Congratulations! You’ve taken the leap and decided to get a tattoo. You feel elated, happy, and a little (or very) badass. However, getting a tattoo is no walk in the park for your skin. Aftercare is a key component of ensuring your tattoo looks amazing and your skin recovers appropriately. In this article, we’re going to give you detailed tattoo aftercare instructions you should follow - no matter if it’s your first tattoo or your tenth!
New Tattoo, Now What?
Although you’re probably over the moon the minute you leave the tattoo studio, a new tattoo is a huge compromise. Aside from having it be a part of who you are and your personal image, tattoos require love, care, and hygiene measures to be followed. After all, you don’t want your beautiful new tat to turn into an infection, do you? To avoid this - and to set your tattoo up for success - aftercare is essential.
How to Take Care of Your Tattoo
The First 48 Hours
Immediately after your tattoo is finished, your tattoo artist will cover your new piece in a thin layer of petroleum jelly and a bandage. They may also apply a protective medical-grade patch (such as Saniderm) to ensure your tattoo can breathe without letting any bacteria in.
If your artist uses a bandage, remove it after 24 hours and wash the tattoo gently with antimicrobial soap and water. Pat dry or allow to air dry - never rub your tattoo with a towel. This may lead to irritation and if the towel isn’t sterilized, can end up leaving grime, bacteria, and lint on your skin. Apply an antimicrobial ointment and cover again if needed.
Be careful and don’t sleep on your tattoo. If you got a back tattoo, sleep on your stomach. If you have a left arm sleeve, sleep on your right side. Avoid unnecessary pressure and keep the skin as free as possible of any weight or friction. Also, try to wear loose-fitting clothes that won’t rub against your new ink in rodder to protect it as much as possible.
If you are using Saniderm, your artist will tell you when you need to remove it. The skin will start to “ooze” and “peel”, creating a small bubble of liquid inside the patch. Don’t worry, this is completely normal. And this liquid will actually keep your skin moist, protecting it at the same time. It looks a downright mess, but trust us, and don’t remove the patch. If your patch becomes so full of liquid that it starts to creep towards the edges, then it might be time to remove it. We recommend doing it in the shower and taking your sweet time so that you don’t pull or snag your skin. Be extra careful!
After removing the patch, you will follow the same process we described above. Clean your tattoo with antimicrobial soap and apply an antimicrobial moisturizer or ointment to keep it moist. This will last around 2 to 4 weeks in total.
Other care measures include avoiding sunlight exposure for around 2 weeks. Wear physical sunscreen during the day or use bandages or clothing to cover up the tattoo area if you are going to be exposed to sunlight.
Also no swimming and no sweating (sorry, gym rats). A tattoo is the same as a puncture wound - or in fact, thousands of puncture wounds. Exposing it to bacteria (like the ones found in a pool or at a gym) is a sure recipe for infection. Also, sweating generates bacteria in the body, and weight lifting can warp your tattoo if you aren’t cautious in the first few weeks. Talk to your tattoo artist if you’re physically active to discuss when you can be expecting to return to your workout routines.
We also don’t recommend drinking, partying, or submitting your body to any excess. This is because, according to Byrdie, tattooing puts a strain on your immune and lymphatic systems, which will be working hard to heal your new ink. Taking it easy can help improve the rate of recovery and get your tattoo healed in less time.
The First Week
You will continue cleaning your tattoo and applying moisturizer several times a day. Making sure it stays both clean and hydrated is key to recovery.
During this time, your tattoo will start to scab, develop hard layers, and “peel”. Never, ever, pick, scratch, or peel it. You could trigger an infection (dirty fingernails pushing bacteria inside the open wounds) or you could end up removing the ink altogether. Definitely not something you want. Let the scabs fall naturally. We know, it looks gross, but that’s the way it needs to be.
Tattoos can take around 6 weeks to heal. In some cases, that timeframe can extend to even 6 months. The more careful you are, the more you follow your tattoo artist’s instructions to a tee, the better your recovery will be.
Hygiene and hydration will be your tattoo’s best friends. Avoiding sun exposure and using loose clothing, its second best friend.
Also, don’t shave until the skin is fully healed. Shaving can remove the top layer of skin, exposing the open wounds and even removing a bit of ink. Remember: don’t scratch, pull, or pick at your skin.
Tattoo Aftercare Products You Will Need
After antimicrobial soap, our most recommended products are tattoo aftercare lotions, like PurTect, or fragrance-free lotions like Lubriderm. PurTect is an innovative tattoo aftercare product formulated by experienced chemists, biologists & skincare experts. It can help reduce irritation, swelling and keep redness down. It’s a great option to start with because it lubricates and moisturizes the skin while also cleaning and soothing.
It also has a unique combination of essential skin nourishing Vitamins A and E, plus moisturizing Squalane, and the highest grade of pharmaceutical-grade Petrolatum help PurTect create a protective and breathable film barrier without clogging pores, allowing the skin to breathe as it heals.
Lubriderm, on the other hand, is a fragrance-free lotion that will replenish and moisturize dry skin. It’s fortified with Vitamin B5 and has a non-greasy finish. It's great for continuing your tattoo care in the weeks leading up to your recovery.
If you prefer ointments to moisturizers, Aquaphor might be the better choice. Different from a lotion or cream, this multi-purpose ointment protects and soothes extremely dry skin, chapped lips, cracked hands and feet, minor cuts and burns, and many other skin irritations - which makes it fantastic for tattoo recoveries!
We also recommend buying a few spare sheets of Saniderm - just in case you need to remove yours before the necessary amount of days and need to replace it for protection.
If your tattoo is hurting, itching, or burning (but without showing signs of infection), then a numbing cream like Dr. Numb might work to ease the pain. These creams are also used before getting your tattoo done to make the pain more bearable.
The Best Tattoo Aftercare Advice We Can Give You
Our advice sums up to this: stay consistent and be patient. Tattoo aftercare is extremely important to guarantee your ink lasts you for a long time. It’s also crucial for recovery and in order to avoid infections. Follow the instructions laid out by your artist, keep your tattoo clean, wash your hands before touching it, and don’t forget to moisturize and apply sunscreen. The rest will take care of itself!
Also, if at any point you believe that your tattoo has become infected, isn’t healing properly, or something else has happened, consult your doctor.
Tattoos are an open wound and should be treated as such. Care for them, keep it clean, and wait for your skin to heal and recover while you enjoy your new inked look. Also, while you wait… why not start looking for your next tattoo? Book your next tattoo session with one of our talented artists today and start getting your second, third, or twentieth tattoo!