washing your tattoo, but exposure or soaking in any open body of water (pools, rivers, lakes, oceans, bathtubs, etc.) can potentially cause a nasty infection. There was actually a case reported a few years ago in Texas where a man died due to an infection in his new tattoo from swimming in the ocean. Please make sure you wait the recommended time to avoid any complications.
There may be some redness or swelling present on your new tattoo. This usually goes away after a few days.
The initial healing time on a new tattoo is 14-21 days. By now, your new tattoo should have fully peeled and may have a shiny look or may appear slightly wrinkly looking. Some of the colors in your tattoo may look dull, but they will brighten up as the ink settles in more. A black and grey shading tattoo may still have a very slight reddish or brown tone to it at this point. It still has some settling to do and will soon settle in to it's true tone. You can continue to use lotion once or twice a day. The more you take care of your skin the better your tattoo will look.
At this point in your tattoo, after everything has peeled and the tattoo appears healed, you should be safe to go in the sun or the pool. We do recommend that whenever you are in the sun, use a strong sunblock on your tattoo. A sunblock with SPF 50 or higher is best. If you are going to be in the sun for an extended period of time, apply at least once per hour. Remember, the sun fades everything from your clothes to the paint on your car. It will do the same to your tattoo if not protected.
Some studies suggest that it can actually take anywhere from 3-6 months for the ink to truly set into your skin. Although the first few weeks of aftercare is important, continuing to take care of your tattoo can extend the longevity or your new piece.
If you have any reactions or concerns about your tattoo we suggest contacting the artist that did your tattoo for more advice.
This has been a comprehensive look at our basic tattoo aftercare instructions. There are always new aftercare products coming to the market, whether it's Saniderm wrap or a new tattoo salve. We will visit these topics on an upcoming post. We hope this has been informative and feel free to leave us a comment or share your thoughts in the comments, thanks!