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Tattoos are permanent works of art. You should come out of the studio buzzing with pride about your new ink but did you know that your after tattoo care will make or break how well it heals. Poor tattoo aftercare can ruin a beautiful tattoo.
Keep your after tattoo care simple. Wash your hands well before you touch the tattoo. Wash the tattoo twice a day using non fragranced soap. Pat dry with a clean paper towel and apply the ointment your tattooist recomended. Don’t wrap or put cling film on the tattoo and make sure you keep it clean.
There are some important things that you need to know in order to make sure that your tattoo doesn’t get infected, gets maximum color retention and looks amazing when healed.
Read on to avoid the most common after tattoo care mistakes.
Follow your tattoo artist’s advice
Advice on the best tattoo aftercare routine varies from studio to studio, but there are some common elements. Healing times also differ but there are similarities amongst most people.
It’s important that you listen to the instructions given by your artist. Most studios will have a leaflet or booklet with their aftercare instruction printed out for you to take home.
They will also have favourite tattoo aftercare products which they recomend.
I’m not your artist and am not giving you advice here. It’s crucial you stick to what your own artist told you to do.
Why Is Tattoo Aftercare So Important?
Aftercare is important because it helps prevent infections and scarring. A tattoo is a procedure which punctures the skin and this comes with a risk of infection. After tattoo care is crucial to make sure that infection doesn’t happen.
If you do get an infection it can be extremely dangerous and even result in death or amputation in some cases [although thankfully very rare]. At the very least an infection will be painful and ruin the look of your design when it heals. It may not be fixable either. For all these reasons it’s important to take after tattoo care seriously.
Don’t over complicate things
It’s easy to get stressed out about aftercare. There are so many tattoo aftercare tips and companies selling their own tattoo ointment tattoo aftercare cream or tattoo cleanser.
Friends often tell you what you should do after the tattoo process as well.
Current tattoo aftercare methods may seem complex but the reality is simple. The bottom line of proper tattoo aftercare is treating it like an open wound and keeping it clean and safe from bacterial infection.
Tattoo Care First 48 Hours
Tattoo Care in the first 48 hours after the initial session is the most crucial. You need to wash and dry the tattoo twice a day, applying the ointment your tattooist recommended. Don’t wrap it and keep it away from sources of dirt and contamination. Always wash your hands before you touch the tattoo.
This 48 hours after the procedure is the time when the ink is most likely to get infected [although it can happen at any time until the skin has healed over fully].
For this reason you have to protect your new design.
You will find that when you have new ink people want to touch it. Make sure that you don’t let anyone touch the skin.
You also need to make sure that you keep your ink away from sources of dirt and contamination. You just need to think this through a bit. For example, don’t do washing up if you have had a wrist or hand tattoo. You don’t want to immerse new ink in dirty water.
You don’t want to go playing sports where you risk falling in mud with an open wound.
It’s important to protect the design at night too. Make sure you have clean sheets and don’t sleep with any animals [or partners] touching the skin.
Just make sure you avoid potential contamination risks.
After Tattoo care for The first few days – Week One
Your After Tattoo Care will be different depending on what method your artist uses to cover the tattoo. Some artists use the good old fashioned method of wrapping with cling film or Saran Wrap.
More and more artists are now using healing films such as Dermalize and Saniderm. These dressings make life so much easier and do seem to help the tattoo to heal better.
However, they can sometimes be a bit rough and cause a reaction if you have a sensitive skin type.
When you have finished the procedure, your artists will clean the tattoo and cover it with either Saran Wrap or a dressing film. Check out the method below that matches what you have.
DRESSING FILM METHOD
Your design will have been covered after the procedure by a dressing such as Dermalize which is breathable. Leave this on for up to 24 hours, so change it the next day.
You may find the dressing has lymphatic fluid and tattoo ink under it by the next morning. This is normal and just part of your bodies healing process.
- Wash your hands thoroughly first with soap and water.
- Remove the dressing. It’s easier to do this in the shower. Wash down the design gently with soap and lukewarm water to remove the bodily fluids and excess ink.
- Avoid using any kind of soap with heavy fragrance, alcohol, moisture-beads, or scrubs. Don’t use a cloth or sponge on a newly tattooed skin. Use only soap and warm water.
- Pat your tattoo dry with something clean such as a clean towel or sheet of kitchen roll.
- Apply the next dressing you have been given by your artist. They will have recomended tattoo aftercare products or a specific tattoo ointment that they like.
- This second dressing usually stays on for around 5 or 6 days. Check what your artist told you.
- After this time the skin will have completed initial healing. It may be dry and flakey so a little aftercare cream or moisturiser is OK as long as there is no scabbing or open areas. Coconut oil is a good natural moisturiser. If there are still any scabs don’t use moisturiser. Get in touch with your artists if you are unsure.
- Be aware that sometimes dressing film can cause irritated skin, especially in people with skin sensitivity. This is rare but if you find the edges of your dressing become red and itchy get in touch with your artist. It may be best to remove it and use ointment instead.
Plastic Wrap Method
This is the old tried and trusted method of covering a tattoo. With this method you will have come out of the tattoo shop with your limb swathed in plastic wrap like a sausage to protect it.
It’s really important to understand that the plastic wrap is only there to get you home after the procedure.
It’s not really an after care method. People used to go through all kinds of convoluted regimes of washing and wrapping but keeping plastic wrap on a tattoo runs a high risk of causing an infection.
This is because the plastic wrap acts like a greenhouse for bacteria. It’s warm and damp under there and full of body fluids and tattoo ink. Just the perfect conditions for bacteria to grow and thrive and start chewing away at your new tattoo. This is definitely not what you want.
So as soon as you get home after the procedure and can do so, remove the film, clean the tattoo and don’t cover it again with plastic wrap. Your skin needs air in order to heal.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Wash the skin gently but thoroughly using warm water and a gentle cleanser. Avoid harsh soaps and fragrances.
- Make sure all traces of body fluids and blood are removed. Do not use anything abrasive or rough to rub the fresh ink as this may affect the quality of the tattoo and risk infection. Don’t use soaps or washes with alcohol or fragrance. Mild, fragrance-free soap is perfect. Use clean soapy hands only.
- Dry the area thoroughly by patting it dry using a clean paper towel. Avoid rubbing the skin because doing so may cause damage.
- Cover the design in a thin layer of ointment or unscented lotion your tattooist recomended. I use Bepanthen Nappy Ointment but it isn’t available everywhere. Your artist may suggest antibiotic ointments or an antibacterial soap. Don’t use Sudacrem or Vaseline which aren’t breathable and can cause infection.
- The ointment keeps the skin moist and prevents scabbing whilst providing a protective barrier from infection and dirt
- Repeat this process twice a day for around four days until the initial healing process has taken place.
- After about a week you can use normal moisturiser as long as there are no scabs or open areas. Cocoa Butter or coconut oil are both great natural moisturisers.
There is some debate about if Bepanthen is still safe to use on tattoos. You can find out in this post. Bepanthen For Tattoos. Is it still good?
After Tattoo Care Week Two
Congratulations. You have got through the tattoos most vulnerable phase and are on the home straight. Ink keeps healing for 4 to 6 weeks after the procedure though so you still have to be on the ball.
By now the design should look well healed. Ink from an experienced artist shouldn’t be scabby. However, if you do have scabs they should be flaking off now. Its super important you don’t pick at them or pull them off. This could pull out ink. You should let the scabs come off naturally.
The design may look shiny and have patches of dry skin. This is normal and is just the natural skin regeneration and new fresh skin forming.
It may also be itchy. Don’t scratch at it as this can damage it. I have seen someone who almost completely scratched out their new tattoo. If you’re itching, use a light layer of moisturizer to reduce irritation. You can also gently slap the skin which can calm the itching.
Week three and beyond
The tattoo should look completely healed by the end of week three. There should be no more scabbing or any open areas. Providing everything has healed over the risk of infection has passed as the skin is no longer open to bacteria.
Once everything is healed over, you can safely return to your usual skin care routine
The outer layer of skin should be fully healed. However the tattoo is still healing inside for a little while longer. Layers of skin should gradually heal and the design become integrated into the skin.
You may see changes in colour and the tattoo may look a little dull for a while as it settles in and the natural skin regeneration continues over the tattoo.
The true depth of color will shine through as soon as the design has fully healed and the skin surface has settled. The true color may not be reached till week eight so give it time.
Rapid skin exfoliation also means that the skin may look dry and flakey as the dead skin comes off. Use a layer of moisturizer to protect the freshly growing skin which will help with the dryness.
Keep it your new ink out of the sun and use a high factor sunblock if there is risk of sun exposure.
What does an infected tattoo look like?
Incorrect aftercare is the most common reason for an infection. It’s important to know what to look out for if your new ink gets infected. That way you can get treatment straight away to prevent serious repercussions.
Signs of infection are.
- Tattoo starting to go red a few days after your appointment
- Starting to feel sore
- Pain that hasn’t subsided a few days after the appointment
- A feeling of warmth in the tattoo
- Spots, blisters or blotches around the design
- Any signs of pus in the tattoo
- Swelling and inflammation
- Weeping of fluid
- A bad smell
- Fever. This is serious. Get to a doctor NOW!
See your doctor if you think you need medical attention. They will be able to give you an antibiotic to stop the infection in its tracks. Dont delay going to a doctor if you are unsure. An infection can be extremely serious if left untreated.
Importantly, infections are rare. Most ink heals just fine.
Tattoo Aftercare Important Tips
Remember that your ink is technically an open wound so you need to treat it very carefully. The following tips should help to make sure your fresh tattoo heals well without infection.
Touch It With Clean Hands Only
This is the number one rule. Only ever touch the fresh ink after you have washed your hands thoroughly with soap and water. That way you minimise the chances of introducing bacteria into the wound.
Don’t let others touch your fresh ink
You will find that peoples natural instinct is to reach out and poke your tattoo. Its up to you to stop them. If you are out and about wear clothing over the tattoo to protect it. Little kids are especially fascinated by tattoos so make sure you keep out of reach until it’s healed.
Be aware of keeping the tattoo clean.
Just be aware of your fresh ink and keep it away from any source of bacterial infection. For example, a wrist tattoo is particularly vulnerable. Don’t lean your wrist on a dirty surface, for example, your keyboard. Don’t submerge your wrist in dirty water, for example, washing the dishes. Just be aware and keep the fresh ink safe.
Allow It to Breathe
The ink needs to breathe to heal. For this reason dont cover it with plastic wrap. Saniderm or similar dressing films are breathable.
Don’t Pick or Scratch It
Tattoos can get insanely itchy after about day four. This is normal with healing skin and is just part of the healing process. Just make sure you don’t scratch at it as this will take out the ink and color. Your tattooist may refuse to retouch it if they can see you have scratched it out.
Keep it out of the sun
As the news skin is forming its incredibly delicate and prone to sun damage. Sun on a fresh tattoo can fade and lighten the color. Keep the ink covered with clothing and stay out of direct sun for a few weeks. After the tattoo is healed, avoid direct sun exposure and aways cover a tattoo with sunblock to prevent fading. It’s best not to go on a tanning bed as well or use sun block. Tanning is bad for tattoos.
Stay away from swimming for a good three weeks after your appointment. The chlorine in the water can attack the pigment color fade the tattoo. Most importantly, bacteria can get in and cause a skin infection.
It’s especially important to avoid swimming in lakes, rivers and the sea as there’s a high risk of infection from exposure to sewage and bacteria in the water. Make sure everything is fully healed with no scabs or open areas before swimming.
Dont soak in the bath
You don’t want to soak the ink in water. Keep the skin dry. For this reason avoid the bath until everything is fully healed. Its fine if its area you can keep out of the water, such as neck or hand, but you don’t want the design sitting in water.
Stick to showers whilst you are healing.
Go back to the studio for touch ups if needed
Don’t worry if after all your best efforts there are some small parts of the tattoo which have healed lighter or need a touch up session. A good artist will be happy to fix any little issues for you. It’s in their best interests to make sure you are happy with their work. There shouldn’t be any additional charges as long as you have taken good care of the tattoo.
Dont worry about asking. Its a normal part of getting a tattoo and they will be happier for you to do that rather than being unhappy with the tattoo. Often a short session will fix it.
Get in touch with them to sort out a retouch appointment.
What should you not do with a new tattoo?
To make sure your new tattoo heals well there are some things you should not do. Don’t touch the tattoo with unwashed hands. Don’t let anyone else touch the tattoo. Don’t swim or use saunas. Don’t let sun get on the tattoo. Don’t scratch or pick at the tattoo. Don’t wrap it in plastic wrap.
When should I wash my new tattoo?
You should wash your tattoo at the first opportunity you have after getting back from the tattoo shop unless your artist told you different. Make sure you wash your hands with soap and water before touching the tattoo. If you have saniderm dressing film on you need to leave that on around 24 hours.
Can I use Vaseline on my tattoo?
You can’t use vaseline on your tattoo. Vaseline is non breathable and so can clog up the tattoo and cause infection. As its petroleum oil based it can also pull ink out from the tattoo and affect healing. Use an aftercare ointment recommended by your tattoo artist.
After Tattoo Care – Conclusion
I hope you now know what to do and what to avoid whilst healing your new tattoo. It important though that you follow your artists instructions and take proper care to make sure your new ink looks vibrant and beautiful for many years to come.
More Info on Tattoo Aftercare
- Xed Le Head Death Obituary – Dotwork Tattoo Pioneer - October 18, 2023
- How I Started Tattooing – - October 16, 2023
- Healed White Tattoos: How Long Do White Tattoos Last - September 8, 2023