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10 Quick Tips For Tattoo Aftercare

You put a lot of thought, time, and money into your tattoo; perhaps you even spent months saving your money and working up the nerve to get it done. You came up with the concept of what you wanted and where to put it; you’ve trusted a tattoo artist with the design, making sure it’s absolutely perfect (it will be on your body forever, after all!); you’ve sat through the session (and the pain!), and you’ve paid for your ink with your hard-earned money.

Perhaps your tattoo is highly symbolic and significant to you and means something deeper than what meets the eye; it may even be part of a larger story that you want to tell with your ink, and you plan to get more done. Congratulations! One thing is for sure, though: you must know how to take care of your new tattoo once you leave the shop. With the proper care, your beautiful tattoo, and the story it tells, will last a lifetime.

When you’re done, your tattoo artist covers your tattoo with saran wrap and tape and sends you on your way. What now? If you’ve just gotten your first tattoo, you may feel like you’re in uncharted waters. You can relax. We’ve come up with 10 Quick Tips that you should keep in mind once you’re taking on the aftercare of your new tattoo—we promise, it’s pretty easy!

Wash Your Tattoo

Before cooking...Close up photo of chef carefully washing his hands with different tattoos in a restaurant kitchen. Cropped view

In the beginning, your new tattoo will need to be washed at least three times a day, every day. Think of your tattoo as a healing wound; you’d wash and clean an open wound until it heals, right? It’s rare, but it is possible to get an infection if you don’t appropriately clean and wash your new tattoo. Or, it may not heal properly, and the design could look warped and not at all as you wanted.

Wash your tattoo with mild, clear, unscented antibacterial soap—Dial or Softsoap works great. The water should be lukewarm: not too hot, not too cold. With your hand, gently rub the soap over your tattoo in a circular motion (the circular motion helps exfoliate dead skin). Make sure it’s thoroughly rinsed, then pat it dry with a soft towel.

Don’t scrub or use scented shower gels

Wash as normal when you’re in the shower, but never use a loofa or washcloth on your tattoo, or scented shower gels or soaps. Simply let the water run over your tattoo. If you want, bring your clear, unscented Dial or Softsoap in the shower with you and give your tattoo an extra wash. Make sure it’s rinsed completely. Hard scrubbing and scented soaps could dry out your tattoo, which is the opposite of what you want, which brings us to our next point.

Keep your tattoo moisturized

Female tattooed hands holding a jar of cream. Finger with a drop of white cream.

This tip, along with number one, is one of the most important tips on this list. In the first week and a half or so, your tattoo will feel raised and rough. At this stage, your tattoo is like a healing scab—it needs moisturization to heal fully. It’s perfectly normal for the tattooed area of your body to feel tight and sore; this is where moisturizing comes in!

Use a gentle, unscented product to apply to your tattoo after you wash it, and even in between washes if needed. Products like Vaseline, Aquaphor, and unscented Eucerin work wonders. Your tattoo shop may even have their own salve or healing product that you can buy there, or they will at least recommend a product. The more you moisturize your tattoo, the better and faster it will heal!

Never scratch or “pick” at your new tattoo

While your tattoo is healing, it’s perfectly normal for it to feel a little itchy. It’s trying to shed that top layer of old, dry, “scabby” skin to reveal the smooth, beautiful lines of the tattoo underneath. Scratching it will seriously disrupt the healing process, and could even affect how your tattoo looks when it’s done healing. If your tattoo is itchy, apply more of your moisturizing product, or even give it an extra wash. It’s a good idea to avoid touching your new tattoo in general and only do so with clean hands. Once you get your washing and moisturizing routine down, it’s best to simply let your skin do its thing!

Avoid tight clothing on your new tattoo

Like a healing cut, your tattoo does need to breathe. After you take off the initial bandaging that your tattoo artist put on for you, you should not bandage your new tattoo during the healing process again. As you’ll notice, when you take that first bandage off, your tattoo will have “oozed” a little, and you’ll want to wash this off. (Have you ever had this happen when you take the Band-Aid off of a big scratch or cut? It’s the same thing!)

This is normal for that first bandaging, but continuing to cover your new tattoo in this way could cause more of this “oozing,” and it could result in a buildup of bacteria. So wear loose, non-irritating clothing on the tattooed area as it heals. Avoid jeans or compression workout clothing if the tattoo is on your leg. Don’t wear tight shirts if your tattoo is anywhere on your arms, torso, or back, and avoid socks if your new tattoo is on your foot. You get it—let your tattoo breathe!

Don’t panic when your tattoo begins to “peel”

Man peels off his tattoo from his arm, conceptual image

If you’ve stuck with washing and moisturizing your tattoo, after a couple of weeks, you’ll start to notice little dark pieces of something coming away as you continue to wash your tattoo. Don’t panic! This is totally normal, and is a good sign; this means that your tattoo is truly starting to heal! These little pieces coming off of your tattoo are actually dead skin cells saturated with the ink, and your body is working to replace them with new, healthy skin cells.

This stage of the healing process is called “peeling.” Once your tattoo is completely done peeling, it will feel smooth like the rest of your skin. Don’t help the peeling along by picking at the area; again, just let your skin do its thing! Keep washing and moisturizing your tattoo. Don’t worry—your tattoo isn’t going anywhere, and you haven’t damaged it in any way. Peeling is supposed to happen!

Avoid chlorine

Sorry, but you’ll have to stay out of the pool and hot tub as your tattoo is healing. The chemicals in chlorine—and others that are usually found in swimming pools—are harmful to your healing tattoo, especially if your tattoo has a lot of color in it. These chemicals and the chlorine will fade the ink! You want your tattoo to look its best and brightest; having a faded tattoo just because you went swimming isn’t the best start. In that same vein…

Stay out of lakes and the ocean

Harmful bacteria could be lurking in these bodies of water. Remember that your new tattoo is much like an open wound—you don’t want to expose it to detrimental microorganisms or dangerous materials. It’s a bad idea even if you tightly cover your tattoo, which isn’t recommended in the first place (see #5). Not only is this potentially hazardous to you, but if an infection does occur, your tattoo may never heal properly. It isn’t worth the risk!

Keep your tattoo out of the sun (and tanning beds)

Cover your tattoo if you’re going to spend a sunny day outside. Wearing loose clothing that covers it works just fine. Like chlorine, the sun will fade your tattoo, especially if it’s colorful. The heat from the sun can also be drying, which can wreak havoc on the healing process. Even if you’re covering your tattoo with clothing, apply sunscreen to it as an extra precaution. Stay out of the tanning bed as well, as the UV light would fade your tattoo even faster than the sun.

When in doubt, call your tattoo artist!

Tattoo salon. Master with a beard looks at the hand of the client's man. Preparing for new tattoo.

It’s part of your artist’s job to help you if you have any questions about your tattoo aftercare, especially if this is your first tattoo experience. Your tattoo artist should go over aftercare instructions with you at the shop, either before or after your new tattoo is done. (It is industry standard that your tattoo shop has you sign a waiver saying that your artist did go over aftercare instructions with you.)

Some things are considered normal and abnormal during the aftercare and healing process, and your artist should briefly go over this; but when in doubt, give your artist a call. There are no wrong questions. Remember that it’s in your artist’s best interest that you have a good experience—they should take care of you!

Summary

Your tattoo, especially your first one, should be an exciting—even cathartic—experience! You now have a beautiful, meaningful piece of art on your body forever! Like a piece of art that hangs on your wall, this piece of art on your body needs proper care, especially in the first weeks following your session. Make sure you follow the instructions your tattoo artist gives you to the letter; they should tell you approximately how long your aftercare process will be.

It wouldn’t hurt to follow all or some of our tips even after your tattoo is fully healed; it will simply extend the life of its beauty and keep your tattoo healthy. The end goal of your aftercare process is a healthy, smooth, bright, and bold tattoo that you want to show off to the world! Sticking with the recommended tattoo aftercare routine—and following our ten tips—will ensure that your tattoo, and its story, will last a lifetime!