Your tattoo isn't forever unless you follow aftercare!
Your tattoo isn't forever unless you follow aftercare!
Initial Cleaning and Care
Listen to your tattoo artist. If you've done your homework and chosen a good tattoo artist, he or she will provide detailed instructions on how to care for your new tattoo, which you should follow carefully. Every tattoo artist will have a slightly different opinion on the best way to care for a new tattoo, but don't worry, most reputable artists have had years of experience in caring for new tattoos, so their methods have been tried and tested.
Think of your tattoo as having a warranty; if you don't follow the artist's instructions, you might void the warranty and he or she won't give you free touch-ups.
Remember: tattoo artists want your tattoo to heal perfectly and look good just as much as you do, so they shouldn't give you any poor advice.
The following instructions may vary slightly from what your tattoo artist tell you, but should serve as a good guideline.
Leave the bandage on for 2 to 24 hours. Once the tattoo is complete, your tattoo artist will clean the area, apply an anti-bacterial ointment and cover the tattoo with a bandage or some dressing. Once you have left the tattoo parlor, try to resist the temptation to open the bandage to take a peak or show off your new tattoo to your friends. The bandage is there to protect your tattoo from airborne bacteria, which can penetrate through your broken skin. The bandage should be left on for a minimum of two hours before you remove it.
Thick, absorbent, non-stick ABD wound dressings are the most common type of bandage used by tattoo artists. These are very effective as they allow the tattoo to breathe, while also being thick enough to protect the skin from bacteria and bumps. They are also extremely absorbent, which allows them to be left on the tattoo for up to 24 hours, before needing to be removed.
There are many tattoo artists out there who are firm believers in wrapping new tattoos in plastic wrap, while there are many more who believe that this is the worst possible thing you could do for your tattoo.
Proponents of plastic wrap believe that it is the best way to wrap a new tattoo as it is easy to apply and remove without sticking to the skin. It also forms an effective shield which blocks any bacteria from getting near the tattoo.
Those who oppose plastic wrap do so on the grounds that it prevents oxygen from getting to the tattoo, and oxygen is essential for healing. It also seals in moisture and raises the temperature of the skin, creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
Whichever type of covering your tattoo artist uses, be sure to follow his/her advice carefully. Both types of bandages have been used successfully before. Just remember that plastic wrap will need to be changed and the tattoo cleaned much more frequently than with other bandaging, to prevent the build-up of bacteria.
Carefully remove the bandage. The jury is still out on how long a bandage should be left on before it is removed. Most artists agree that you should keep your tattoo covered for a minimum of two hours before removing, but the recommended maximum amount of time varies between 4 and 24 hours. Tattoos covered in plastic wrap are the exception, plastic wrap should never be left on a new tattoo for longer than two hours.
In reality, the amount of time will vary according to the size and placement of the tattoo, along with the level of tattoo seepage and the type of bandage used. In most cases, it is best to follow the advice of your tattoo artist, but you should also use your own judgement and common sense.
To remove the bandage, soak it with warm water to prevent it from sticking to your skin. It should come off easily once wet. Discard the used bandage.
Gently wash the tattoo. Most artists recommend lukewarm water and mild, unscented liquid antibacterial or antimicrobial soap. Use your hands to gently rub the tattoo, removing all traces of blood, plasma, or leaked ink. This will help to prevent the tattoo from scabbing too soon. Do not use a wash cloth, loofah or any type of sponge to clean the tattoo, as these may harbor bacteria.
Do not hold the tattoo directly under the water. Wash it indirectly by splashing the water over the tattoo with your hands. The stream of water from the faucet may be too harsh on your new tattoo.
If your new tattoo is covering a large area of skin, it may be easiest to wash the tattoo in the shower.
Let the tattoo air dry. Once you have thoroughly washed the tattoo, you should gently pat it dry with a little paper towel. Do not rub the tattoo, as this may cause irritation. Once the excess moisture has been removed, you should leave the tattoo uncovered for 20 minutes to an hour. This will allow the tattoo to breath and any excess moisture to evaporate.
You should allow your tattoo to breathe like this after each time you wash it or get it wet.
Apply ointment. Once your tattoo is fully dry and the skin begins to feel tight you can apply a little ointment, such as Bacitracin or A&D, to the tattoo. Make sure to apply only a very thin layer that's just enough to make the tattoo shine and rub it in gently until it's absorbed by the skin. It's very important that you don't apply too much ointment or else you'll suffocate the tattoo and encourage the growth of bacteria.
You should continue applying the ointment after each time you wash the tattoo for about 3 to 5 days, or until the tattoo starts to peel. At that point, you can switch to a regular, fragrance-free lotion.
Don't use petroleum based products, such as Vaseline, as these are too heavy and may clog the pores, causing breakouts on the tattoo. They also draw the ink from the tattoo to the surface of the skin, causing the tattoo to fade before it's even fully healed.
There are some great specialist products on the market that are a little pricey, but work wonders for healing tattoos. Once such product is called "Tattoo Goo" which is non-greasy and is made from natural ingredients. Another great product is "H2Ocean", which is a foam rather than an ointment, that uses a salt concentration to prevent infection.
Continue to wash and moisturize your tattoo 3 to 5 times a day. You should continue to wash your tattoo with anti-bacterial soap and warm water until it is fully healed. This can take anywhere from 3 to 6 six weeks, depending on the size and location of the tattoo. You should wash the tattoo approximately three times a day, though you should wash more often if the tattoo is on your hand, wrist, foot, or any other area which is more exposed to germs.
After applying special anti-bacterial ointment for the first 3 to 5 days, you can switch to regular lotion after each wash. Most tattoo artists will recommend that you avoid using lotions that are scented, colored or contain glitter. Remember to only apply a light layer of lotion, as over-moisturizing can negatively affect the tattoo.
The initial healing of the tattoo will take up to two weeks. During this time, you can expect the tattoo to start peeling or flaking, in a similar way to sunburn. Some colored skin may come away as the tattoo peels, but this is completely normal.
After the skin peels, your tattoo will look glassy and feel tight. It may also have cloudy or white patches of skin that you will be tempted to peel off, but try to resist. This is referred to as "onion skin" and will fall off by itself within a couple of weeks.
If you have taken proper care of your new tattoo, you can expect your tattoo to be healed and your skin to have fully regenerated in about 4 to 6 weeks.
What to Avoid
Avoid soaking the tattoo. Until your tattoo is fully healed, you should avoid swimming in a pool, in the sea, or even soaking in the bathtub. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, exposing your tattoo to too much water may draw ink out of your skin and damage the tattoos appearance. Secondly, the water in swimming pools, the sea and the bathtub may be carrying dirt, bacteria, chemicals and other impurities that could cause your tattoo to become infected.
It will be completely safe to resume these activities once your tattoo is healed, but for now you should stick to rinsing your tattoo in the sink or shower.
Do not expose your new tattoo to direct sunlight. Sunlight is the worst enemy of new tattoos. The harsh rays of the sun may cause your skin to blister and bleach some of the color from your tattoo. For this reason, it is best to keep your tattoo covered and away from the sun for at least 3 to 4 weeks, until the initial healing is complete.
After that, you will still need to protect your tattoo by wearing a minimum of SPF 30. This will prevent your tattoo from fading in the sun, keeping the colors true for longer.
Do not scratch or pick at your tattoo. As it heals, your tattoo will begin to scab. This is normal, and the scabs should be allowed to dry out and fall off by themselves. Do not try to help the process along by picking at the scabs. This may cause the scabs to fall off prematurely, leaving holes or light spots on your tattoo.
If your hands or nails are unclean, you may also cause the tattoo to become infected. You should always wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap before touching your tattoo and you should never allow anyone else to touch it while it heals.
Dry, scabbing or peeling skin can become very itchy, but scratching at your tattoo may also cause scabs to fall off. You can relive itching by slapping the tattoo with the flat of your hand, or by rubbing in a little lotion.
Avoid tight-fitting clothes. Avoid wearing tight or restrictive clothing on the area with your new tattoo, especially at first. As your tattoo heals, it will seep plasma and excess ink, which may cause the clothing to stick to the tattoo. The clothing will then be painful to remove and may rip off any freshly formed scabs.
In addition, tight clothing will prevent enough oxygen from getting to your tattoo, and oxygen is essential for the healing process.
Aim to wear clean, loose-fitting clothing, day and night, while your tattoo is healing.
Avoid working out. Tattoos covering large surface areas, or those that are near joints (such as elbows and knees), may take longer to heal if the skin is forced to move around too much during intense workouts or other physical activity. The movement will cause the skin to crack and become irritated, prolonging the tattoos healing process. For this reason, you should avoid unnecessary workouts for at least a few days after getting a new tattoo.
If you're involved in a self-defense class like karate or kickboxing, you may want to warn your classmates so they can avoid hitting you in the wrong place.
If you work in a job that involves physical activity, such as construction or dance, you may want to consider having your new tattoo done on a Friday, so it will have the whole weekend to heal before your go back to work.
Avoid swelling. Swelling may occur with new tattoos on your feet, ankles or calves, especially if you have been standing for long periods of time. If this happens, you can reduce swelling by taking on Ibuprofen, applying an ice pack to the swollen area, and elevating your feet and legs.