Tattoo aftercare is vitally important to the health of your new tattoo, and it must not be ignored. Many people believe that once the needlework is done, their tattoo is a lock, but that is far from reality. The fact is that unless you properly care for your new tattoo, it could easily fade, lose saturation, flake, scar, or you could wind up with an infected mess on your body.
But if you ask a dozen tattoo artists how to take care of a new tattoo, you'll probably get a dozen different answers. The conclusion is that no one knows precisely what will work for everyone, so your best bet is to follow a conservative, consensus-driven aftercare procedure.
Before getting into any specifics, it's important that you follow your tattoo artist's directions precisely. If their guidance conflicts with this article, always refer to their instructions. But in the absence of directions, here's what you need to know.
Tattoo Aftercare Do's
- Do use an approved aftercare moisturizer / healing cream
- Do leave your initial bandage over your tattoo for at least four to six hours, but no more than 12 hours
- Do keep your tattoo out of direct contact with water (this includes the shower)
- Do keep your tattoo moisturized
- Do pat your skin dry when the tattooed area gets wet
Tattoo Aftercare Don'ts
- Do not expose your tattoo to sunlight until fully healed
- Do not submerse your tattoo in water, and especially avoid chlorinated water
- Do not let your tattoo dry out completely
- Do not over moisturize your tattoo
- Do not pick your tattoo scabs
- Do not cover your tattoo with a bandage once the initial bandage has been removed
- Do not scratch, bruise, or allow anything to rub against your tattoo with friction
Tattoo Aftercare Procedure
1) Four to six hours after you leave the tattoo parlor, wash your hands thoroughly with an antibacterial soap. You'll want to ensure that your hands are free from dirt, germs, or anything infectious.
2) Carefully remove the bandage that was placed over your tattoo at the parlor. With a mild antibacterial soap, carefully wash the tattooed area, removing any of the greasy covering, ink residue, blood, etc. You'll know the area is clean when it just feels like wet skin. Be very gentle with your skin. Pat your skin dry – do not brush or rub dry.
3) Apply a thin layer of moisturizer / healing ointment. Popular brands recommended at parlors include A & D Ointment, Neosporin, and Bacitracin. There are also tattoo-specific products that are designed exclusively for aftercare, and they include Tattoo Goo, H2Ocean Aftercare, and Black Cat Tattoo Cream. If you have a large, expensive tattoo, or a tattoo with deep colors that you want to protect, they are probably worth the investment.
4) Three to four times per day, apply a thin film of anti-bacterial / healing ointment to your tattoo. You will want to use enough to moisten the tattooed area, but not so much as to leave streaks or allow it to build up. Your goal is to moisturize the area only, so start with a small amount and work it in with your fingers.
The problem with over moisturizing the skin is fading inks. If you slather on a thick coating of Neosporin and keep it moist throughout the day, your tattoo might heal in just over a week – but the inks will fade. If, however, you lightly coat the area three to four times per day, your tattoo might take two to three weeks to heal, but the colors will set properly. The lesson to learn is healing quickly does not necessarily mean healing properly.
5) Cover the tattooed area with light, loose fitting clothing, and be mindful of your tattoo. Do not scratch or pick your tattoo! If you must, gently slap the skin or use rubbing alcohol to relieve any itching or irritation.
While there might seem to be quite a few steps to follow, they are quite simple. The bottom line is that you need to pay attention to your tattoo, and allow the body to heal itself as naturally as possible. You will do everything you can to assist that process, but you do not want to rush it – just help it. If you can do that, and stay diligent with your care for 2 to 3 weeks, you will be blessed with a rich tattoo that can be enjoyed for years.
Following these steps will ensure that your tattoo heals quickly and properly, and will help the inks set and stay vibrant and bold. Then you can enjoy your new tattoo for a lifetime.