Caring for a new tattoo is your responsibility and it is vital that you treat your aftercare routine with the respect it requires in order for your tattoo to heal properly. Correct aftercare procedures ensure that the tattooed area of skin remains infection-free in an environment that is perfectly set up to ensure that healing proceeds to happen as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Suggested Aftercare for New Tattoos
Leave your bandage/wrap on for two to three hours.
Wash your tattoo well after removing the bandage/wrap. Wash your tattoo thoroughly (but carefully) using warm water and fragrance-free soap to remove any excess/dried blood and plasma.
Pat your tattoo dry after cleaning it. Use a clean paper towel to dry your tattoo by gently patting the area. Do not rub.
Apply a small amount of Aquaphor or unscented lotion. After cleaning your tattoo, ensure the area is completely dry before applying a very thin layer of your chosen aftercare product/lotion to help moisturize and nourish the area.
Wash your tattoo regularly. Continue to use a fragrance-free soap and lukewarm water to clean your tattoo at least once a day.
Repeat the cleaning process until the tattoo is fully healed. Remember that your tattoo isn't completely safe from germs and bacteria until it has completely finished peeling. Continue to wash the tattoo until this point (usually 2-4 weeks).
Don't pick and pull at the flaking/peeling skin. Picking at your healing tattoo can delay healing, cause fading, and increase the chances of infection.
Stay away from the sun. Don't expose your new tattoo to intense sunlight and don't apply any sunscreen to the area until it has fully healed.
Stay away from water. All bodies of water can contain bacteria that can ruin a new tattoo if you're not careful. Stick to short showers until your skin has fully healed, and don't go swimming.
Continue to look after your tattoo once healed. Once healed, keep your tattoo well protected from the sun and ensure you continue to moisturize the area regularly. Healthy skin means a healthy looking tattoo.
During the first one to two days, you may notice ink and fluid “weeping” from your tattoo. You can gently dab it with a clean paper towel if needed; do not wipe the tattoo. Should the tattoo become stuck to your clothing or bed sheets, do not rip it off. Run it under warm water until the fabric loosens and gently remove. You can expect your tattoo start peeling and/or flaking on or about the third day. You will see small specks of ink flaking off and it may begin to have a slightly shiny appearance after the first week. These are normal parts of the healing process and should not cause alarm.
If you have any questions or concerns about your tattoo, contact your artist.
What Not to Do While Your Tattoo is Healing:
There are a number of things that definitely shouldn’t be done in the first stages of tattoo healing, below is a list of the most important things that you should not do while your tattoo is healing.
Pick the Tattoo - This is vitally important. After a few days, your tattoo is going to begin to peel and flake. The tattooed area should not be picked or pulled off under any circumstances. This flaky skin, no-matter how inviting, should not be played with, picked, or peeled off. This skin may look like it's only literally hanging on by a thread, but it can still be connected to pigments of setting ink, meaning that by picking at the skin, you could be removing bits of ink too.
Scratch your Tattoo - This is probably the most important rule of all when it comes to caring for a new tattoo. Firstly, by scratching your tattoo you can very easily pull off ink and many pieces of peeling skin all at one. Scratching can lead to much longer healing times for the tattoo, as well as permanent scarring in some cases. By scratching your tattoo with dirty fingernails, you are opening the wounded area up to bacteria, greatly increasing the chances of getting your tattoo infected - which can be very serious in some cases.
Submerge your Tattoo in Water - Places like baths, lakes, ponds, puddles, washing up sinks and many other areas all contain large amounts of bacteria and germs, so keep your tattoo away from all of these areas as best as possible for at least a month. If you do happen to accidentally come into contact with any of these types of water-bodies, wash your tattoo as soon as possible with a fragrance and alcohol-free antibacterial soap. Stay away from swimming with a new tattoo or bathing in any type of water for at least three weeks. You can bathe safely with your tattoo after 3-4 weeks.
Expose your Tattoo to the Sun/Tanning Beds - You must keep your tattoo covered at all times if going outside in warm weather. When your tattoo is new and your skin is red raw and swollen, it is an extremely sensitive area, and even tiny amounts of UV rays from the sun can cause lots of damage to the area in short spaces of time. During this important healing stage, the sun can swell and blister a tattoo, as well as prolong the healing times and fade the ink.
Re-wrap your Tattoo - Unless specifically advised by your artist, and told in detail how to do this properly, you mustn't re-wrap your tattoo once the initial wrap has been removed. Your tattoo needs to breath in order to heal properly and the wrap will suffocate the area, leading to poorer quality healing - which will also take longer than normal compared to if the tattoo was able to breath normally. Not only this, but when wrapped the area becomes very moist and warm, which is a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. The longer you leave a poorly sterilized wrap on a tattoo for, the more likely the area will get infected.
Smother the Tattoo in Lotion/Ointment - As with the re-wrapping, if you put too much aftercare cream/lotion onto the tattoo, the thick layer of product is going to prevent the area from getting enough air and oxygen, which will affect the quality of healing. You should only apply a very thin, barely shiny layer of lotion to your tattoo. If you accidentally apply too much then you should gently dab off the excess lotion with a paper towel until you're left with a more appropriate amount.
Use Petroleum-Based Products - Most of these product types (such as Vaseline) are very dense and heavy, and should not be used on tattoos. Even applying a thin layer can prevent your tattoo from breathing properly. Not only this but some petroleum-based products contain ingredients that can actually draw ink from your tattoo if used too often.
Use Fragrance/Alcohol Based Soaps to Clean the Tattoo - The main reason not to use products containing artificial fragrances is that these ingredients are highly likely to irritate the very sensitive skin at this stage of the healing process. Many artificial fragrances can cause your skin to react adversely in many ways such as causing a rash, inducing extreme itching, and making the area extra tender. Alcohol-based products shouldn't be used either as alcohol is generally a very harsh ingredient (hence why it's added to the majority of household/industrial anti-bacterial cleaning products). Like artificial fragrances, alcohol can cause problems with the sensitive skin. The main issues with alcohol is that it can make the tattooed area extremely dry, flaky and irritable.
Use Abrasive or Dirty Cloths/Towels to Clean or Dry the Tattoo - For the first month or so, nothing should be used to clean your tattoo apart from your clean fingers. It is recommended to only clean your tattoo by using your fingers in a circular motion to gently rub the area with lukewarm water and soap. You should also never use an abrasive or fluffy washcloth to dry your tattoo. Abrasive cloths can pull off layers of skin and ink, potentially damaging your tattoo, and fluff can get stuck onto the tattoo scabs and cause problems with healing. Always blot the area dry with a clean paper towel, or leave the area to air-dry naturally. Never rub or scrub the area to clean or dry the tattoo.
Wear Tight-Fitting Clothing - Depending on the location of the tattoo, tight-fitting clothing can rub against/irritate the sensitive area. This can result in outbreaks of rashes and other symptoms such as scabs being rubs off and pieces of healing skin being pulled loose.
Workout/Exercise too Soon - There are a couple of reasons why you should hold back from working too hard for a couple of days after getting a tattoo. Firstly, depending on the length of time spent in the artist's chair, getting a tattoo can sometimes affect the immune system due to the trauma carried out to your skin over long periods of time. Proceeding to push your body even further by exercising while carrying an already weakened immune system can help cause you to 'burn out', making it more likely for you to catch an illness or for your tattoo to take longer to heal. Sweating can also be a problem. When the tattoo is brand new, the ink is still setting into the deeper layers. As your body temperature rises with exercise, your skin pores will start to open, increasing the chance of some of your ink seeping out. Another problem is that gyms are naturally very dirty places, with lots of germs sitting around on various pieces of exercise equipment. Do not let you tattoo rub against any of the equipment and make sure you wash the tattooed area well as soon as you're out of the gym. Finally, be careful when exercising a body part that has been tattooed over a joint. Excess joint movement underneath a new tattoo can cause rubbing and irritation.
Wash your Tattoo with Hot Water - Your skin is extremely sensitive during healing, and hot water running onto the tattooed area can cause irritation much easier than if the area was fully healed. Hot water can also cause the pores to open wider on your skin, potentially causing unsettled ink to leak out.
Use Saunas/Steam Rooms - Same as above - the heat from the steam and the humid atmosphere can really open your pores up, not only increasing the risk of ink loss but also making it easier for bacteria to enter the wounded area.
Touch your Tattoo with Dirty Hands - Always wash your hands with antibacterial soap before touching your tattoo.
Let Anybody Else Touch your Tattoo - Do not under any circumstance let anybody else apart from your tattoo artist touch your tattoo for at least several weeks.
Shave the Tattooed Area - Don't shave the area for at least a few weeks after getting a new tattoo. Trying to shave within this time frame will probably cause you to shave right through a scab or a patch of peeling skin. After a few weeks, run your fingers over the area with your eyes closed, and if you can't feel any raised areas of skin then you should be fine to shave the area. If the skin is still a little raised or bumpy then leave it for another week and then try the test again.
Drink Too Much Alcohol - Drinking alcohol with a new tattoo can be detrimental during the first 48 hours of healing, as your tattooed area is still oozing blood and plasma. This advice is due to alcohol's ability to cause your blood to run thinner than usual. This is also true if you happen to take blood thinners before or after a tattoo. This blood thinning can prevent scabs from properly forming as quickly as they should do, delaying healing and increasing the risk of infection.