Good tattoo aftercare is essential for any new tattoo. While we don’t usually think of it this way, a fresh tattoo is essentially an open wound. As soon as the needle breaks the skin, your body – and especially your immune system – takes notice.
What you do in the first few hours, weeks, and days is critical to prevent infection and promote healing. Taking care of your tattoo through the healing process and beyond also helps preserve your ink, ensuring that your tattoo stays looking good for years to come.
The Best Tattoo Aftercare Starts Before You Get in the Chair
Plan ahead for great tattoo aftercare. The first few hours after leaving the chair are key, and you don’t want to be without the things you need. Before your session, ask your artist what methods and products they recommend, and make sure that you’re ready before you go.
Help Your Ink Heal Well with Good Tattoo Aftercare
The artist will typically cover your tattoo with antibacterial ointment and a bandage or other dressing when it is complete. It’s best to follow your artist’s guidelines for how long to leave the covering on, as they’ll often tailor their suggestions based on the style and location of your tattoo as well as the type of dressing used.
When it’s time, remove the bandage. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap before this step. Every time you touch the tattoo, you risk introducing bacteria that can cause infections in the fresh wound.
Clean the Tattoo with a Gentle Cleanser
When you remove the bandage, you may encounter a bit of fluid. This fluid usually contains some plasma, blood, and even some extra ink. It is normal.
Use a gentle antibacterial cleanser to clean the tattoo. Be careful and don’t scrub; you may even want to skip using a washcloth. Rinse the soap away and pat (don’t rub!) the tattoo dry with a clean terry cloth or paper towel. Never reuse or use a shared towel on a fresh tattoo!
Clean your tattoo in this way 2-3 times a day for the first several days.
Use a Healing Ointment
Ointments help to protect and soothe the skin. You’ll want to apply one each time you clean the tattoo for the first several days, after which you can switch to an unscented moisturizer or lotion to keep the tattoo hydrated.
Choose an ointment or moisturizer without fragrance or alcohol, or even one with anti-inflammatory ingredients. Your artist may have recommendations for their favorite products, whether they’re tattoo specific or not.
Apply the ointment or lotion to the entire area in a light layer. Less is definitely more; don’t smother your new ink under product!
To Wrap or Not to Wrap?
Depending on the location of your tattoo, you may want to cover it to keep it from rubbing on bedding, clothing, or anything else. While it’s common to wrap a tattoo while you sleep the first night when it’s the most vulnerable, you also need to let it breathe.
If you do choose to wrap your tattoo, make sure to use a wrap specifically intended for tattoos (NEVER the food wrap you find in the kitchen) and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Scratching or picking at the tattoo will disturb the healing process, which means that you’ll just be uncomfortable for longer. So resist the urge to scratch and use a bit of ointment to soothe the itch.
How Long Tattoos Take to Heal
How long tattoos take to heal depends on many factors: the style, size, location, and colors used all may have an impact, along with your personal healing rate.
For most people, though, a tattoo is fully healed within six weeks. The tattoo may appear cloudy or dull in the first few weeks, but it should become vibrant again once healed. Also, note that the layers of the skin may heal in phases. While the outer layer of skin may seem to be healed, there may still be some work to do below the surface.
Warning Signs to Watch for In Your Tattoo Aftercare
While most tattoos heal without a problem, there are some complications to watch out for. Fever, worsening pain or redness, or skin that is hot to the touch are all signs that something is wrong. See a doctor if you notice any of these issues in or around the site of the tattoo.
Long Term Care for Your Tattoo
Tattoo aftercare doesn’t end when your ink is healed! One of the best things you can do for your tattoo over the long term is to avoid too much sun exposure. UV rays can cause ink to fade; be sure to use SPF or cover up your tattoos in the summer to help your ink stay bright and fresh for the long haul.
For more tattoo tips and inspiration, check out these related articles: