Tattoo aftercare is by far the most important aspect of your tattoo journey.
Post tattoo care should not be taken lightly - you need to know how to take care of a tattoo as best as possible.
This all-encompassing tattoo care instructions guide will walk you through every single stage of your tattoo journey and tells you what to do, and what not to do in order to help keep your tattoo looking perfect.
Why Tattoo Aftercare Is So Important
Throughout the history of tattooing, the healing process hasn't always been considered an important part of the process, but as time has gone on, we've been able to learn just how fundamental this section of the journey is.
Caring for a new tattoo is your responsibility from the very moment you get out of the Artist’s chair, right through until the moment you die (sorry for getting dark).
It is vital that you treat your new tattoo care routine with the respect it requires in order for your ink to look as crisp, sharp and colorful as it possibly can for as long as you’re alive.
When you initially finish getting your sparkling new tattoo, your skin will essentially be a big raw wound, open to all sorts of nasty germs and bacteria.
Correct aftercare procedures ensure that the tattooed area of skin remains infection free in an environment that is perfectly set up to ensure that healing proceeds to happen as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It’s not only the initial healing process where proper aftercare is important though. As you age, so does your tattoo. There are many environmental factors that will dictate how good(or how badly) your tattoo will look as it ages with you.
Throughout the rest of this article, we will walk you through all of these factors, as well as accompanying instructions on how to protect your tattoo through all stages of its life.
Suggested Aftercare For Tattoos
Leave your bandage/wrap on until told by your artist. While some artists may ask you to leave your bandage on for only an hour, others may ask you to keep it on for a whole day. Your artist knows which length of time is best for you and your tattoo, so ensure you listen to their advice.
Wash your tattoo well after removing the bandage/wrap. Wash your tattoo thoroughly (but carefully) using warm water and a fragrance-free soap to remove any excess/dried blood and plasma.
Pat your tattoo dry after cleaning it. Use a clean paper towel to dry your tattoo by gently PATTING the area. DON'T RUB.
Apply a small amount of lotion. After cleaning your tattoo, ensure the area is COMPLETELY dry before applying a very thin layer of your chosen aftercare product/lotion to help moisturize and nourish the area.
Wash your tattoo regularly. Continue to use a fragrance-free soap and lukewarm water to clean your tattoo at least twice a day.
Repeat the cleaning process until the tattoo is fully healed. Remember that your tattoo isn't completely safe from germs and bacteria until it has COMPLETELY finished scabbing and peeling. Continue to wash the tattoo until this point.
Don't pick and pull at the flaking/scabbing skin. Picking away at your healing tattoo can delay healing, cause fading, and increase the chances of infection.
Stay away from the sun. Don't expose your new tattoo to intense sunlight and don't apply any sun lotion to the area until it has fully healed.
Stay away from water. All bodies of water can contain nasty bacteria that can ruin a new tattoo if you're not careful. Stick to short showers until your skin has fully healed, and don't go swimming.
Continue to look after your tattoo once healed. Once healed, keep your tattoo well protected from the sun and ensure you continue to moisturize the area regularly. Healthy skin means a healthy looking tattoo.
What NOT To Do While Your Tattoo Is Healing
There are a number of things that definitely shouldn’t be done in the first stages of tattoo healing, below is a list of the most important things that you should not do while your tattoo is healing.
Pick the Scabs - This is vitally important. After a few days, your tattoo is going to begin to scab over. This scabbing should be mostly light, but some thick scabs can appear over certain areas depending on how much the area was worked on.
These scabs should not be picked or pulled off under any circumstance. Scabs that are not ready to fall off are potentially still connected to deeper skin layers where the ink is still in the process of setting, meaning that pulling a scab off could cause ink to be pulled out of the skin along with the scab.
Pick Off Peeling Skin - Once your tattoo has finished the scabbing phase, the skin will begin the peel and flake away. This flaky skin, no-matter how inviting, should not be played with, picked, or peeled off.
This skin may look like it's only literally hanging on by a thread, but it can still be connected to pigments of setting ink, meaning that by picking at the skin, you could be removing bits of ink too.
Scratch your Tattoo - This is probably the most important rule of all when it comes to caring for a new tattoo.
So many things can go wrong with a tattoo if you begin to scratch it.
Firstly, by scratching your tattoo you can very easily pull off multiple scabs and many pieces of peeling skin all at one. This can pull out large amounts of ink, making your tattoo look patchy and probably guaranteeing that you're going to need a touchup over the damaged area by your artist at some point in the future.
Heavy scratching can cause pits to develop in scabbing areas of the skin - this can lead to much longer healing times for the tattoo, as well as permanent scarring in some cases.
Not only this, but your fingernails harbour some pretty disgusting bacteria (think poo, uncooked food and public toilets - you get the picture).
By scratching your tattoo with your dirty fingernails, you are opening the wounded area up to all of these millions of types of nasty bacteria, greatly increasing the chances of getting your tattoo infected - which can become very serious in some cases.
Submerge your Tattoo in Water - Most bodies of water harbour many different kinds of nasty germs and bacteria, and it's imperative that you avoid coming into contact with any of these as best as possible.
Places like baths, lakes, ponds, puddles, washing up sinks and many other areas all contain large amounts of nasty little germs, so keep your tattoo away from all of these areas as best as possible for at least a month.
If you do happen to accidentally come into contact with any of these types of water-bodies, wash your tattoo as soon as possible with a fragrance and alcohol free antibacterial soap.
Stay away from swimming with a new tattoo or bathing in any type of water for at least three weeks.
Expose your Tattoo to the Sun - Another extremely important rule. If you didn't already know this, the sun is the #1 tattoo killer. You must keep your tattoo covered at all times if going outside in warm weather.
When your tattoo is new and your skin is red raw and swollen, it is an extremely sensitive area, and even tiny amounts of UV rays from the sun can cause lots of damage to the area in short spaces of times.
During this important healing stage, the sun can swell and blister a tattoo, as well as prolong the healing times and fade the ink, so stay away from the big circle in the sky (and sunbeds too for that matter, they are just as bad in terms of UV production).
Please keep in mind that UV rays can also penetrate cloud-cover easily, so even if it's not sunny outside, you must still be cautious.
Re-wrap your Tattoo - Unless specifically advised by your artist, and told in detail how to do this properly, you mustn't re-wrap your tattoo once the initial wrap has been removed.
Your tattoo needs to breath in order to heal properly and the wrap will suffocate the area, leading to poorer quality healing - which will also take longer than normal compared to if the tattoo was able to breath normally.
Not only this, but when wrapped the area becomes very moist and warm, which is a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. The longer you leave a poorly sterilized wrap on a tattoo for, the more likely the area will get infected.
Smother the Tattoo in Lotion/Ointment - As with the re-wrapping, if you put too much aftercare cream/lotion onto the tattoo, the thick layer of product is going to prevent the area from getting enough air and oxygen, which will affect the quality of healing and potentially cause the tattoo scabs to bubble.
You should only apply a very thin, barely shiny layer of lotion to your tattoo. If you accidentally apply too much then you should gently dab off the excess lotion with a paper towel until you're left with a more appropriate amount.
Use Petroleum-Based Products - ~Most of these product types (such as Vaseline) are very dense and heavy, and should not be used on tattoos. Even applying a thin layer can prevent your tattoo from breathing properly. Not only this but some petroleum-based products contain ingredients that can actually draw ink from your tattoo if used too often.
Use Fragrance/Alcohol Based Soaps to Clean the Tattoo - The main reason not to use products containing artificial fragrances is that these ingredients are highly likely to irritate the very sensitive skin at this stage of the healing process.
Many artificial fragrances can cause your skin to react adversely in many ways such as causing a rash, inducing extreme itching, and making the area extra tender.
Alcohol-based products shouldn't be used either as alcohol is generally a very harsh ingredient (hence why it's added to the majority of household/industrial anti-bacterial cleaning products).
Like artificial fragrances, alcohol can cause problems with the sensitive skin. The main issues with alcohol is that it can make the tattooed area extremely dry, flaky and irritable.
Use Abrasive or Dirty Cloths/Towels to Clean or Dry the Tattoo - For the first month or so, nothing should be used to clean your tattoo apart from your sparkling-clean fingers.
Even after coming straight out of the tumble-dryer, a cloth/towel can still carry many different types of germs - therefore it's always recommend to only clean your tattoo by using your fingers in a circular motion to gently rub the area with lukewarm water and soap.
You should also never use an abrasive or fluffy washcloth to dry your tattoo. Abrasive cloths can pull off layers of skin and ink, potentially damaging your tattoo, and fluff can get stuck onto the tattoo scabs and cause problems with healing.
And remember - always blot the area dry with a clean paper towel, or leave the area to air-dry naturally. NEVER rub or scrub the area to clean or dry the tattoo.
Wear Tight-Fitting Clothing - Depending on the location of the tattoo, tight-fitting clothing can rub against/irritate the sensitive area. This can result in outbreaks of rashes and other symptoms such as scabs being rubs off and pieces of healing skin being pulled loose.
Workout/Exercise too Soon - There are a couple of reasons why you should hold back from working too hard for a couple of days after getting a tattoo.
Firstly, depending on the length of time spent in the artist's chair, getting a tattoo can sometimes affect the immune system due to the trauma carried out to your skin over long periods of time.
Proceeding to push your body even further by exercising while carrying an already weakened immune system can help cause you to 'burn out', making it more likely for you to catch an illness or for your tattoo to take longer to heal.
Sweating can also be a problem. When the tattoo is brand new, the ink is still setting into the deeper layers. As your body temperature rises with exercise, your skin pores will start to open, increasing the chance of some of your ink seeping out.
Another problem is that gyms are naturally very dirty places, with lots of germs sitting around on various pieces of exercise equipment. Do not let you tattoo rub against any of the equipment and make sure you wash the tattooed area well as soon as you're out of the gym.
Finally, be careful when exercising a body part that has been tattooed over a joint. Excess joint movement underneath a new tattoo can cause rubbing and irritation.
Wash your Tattoo with Hot Water - Your skin is extremely sensitive during healing, and hot water running onto the tattooed area can cause irritation much easier than if the area was fully healed.
Hot water can also cause the pores to open wider on your skin, potentially causing unsettled ink to leak out.
Use Saunas/Steam Rooms - Same as above - the heat from the steam and the humid atmosphere can really open your pores up, not only increasing the risk of ink loss but also making it easier for bacteria to enter the wounded area.
Touch your Tattoo with Dirty Hands - I see so many people get a brand new tattoo and proceed to rub and prod the area with their dirty grubby hands. This is an extremely bad idea as risk of infection at such an early staging of the healing process is so great.
Let Anybody Else Touch your Tattoo - An even worse crime than above. Do not under any circumstance let anybody else apart from your tattoo artist touch your tattoo for at least several weeks. You have no idea where their hands have been.
Shave the Tattooed Area - Don't shave the area for at least a few weeks after getting a new tattoo. Trying to shave within this timeframe will probably cause you to shave right through a scab or a patch of peeling skin.
If you're a girl with a new tattoo and don't want a hairy leg on show when you go out, it might be best to wear some trousers or tights for the next few weeks.
After a few weeks, run your fingers over the area with your eyes closed, and if you can't feel any raised areas of skin then you should be fine to shave the area. If the skin is still a little raised or bumpy then leave it for another week and then try the test again.
Drink Too Much Alcohol - Drinking alcohol with a new tattoo can be detrimental during the first 48 hours of healing, as your tattooed area is still oozing blood and plasma. This advice is due to alcohol's ability to cause your blood to run thinner than usual. This is also true if you happen to take blood thinners before or after a tattoo.
This blood thinning can prevent scabs from properly forming as quickly as they should do, delaying healing and increasing the risk of infection.
Not to mention, getting too drunk could quite easily cause you to fall over and graze or scrape your tattoo on a hard/rough surface, delaying healing and potentially causing scarring.