If you just recently decided to get inked or are considering doing it soon, you should know that it requires delicate aftercare. While many think that tattoo aftercare is important only to preserve the fresh color and look of the tattoo, it’s also crucial to preventing skin infection and other unwanted side effects.
And it’s not only immediate aftercare. You need to take care of your tattoo for as long as you have it if you want to preserve its colors and fresh look. To help you get an idea of what this means and how to take proper care of a tattoo, we will go over some of the things you must do, and some that you shouldn’t do.
Why Tattoo Aftercare Matters
Getting a tattoo is not something to take lightly. Many consider it a medical procedure as the artist inserts a needle with ink under your skin and alters its look. It also leaves a wound, so proper aftercare is not only essential to make the tattoo look visually pleasing, but also to prevent medical complications.
During the time when the tattoo wound is healing, your skin is more vulnerable. Going against the aftercare instructions or doing things you shouldn’t do can result in infections or allergic reactions, which will make the tattoo look bad and disfigured afterward and leave you with permanent scarring of the skin.
In some extreme cases, infections can cause severe medical conditions that require medical attention, so it’s crucial to be aware of the importance of proper tattoo aftercare and, more importantly, to apply it.
What To Do Before Getting a Tattoo
It’s not only a tattoo aftercare that matters. You should also think about it carefully and prepare well, even before getting a tattoo. The size of your tattoo, location, and colors that will be used all impact the exact aftercare you will apply, so make sure you’re aware of what getting a tattoo is all about.
Think about where you want your tattoo very carefully. If you’re a woman and plan on getting pregnant in the future, a tattoo on your stomach might get stretched and distorted when your skin stretches. The same applies if you’re gaining or losing weight frequently.
Before you go get inked, try to sit down for a consultation with your tattoo artist. Ask them what the process involves, how long does the healing process usually take, what they recommend using while the tattoo is healing, are there any side effects to getting a tattoo, what kind of equipment they are using, or any other question you’re interested in. The more informed you are, the better you will be able to prepare yourself for the tattoo.
Once you have all the answers, schedule the appointment during a time when you’re not so busy and will be able to let the tattoo heal properly.
What To Do After Getting a Tattoo
How you care for your tattoo depends on the extent of the work done on the tattoo. Your tattoo artist will probably give you a rundown of the best aftercare for you, but regardless of the size and location of the tattoo, some steps are mandatory.
Remove the bandage
After finishing the tattoo, the tattoo artist will clean the tattoo area, apply an antibacterial ointment, and wrap a bandage or a transparent plastic dressing around your tattoo. If you have a bandage, it’s typically removed after two to three hours, while plastic dressings are usually kept for a few days.
The bandage or wrap should be removed according to your tattoo artist’s instructions. Doing against their recommendation puts you under risk of infections or skin damage.
Wash the tattoo area
After removing the bandage, you need to clean the tattoo. Use lukewarm water and unscented, antibacterial soap. Gently wash the tattoo area and leave it to dry on its own. Remember, a freshly tattooed area is a wound, so it’s best not to use any type of cloth to dry or wipe it, especially not towels made of rough materials. If you’re in a rush and can’t leave the tattoo to dry on its own, you can gently pat the area with a soft piece of cloth to help it dry out faster.
Keep washing and moisturizing your tattoo two to three times per day until all scabs are gone, usually lasting between two to six weeks, depending on the size of your tattoo and where it’s located.
Once the area is cleansed and dried, you need to apply a lotion recommended by your tattoo. If they don’t recommend any type of cream, you can use one that is antibacterial and preferably all-natural. This is done so that the area is constantly moisturized, which will boost the healing process and help it recover easier.
Some tattoo artists and dermatologists recommend using a lighter ointment and/or applying only a thin layer of it, so you don’t clog the pores and make your skin more sensitive. If you notice that the ointment your tattoo artist recommended is making your skin more sensitive, make sure you contact your tattoo artist and a dermatologist if needed.
Keep an eye on your tattooed area
Did you know that you may be allergic to some of the components of the ink? An allergic reaction may happen even years after getting the tattoo in the form of a rash, red spots, bumps, or itchy spots, so it’s essential to keep an eye on your tattoo at all times. If you notice your skin starting to change, consult a dermatologist. In most cases, a simple medical cream will help, but sometimes, more specialized medical attention is required.
If you already know you’re allergic to some chemical components, make sure you check the chemical composition of the ink used for tattooing before starting the whole process.
Some tattoos may heal in a mere week, while others in two or three months, both cases are completely normal. Everybody is different, and so is their skin, so the healing time will vary from person to person. As we just mentioned, keep an eye on your tattoo and stick to your recommended aftercare routine, it’s the best thing you can do to help it heal faster.
What You Shouldn’t Do After Getting a Tattoo
We covered a few “should do’s” when it comes to tattoo aftercare, but the list of “shouldn’t do’s” is a bit longer and requires a bit more effort. Not effort to do it, but an effort to remember not doing it.
Don’t scrub or scratch the area
As we mentioned before, a tattoo is basically a wound on your skin, so, logically, it will start scabbing at some point. While the area is healing, it can also start to get itchy, but it’s important to remember to not touch it. Any picking, scratching, or itching can potentially leave holes or lighter spots on the tattooed area, which will make it look distorted and washed out.
Stay clear from bodies of water
Avoid bathing in any body of water for at least two weeks after finishing your tattoo. This means going on vacation and taking a dip in a lake, sea, ocean, pool, pond, or river is a definite no-no. Even having baths are not recommended and especially not saunas, hot tubs, or jacuzzis.
You’re probably guessing by now that this is to prevent bacterias from infecting the area. Large bodies of water often have a lot of bacteria, so by not entering it, you’re closing the doors to all those bacteria swimming around.
Don’t expose your tattoo in direct sunlight
The tattooed area of your body is more sensitive than the rest of your skin, so exposing it to direct sunlight can not only cause burning of the skin and blistering but also bleach some of the colors of your tattoo. Thus, it’s best to cover your tattoo for the first three to four weeks after getting it whenever you go outside.
Once the area has healed, it’s preferable to apply more sunscreen on it whenever you’re out under the sun to keep its colors fresh and fade away more slowly.
Don’t rub the tattooed area
Same as you shouldn’t rub the area with a cloth when you wash it, you also need to be careful that your clothes don’t rub on it. This is particularly the case if your tattoo is in a more flexible area like a wrist or an ankle. These areas are used more often, so they heal more slowly than tattoos on other parts of the body, so you need to be more careful with the whole aftercare process in these areas.
Don’t wear tight clothes
When you get tattooed, try wearing clean and loose clothes, at least during the first few weeks. Wearing tight clothes on the tattooed area might make it irritated, start to itch, and get damaged, something you definitely don’t want to happen. You’ll also be wearing ointment during the first few weeks of having the tattoo, so if you wear tight clothes, they will stick to your skin and get stained by it.
However, not wearing tight clothes might not be possible for people who have to wear uniforms for their job. If that’s the case with you and your job, you can try to have your tattoo done just before taking a few days off, or just before the weekend if vacation is not an option. This way, your tattoo will have at least 2 or 3 days of proper healing, which are the days when the area is most sensitive.
Don’t do strenuous exercises
If it’s possible, try to refrain from exercising while the tattoo is healing, especially if the tattoo is near your joints. While you’re doing your exercises, you’re forcing the skin to move more than necessary, and with it, get irritated. This will not only prolong the healing of the tattoo, but it can also damage the skin in the area, causing the tattoo to look disfigured and with cracks all over it.
What To Expect
Getting a tattoo for the first time can be scary and confusing. You will want to panic for a lot of the things you see just to realize later on that they are entirely normal. To help you skip through the panicking part, here is what you can expect to see at every stage of the healing process:
Day 1 – Swelling, redness, and oozing
When you come back from the tattoo studio, don’t become eager to remove the bandage or plastic wrap. As we said, the tattoo artist will instruct when you can remove it, which is usually within a few hours.
Once you remove the bandage, you’ll notice some fluid oozing from your skin along with some blood and ink. Don’t panic as this is completely normal. The fluid you’re seeing is plasma, the clear part of blood mixed in with some extra ink that was trapped below your skin. You’ll also notice that your skin is red, sore, and maybe a bit swollen, which is nothing to be concerned about as well.
Day 2-3 – The healing process starts
After the plasma fluid stops oozing from your skin, scabs will begin to form. It’s important not to touch them and let them heal and fall off on their own. Keep washing and moisturizing the area regularly. While you’re washing the area, you may see some ink running down the sink. It’s just excess ink coming through your skin, no need to worry about it.
Day 4-6 – Your tattoo will start scabbing
You will notice the redness fading away and the tattoo area starting to scab. Again, don’t touch the scabs, let them flake off on their own and keep up your washing and moisturizing routine.
Day 6-14 – The tattoo will keep healing
After the initial week, your scabs will start to flake off on their own. Let them flake off naturally without pulling or picking them. You could accidentally pull off a healthy piece of skin where you have ink and damage the tattoo’s coloration.
Day 15-30 – Most of the tattoo area will be healed
At this point, most of your tattoo would have healed by now. All the big scabs will flake off with only a few minimal ones remaining. There may be a layer of dead skin left, but that will fall off eventually as well. You may also notice that the tattoo area is a bit drier than the rest of your skin, but this is a normal appearance. To make the colors stand out and look fresh, keep moisturizing the area.
Day 30+ – The tattoo is completely or almost completely healed
All tattoos heal differently, but from the first month on, it should almost be completely healed (again, it depends on the size and area). You should notice the tattoo coming up as you envisioned it initially, with all the colors starting to stick out and the area looking fresh and healed up.
How Long Does a Tattoo Take to Heal?
Most tattoos take around two weeks to heal, depending on the size and area of the tattoo. If you have a bigger tattoo, it will take longer than this for it to heal completely, but it shouldn’t take longer than a couple of months.
Where the tattoo is located also impacts the healing time. Tattoos in places that you don’t flex too much (such as thighs, back, triceps..) heal faster, while tattoos in areas that are frequently used (such as ankles, joints, hands) heal a bit slower.
If you apply the proper aftercare and don’t do any of the “don’ts” we mentioned, your tattoo should be completely healed within two weeks. Skimping on the aftercare can prolong the healing process and affect your tattoo’s final look, so try not to slack with it.
How To Maintain Your Tattoo Long Term
Most tattoos will start to fade at some point, but you can prolong this time by taking good care of your tattoo. Here are a few tips about how you can keep your tattoo looking fresh for a longer time:
- Regardless of how much time has passed since getting it, always put sunscreen on your tattoo, especially when you’re out in the sunlight for prolonged periods.
- Make sure you moisturize the tattoo area regularly to keep the skin healthy and balanced.
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. When you’re hydrated, your skin is naturally healthier and constantly moisturized, which will keep the tattoo looking fresh and vivid for longer.
- If possible, avoid extreme weight gain or weight loss that would stretch or loosen up the skin too much. It will distort the look of the tattoo.
- Avoid using shower scrubs or wearing rough materials that would scratch your skin and damage your tattoo.
Natural Aftercare Products
If your skin is sensitive and you can’t use the recommended aftercare lotions and moisturizers, there are always some natural substitutes you can use. Some of the more popular natural aftercare products are:
- Vitamin E Oil – Vitamin E moisturizes your skin while still letting it breathe, which will help it heal faster.
- Tea Tree Oil – Same as the Vitamin E oil, tea tree oil is also a great way to keep your skin moisturized and let it breathe at the same time.
- Grapeseed Oil – Grapeseed oil is excellent for sensitive skis, a fantastic moisturizer, and is breathable at the same time, which makes it a great agent when it comes to healing tattoos.
- Calendula – This flower has been known to help tattoos heal faster and easier. There are many all-natural calendula ointments on the market, so it shouldn’t be difficult finding one for yourself.
- DIY Ointment – You can always make your own tattoo ointment. Mixing some coconut oil, sesame oil, beeswax, and mango butter works for most people, so if you want to go all-natural, try this mixture.
How can I ensure that my tattoo is healing properly?
If you follow your tattoo artist’s recommendations and the advice we listed in this article, your tattoo will heal properly in no time. Follow their advice carefully, avoid doing things that can damage the tattoo, and make sure you keep a close eye on any potential skin changes that are out of the ordinary.
Can I get a tattoo if I have sensitive skin?
If your skin is prone to irritations, rashes, or is more sensitive, it’s recommended that you consult a dermatologist before getting a tattoo. Skin hypersensitivity may be a sign of other skin conditions that prevent you from getting a tattoo, so make sure you know all important medical factors before you get a tattoo.
When can I start my regular skincare routine after getting a tattoo?
Again, this also depends on your tattoo’s size and area, but typically, once it’s completely healed. When you notice all scabs have flaked off and your skin is back to normal, you can start your regular skincare. However, avoid using heavy lotions, scrubs, or other cosmetics that may damage the look of your tattoo or increase your skin’s sensitivity.
Once you’re done with everything, you can start enjoying and showing off your new piece of art. Remember, a tattoo is a long-term commitment, and if you want to make it stand out and have that initial shine for longer, keep up the regular care at all times.
Not all tattoos are perfect. Some may have design flaws, while others may be a spur of the moment mistake, but there is always a solution. If you regret your tattoo or simply don’t like it anymore, there is still the option of removing it. Check out our article on how you can do it and which options are on the table for it.