Complete Guide For Tattoo Aftercare

Welcome To The Tattoo Family!

There are few experiences that are more thrilling or empowering than walking out of a tattoo parlor with some fresh, badass new artwork on display.  In the past decade tattoos have become increasingly more commonplace and socially acceptable, both in and out of the workplace.  On average about 14% of all Americans are rocking some ink, with the highest density in ages 26-40, where at least 40% claim to have one or more tattoos.  That's over 45 million people in the U.S. alone!  So if you've gone under the needle, you're in good company.

best tattoo aftercare

      As any tattoo enthusiast knows, the most crucial part of getting new ink isn’t actually the work that’s done in the parlor, but the tattoo aftercare.  Properly caring for a new tattoo is what’s going to keep your ink looking vibrant, clear, and healthy.  Like with any good investment, you want to make sure you take care of what you put your time, energy, and money into.

Why Is Tattoo Aftercare Important? 

      Without following proper aftercare procedures, you run the risk of getting infections (which are extremely painful and will mess up your ink and skin), inflammation, bleaching or fading of the tattoo, or even pulling the ink right out of your skin (yes, it can happen)!

best tattoo aftercare tips

      What exactly are the best ways to care for a new tattoo after you walk out of the parlor? We’ve got answers to FAQ’s and advice compiled from top artists and tattoo enthusiasts in the business to help you in the easy - but extremely important - aftercare of a tattoo.

FAQ's For Tattoo Healing 

- How Long Does It Take For A Tattoo To Heal?  

As much of a test of endurance going under the needle may be, most tattooed individuals will agree that it is the healing process that actually takes the most patience. Healing a tattoo typically takes about two weeks, most likely longer if it was a particularly big or intensive piece. (This can vary from person to person, a strong immune system and healthy skin speeds up the process.)

- Will My Skin Bleed When Getting A Tattoo? 

When you get a tattoo, your skin is essentially getting pierced thousands of times into the lower layers of the dermis.  This is necessary in order for the ink to stay put.  So if you are wondering, 'Do tattoos bleed?',  seeing some bleeding during and after the process is normal, and very temporary.

tattoo expert tips

To minimize the amount of bleeding during a tattoo, it helps to avoid drinking caffeine, alcohol, or taking pain meds like Aspirin, Advil or Tylenol before getting inked.​

best tattoo aftercare

- What Does A Healing Tattoo Feel Like? 

A fresh tattoo is typically described as feeling like a really bad sunburn right after the work is done, and can be sore or tender to the touch for a few days afterward. After that, when your skin begins to regenerate, the itching will start; and if you can survive that, then you’re in the clear!

- Are Tattoos Supposed To Peel? 

In short, yes. Peeling is part of the tattoo healing process and one of the stages of your skin healing after the tattoo was performed.  See the Stages Of Tattoo Healing below. 

best tattoo aftercare

- What Are The Healing Stages Of A Tattoo? 

1

WEEPING (OOZING) & SCABBING

(Week 1)  Over the next few hours immediately after getting a tattoo, you can expect some liquid to "weep" from the site. The plastic wrap should still be covering your tattoo at this point.  This oozing plasma from your wound, (pleasant, I know) is an essential part of the healing process. After removing the wrap and gently cleansing, you will see scabbing slowly start to form over the next few days, just like any injury to the skin would heal. It is vital that you resist picking at the scabs or scratching your tattoo site! Not only are our hands and fingernails generally full of bacteria that could cause infection, but picking the scabbing of a new tattoo will pull the ink out of your skin. Let the tattoo heal on its own and the scabbing will come off naturally.  

2

PEELING & FLAKING

(Week 2)  After the layer of skin under your scabbing is freshly healed, you will have some peeling of the top layer of dead skin, and your body will shed it gradually.  Tattoo peeling is similar to how a thin layer of skin peels after a sunburn, revealing a fresh, healed skin underneath.  Peeling usually starts after the first week or so. It is important once again that you do not help the peeling along by picking at it, but patience will reward you in time. 

3

ITCHING & CLOUDINESS

(Week 2-4)  You can expect some itchiness over the course of your new tattoo healing, but generally it gets a little more intense as it is peeling.  Once again you must resist scratching! (We’ve found that lightly tapping the tattoo site is a good alternative to scratching.)  Keeping it moisturized and clean also reduces itchiness.  If your new body art appears a bit cloudy, this is normal. Once the skin is fully healed, your ink will be vibrant again.

best tattoo aftercare

- How Long Should I Keep The Wrapping On My New Tattoo? 

Most artists will recommend keeping your new ink bandaged for about 2-3 hours after finishing in the parlor; this is mainly to catch any fluids, as most tattoos do have some bleeding/oozing after completion. It's also recommended to wrap your new tattoo with plastic wrap, taping the edges with medical tape, before going to bed the first night. This will prevent both bacteria from the bed getting into the tattoo site, as well as keeping your sheets from sticking to your healing tattoo which will most likely be oozing a bit still. 

- How Often Should I Wash My New Tattoo? 

You should be washing your new tattoo 2-3 times a day. Anything less than that sets you up to be at risk for an infection, and anything more will dry your skin out unnecessarily and can fade the ink.

- How Should I Clean A New Tattoo? 

After taking the bandage off, you should gently wash the area with warm water and mild antibacterial soap.  We have a list of the BEST MILD SOAPS to use for tattoo aftercare.  (Make sure to avoid anything that has parabens, fragrance, or alcohol in it, as all of those ingredients will irritate the new tattoo and sting like you wouldn’t believe.)

If you don’t want to let your tat air-dry, then using a soft paper towel (like Viva paper towels) to dab it dry is best.  Cloth towels hang on to more bacteria, and the fibers can get caught in the tattoo scabbing.  The key is to be gentle, use mild products, and you’ll be fine. 

how to wash new tattoo

- What Products Should I Use For Post-Tattoo Care?

It may seem overwhelming if this is your first time around, but we’ve got you covered here on all the best tattoo aftercare products!  

Ointment

For the first few days you will want to apply an ointment to your tattoo about 2-3 times a day after washing, depending on how dry your skin is.   Artists recommend using an ointment first over a cream or a lotion because ointments are thicker in consistency and tend to be more water-resistant.  Ointments also provide better protection against dirt, germs, and other environmental agents that could cause an infection or other problems with a new tattoo.   

You can check out this top rated list of the BEST OINTMENTS for tattoo aftercare. 

Lotion or Cream

After the first few days you can switch from ointment to using a lotion, as long as it is unscented and does not contain any dyes, which can react badly with the tattoo ink.   These are the mildest and proven TOP LOTIONS on the market for new tattoos.

For those of you who have naturally dryer skin, you may want to try a cream over a lotion; you can check out the BEST CREAMS for tattoo aftercare here. A good rule of thumb for choosing an aftercare product is to search for lotions or creams with a minimal amount of chemicals; the more ingredients you can pronounce, the better.

best tattoo aftercare
Coconut Oil

Another increasingly popular option is using coconut oil for new tattoos, because coconut oil is an all-natural, sustainable, naturally anti-bacterial, and an extremely affordable alternative.  Organic coconut oil can be used in place of ointment, lotion or cream, and is good for using on your skin daily before and after tattoos.   Read here on the amazing benefits of Coconut Oil

tattoo expert tips

A Note When Applying Any Product On Your Tattoo:

It is very important that you do not oversaturate your tattoo while using any of these products; a very thin layer, just enough to cover the inked area, will suffice. Anything more than that and you will either suffocate the skin there (having a constant flow of oxygen is essential for proper healing), or the products could draw the ink out of the skin.  Over-applying can also result in tattoo pimples, which is when bacteria get trapped in the skin because the pores are clogged.  (If you can see a shine from the ointment on your skin, you've applied too much!)

tattoo pimples care

- What If I Get Tattoo Pimples? 

If you happen to see those little red annoying pimples show up on your new tattoo as it's healing, the best thing you can do is leave it alone and do not touch or try to pop those pimples!  With gentle regular washing, air-drying, and very minimal amounts of ointment, those pimples will clear up on their own.  (However, if you start to see signs of infection, swelling, warmness and any puss or oozing, you should call your doctor.) 

- Can I Go Swimming With A New Tattoo? 

No!   One of the worst things you can do is go swimming with a new tattoo.  Any standing body of water – whether it’s a pool, lake, ocean, or even a bathtub – is a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause a seriously bad infection in newly tattooed skin.  An added danger with swimming in a pool are the chemicals used in the water, which can not only irritate a new tat, but can easily bleach out the ink.  However, showers are fine and recommended, as long as the water is warm, not too hot, as it is possible to burn the tender skin on your new tattoo.  Read more on swimming after tattoos here. 

swimming with tattoo

- Can I Tan With A New Tattoo?

No!  You should avoid exposing your tattoo to direct sunlight for at least the 2-3 weeks it takes for your new ink to heal.  Sunlight will fade the ink, and can be harmful to skin that is still healing.  It is best to keep new ink covered with loose-fitting, soft cotton fabrics until it is healed, and it never hurts to put on a thin layer of gentle sunblock as added protection. 

- What About Pets And New Tattoos? 

If you own pets, avoid allowing your animal to make contact with the new tattoo, either through licking, petting, playing, etc.  This can cause an infection, so it is best to keep your new ink covered when playing with a pet.  Really the same goes for any family or friends who may make physical contact with your new ink as well.  Unless their hands are freshly cleaned, do not let them touch your ink.  A new tattoo is essentially an open wound, and should be treated as such. 

pets and tattoos

image by @tattoos&pets

tattoo expert tips

      If your bandage, clothing, bed sheets, etc. end up getting stuck to your new tattoo - it happens - resist the urge to yank it off.   It is best to run the area under lukewarm/cool water until the fabric loosens and comes off the tattoo on its own.  (Simply pulling the fabric off will likely rip the scabbing off, which will ultimately pull ink out of your skin and possibly ruin your tattoo!)

To Recap:

Here Are The Basic Do's & Don't's When Caring For A New Tattoo: 

DO: 

  • Remove wrap from new tattoo after a few hours.
  • Wash 2-3 times daily with anti-bacterial soaps
  • Use clean paper towels to pat dry
  • Keep it lightly moisturized with an ointment the first 2-3 days
  • Switch to unscented lotion or cream after the first few days
  • Stay out of the sun for the first few weeks until healed
  • Wear loose-fitting, breathable cotton clothing around your tattoo site
  • Drink plenty of water! Staying hydrated will help heal faster.
  • Listen to your tattoo artist!
  • Enjoy your awesome new body art

DON'T: 

  • Pick, peel, scratch or rub your new tattoo
  • Don’t touch your tattoo site with unwashed hands
  • Don’t go in a pool, bathtub, ocean, or submerge in any body of water
  • Don’t let people or pets touch your ink till it’s fully healed
  • Don’t over-apply lotions or moisturizers, just a very thin layer will do
  • Don’t expose your new tat to the sun without high SPF protection
  • Don’t wear tight fitting clothing over your tattoo
  • Don’t worry, your tattoo will soon be healed and ready to show off!
tattoo aftercare

Remember:  if you have any concerns at all about how your new ink is healing, or what products you should be using, do not hesitate to consult your tattoo artist.  And in the event of an infection, don’t hesitate about going to see your doctor; the longer you wait, the higher a probability that your ink will be ruined, or that the infection could spread into your bloodstream (seriously not good).  But don’t worry; with proper aftercare, tattoo infections are rare.

So be safe, be smart, and enjoy your new ink!




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