What to do in the first 24 hours of getting a tattoo

Tattoo Care: What to do in the first 24 hours of getting a tattoo. Avoid these mistakes

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Tattoo Care: What to do in the first 24 hours of getting a tattoo. Avoid these mistakes

Getting a new tattoo is an exciting experience, but it’s important to know how to take care of it properly in order to ensure that it heals correctly and looks great for years to come. You need to know what to do in the first 24 hours of getting a tattoo.

In the first 24 hours after getting a tattoo the most important thing is keeping it clean and following your artist’s instructions. Use the ointment or dressing your artist has advised you to use. A tattoo is an open wound and at risk of infection. Do not touch without washing your hands and make sure you don’t pick or scratch it. Don’t go swimming or into saunas.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss what you need to do in the first 24 hours after getting your tattoo, as well as some common mistakes that people make when taking care of their tattoos.

Read on to ensure that your new tattoo looks amazing once it heals!

If you have any issues with Tattoo Ink Sacks this post may help you. The Tattoo Ink Sack. Is it Normal? Can You Pop It?

Why good tattoo care in the first 24 Hours is critical

You step proudly out of the tattoo shop with your brand new ink. The tattooist has done their job and you are pleased with the results. Now it’s down to you.

However, the most important phase, the first 24 hours of healing is now here. This period of time is the important key to how well your tattoo heals, how it will look for years to come, and even if you will get an infection that will destroy your tattoo.

And it’s all your responsibility! Eek.

The first 24 hours of tattoo care is important to get right. You need to know what to do and almost more importantly, what to avoid.

Don’t worry and freak out about the responsibility. We’re here to talk you through the first 24-48 hours and make sure you get the best possible healed result for your tattoo.

Important – Listen to your own tattoo artist

We’re going to talk about the consensus of aftercare for tattoos.

However, you must listen to your own tattoo artist’s specific instructions. They have inked you and know your skin type as well as the products they recommend. So, make sure you take on board everything they say first and foremost.

They should have given you a printed sheet with their specific aftercare instructions. It’s really important to follow what you have been told by your professional artist and not listen to your mates or just make it up as you go along.

We are not your tattooist and can not give medical advice so make sure you speak to your own tattooist or doctor.

Tattoo Care – The first 24 to 48 hours

Tattoo care can appear complicated but it is basically very simple. The bottom line of proper tattoo aftercare is to treat it like an open wound and keep the area clean from bacterial infection.

During the first 24 hours, the tattoo is at its most vulnerable so let’s get you safely through that.

There are basically 2 ways your artist may have sent you home after your tattoo.

We will go through both here.

1 – Dressing Method – Using Saniderm or breathable plastic dressing.

If your artist has sent you home with a plastic dressing on your tattoo, this makes your life a lot easier.

  • Leave the dressing on for 24 hours [or whatever your artist told you]
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water
  • Get in the shower and remove the dressing
  • Wash the tattoo gently using your hands and mild or antibacterial soap only. No scrubbing or rough sponges etc. Just wash away any accumulated fluid on the surface very gently.
  • Exit the shower and pat the tattoo dry using a clean paper towel
  • Put on the next piece of dressing that your tattooist should have provided for you.
  • You keep this dressing on for around 5 days or so to protect the tattoo during its initial healing phase.
What to do in the first 24 hours of getting a tattoo tattoo Dressing Film
Matching Tattoos covered with tattoo dressing film
After Tattoo Care Dressing Film
After Tattoo Care Dressing Film
Tattoo Care Dressing Film
Tattoo Healing Film

2 – Ointment method – Use the aftercare ointment your tattooist recommended

Your tattooist will probably have sent you home with your tattoo wrapped up in clingfilm / plastic wrap / saran wrap. They should hopefully have recommended a good ointment or tattoo aftercare cream for you to use too.

As soon as you get home you want to deal with this.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Remove the tattoo wrap. It’s easiest to do this in the shower. You want to get this off as soon as you can. It’s only for brief protection and leaving it on too long leads to a buildup of warmth and fluids underneath which are the perfect conditions for bacteria to breed. It’s important to take it off and keep it off. No re-wrapping.
  • In the shower, wash down the tattoo gently using soap and water. No scrubbing.
  • Pat the tattoo dry with a clean paper towel
  • Apply the healing ointment that your tattooist has advised you to use. Don’t overdo it. You only need a small thin layer or you will clog the tattoo.
  • Do this washing / drying / ointment routine 2 times a day for 3 days.
  • Always wash your hands before touching the tattoo and don’t allow anyone else to touch it.

For more information about sling film on tattoos you might want to read this post

How long do you keep cling film on a tattoo? Why?

A fresh tattoo is a large open wound and is vulnerable to infection. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching it.

Can I touch a new tattoo?

You want to touch a new tattoo as little as possible. Wash your hands really well before you do. You can then touch it to do your aftercare routine. Make sure that you are not picking at any tattoo scab or flaking dry skin and definitely don’t let anyone else touch it.

How To Wash A New Tattoo

That brings us neatly onto the topic of how to wash your tattoo. Don’t worry, it’s all pretty simple.

I know I’m repeating this but it’s crucial. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching the tattoo.

Can I wash a new tattoo?

Yes, you will need to wash a new tattoo two or three times a day using mild soap and water as outlined above {if not using dressing film}. However, make sure everything is clean that comes into contact with it, and don’t soak the tattoo underwater in the bath.

Can I take a shower with a new tattoo?

Yes, you can take a shower with a new tattoo. In fact, this is the easiest way to clean your tattoo and can feel soothing.

If you have dressing film over the tattoo you can still take a shower. Just aim the shower jets away from the dressing so it doesn’t get waterlogged or come off.

Can I take a bath with a fresh tattoo?

Taking a bath with a fresh tattoo isn’t really advisable. This is because you don’t want to soak the tattoo in water and get it waterlogged.

If you have the tattoo in an area away from the water you could take a bath if you are very careful to keep it out of the water.

For example, if you had a shoulder tattoo you could have a waist-deep bath as long as you sat up and avoided getting the tattoo wet.

However, in general, baths are to be avoided. Stick to showers whilst you are healing.

Will it hurt to wash a new tattoo?

Your tattoo will be sore and tender for a few days. This is perfectly normal.

You may find that your irritated skin stings more when you first get in the shower and wash the tattoo. After a few washes, this should ease off as the tattoo starts to heal.

Make sure you don’t use water that is too hot. Using lukewarm water will ensure that washing the tattoo doesn’t hurt.

In general, the pain isn’t bad and just feels like a slight sunburn. It shouldn’t be excruciating. Having a shower and washing the tattoo down is generally quite soothing.

Applying Ointment to your new tattoo

What kind of ointment should you use on a new tattoo?

There are so many different brands of tattoo ointment around that it can get confusing. {If you are using dressing film you won’t even need ointment.}

The main thing is to keep it simple. Stick to the ointment that your artist recommended for you.

Don’t feel the need to buy expensive branded ointments and Tattoo Aftercare Products

The basic creams work just fine.

Bepanthen Nappy Care Ointment

This is the aftercare ointment that I recommend to my clients. It’s gentle, breathable, and will not clog the tattoo.

However, use what your own tattooist has advised you to use.

Some artists don’t like Bepanthen. Read this post to discover the latest information about using Bepanthen For Tattoos.

What kind of ointment should you avoid with a fresh tattoo?

However, it is important to avoid using the WRONG tattoo ointments. In some cases, this can result in damage to the tattoo as they are just not the right product for the situation.

Here are the things to avoid putting on a fresh tattoo.

  • Sudocrem – this is not designed for tattoo healing and will not allow the tattoo to breathe. Don’t use this on a tattoo
  • Vaseline – Again, vaseline is not breathable and is not conducive to healing a tattoo.
  • Cocoa butter – This is great to use on a tattoo conceit has initially healed after 2 weeks or so. However it is not recomended for use at the beginning of the healing time.
  • Any ointment or salve in an open pot or tub – please make sure you use ointment in a tube or sealed container and buy a new tube. Don’t use an old previously opened and contaminated item.


The tattoo studio I used to work in rarely had anyone get an infection. However, one day, one of my colleague’s clients came back with a raging infection. He had had to go to the doctors and get emergency antibiotics. He was really ill and his tattoo was ruined.

We were horrified as the studio was known for its extreme cleanliness. How on earth had he got an infection!? We sat down with him to work out what had happened.

On investigation, it turns out that instead of buying a new tube of Bepanthen. as instructed he had decided to save some money. He had a new baby and he and his wife were using a pot of cream for the nappy changes.

When they changed the nappy they were dipping their hands into this pot to smear the cream on the baby’s bum. Of course, the pot got contaminated with all kinds of bacteria from the nappy contents.

He had then dipped in it and used this contaminated cream liberally all over his new tattoo with the horrible but expected infection consequences. Yup!

So, no tubs or pots and get a new tube of cream every time. Right?

7 Mistakes that can damage a brand new tattoo

1 – Swimming or saunas – especially wild swimming in lakes, rivers, and the sea.

You shouldn’t go in any bodies of water for at least three weeks as there is a high risk of infection in a healing tattoo. Rivers, lakes and the sea may contain sewage that can get in your open tattoo.

You also need to avoid swimming pools as the chlorine in the water can fade the fresh pigment.

You also need to avoid saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms which can contain bacteria.

2 – Soaking in the bath

This can be tempting but it’s a big no.  Soaking will soften the tattoo and make it more susceptible to damage and infection.

If you want to have a relaxing soak wait until your tattoo is healed.

3 – Sunbathing

Exposing a new tattoo to the sun will damage it as the freshly tattooed skin is healing and delicate. It will fade the colours quicker than if you kept it covered and out of the sun. Sun exposure is definitely to be avoided in the first few weeks.

Once the tattoo has healed use a high factor sun block on it to keep it looking good.

4 – Sleeping in a dirty bed

Your bedding should be clean as there is a chance of bacteria getting on the tattoo and causing an infection.

Bed sheets, duvets, pillows, and towels should all be clean. Wear clean night clothes but be aware that the ink from the tattoo can seep out overnight into your T-Shirt so don’t wear your best designer gear.

5 – Letting people touch your tattoo

People are fascinated by new tattoos and always seem to want totouch them! It’s up to you to stop them. People’s hands are grubby and filled with all sorts of bacteria that could cause an infection in the tattoo.

They may also accidentally rip off scabs or pull at the skin which will damage the tattoo.

6 – Overdoing cream or messing with it too much

Tattoos need to be kept moist but not over-moisturized. Too much cream can actually delay the healing process and extend tattoo healing time as it prevents oxygen from reaching the area and can make the tattoo softer and more susceptible to damage.

Tattoos do heal on their own. Don’t get paranoid and mess with your tattoo too much, leave it alone as much as possible to heal!

7 – Leaving the cling film / saran wrap / plastic wrap on too long

The cling film / saran wrap is there to protect and stop your clothes sticking to the tattoo on the way home from the tattoo parlor. Nothing longer.

However, it shouldn’t be left on for longer than a couple of hours as it can suffocate the tattoo and prevent oxygen from reaching it which can cause problems. It also provides a warm moist environment for bacteria to grow on the healing skin and cause an infection.

Take it off as soon as you can when you get back from your appointment.

Infected Foot Tattoo
A tattoo infection can be serious, painful, and even life threatening.


How to tell if you have an infection in your tattoo

If you are experiencing poor healing and are worried that you may have an infection in your tattoo there are a few things you can look out for:

  • The area around the tattoo is hot to touch
  • The tattoo is painful and sore
  • The tattoo is oozing pus or fluid
  • The tattoo is red and inflamed
  • You have a fever

If you think you may have an infected tattoo it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Get to the Doctor ASAP. In the worst-case scenario, a tattoo infection can end in death!

What if you need a touch-up?

If your tattoo isn’t healing quite right and you think it needs a touch-up wait until it is completely healed. This can take up to 12 weeks.

Trying to fix a tattoo that isn’t healed yet will just make it worse and could cause an infection or damage the tattoo further. Be patient, it’ll be worth the wait!

Just get in contact with your tattoo artist and explain what has happened. Most artists offer a free touch-up and are happy to do this. They will then book you in when the tattoo is fully healed and they can fix any issues.

You might also want to read this post Is it normal for a new tattoo to look faded?

Frequently asked questions about Tattoo Care – What to do in the first 24 hours of getting a tattoo

How should I treat my first night of a tattoo?

The most important thing on the first night of your tattoo is to make sure your bed is clean. Have fresh sheets and clean clothes to sleep in. However, be aware that the tattoo will seep some tattoo ink and fluid overnight so don’t use your best expensive designer t-shirt or sheets. A thin layer of cream or ointment or a dressing film will protect your tattoo.

What can’t you do after getting a tattoo?

You shouldn’t sunbathe or go on sunbeds until the tattoo is healed. Swimming {especially wild} should also be avoided as water can contain bacteria that could infect the tattoo and chlorine can affect the ink. Don’t scratch or pick the tattoo or you can lose ink. Don’t touch the tattoo without washing your hands and down allow anyone else to touch it either.

How soon after getting a tattoo can I shower?

You can shower immediately after getting the tattoo but avoid hot water as it can be sore. Gently wash the tattoo with warm water and soap making sure all the ink residue and body fluid is removed. Avoid scrubbing the tattoo as this could damage it. Pat it dry with a clean towel. Apply a thin layer of the cream your artist recommended. Baths are not recommended.

Conclusion: What to do in the first 24 hours of getting a tattoo

So now you have all the information you need for a great tattoo heal. Caring for a tattoo properly in the first 24 hours is crucial but it’s not difficult to oo the proper care. Just follow these guidelines, keep the tattoo clean and avoid the common mistakes and you’ll be fine and avoid any potential infection.

If you have any questions or concerns, please consult with your tattoo artist. They are the experts and will be happy to help you to make sure your ink heals well and looks amazing.

Good luck

The information on the site is for entertainment only. Anything you do is at your own risk. Consult with your own Tattooist, Piercer or Doctor for advice.
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