How To Take Care Of A Tattoo
Last Updated on May 7, 2021
written by tattoo artist Steven Martin
How To Take Care Of A Tattoo
Got yourself a fresh new tat? Awesome! But what comes next? How can I take care of my tattoo, so it stays fresh for years to come?
The good news? You’re at the right place.
Nothing feels better than getting a fresh tattoo, whether it’s your first one or whether you’ve just got a fresh new ink to add to your collection– but the aftercare is the most important bit!
When you get tattooed, the needle goes in a lot further than you may think, your skin may start to scab and peel away, but that’s only the start of the tattoo aftercare process.
It’s not only crucial for keeping your tattoo looking fresh for longer, but the right aftercare will also affect your overall health and how fast your tattoo will heal.
Here’s everything you need to know to care for your tattoo.
Why Is Tattoo Aftercare Important?
When we cut ourselves, our body naturally repairs our skin cells and heals the wound, but why is aftercare so essential for your tattoo’s healing process?
Well, it allows your body time to repair and moisturize the skin while also helping speed up the healing process and preventing the risk of infection.
Tattooing also puts a strain on your immune system, and internal preparation is just as important as external aftercare. After all, tattooing is an invasive cosmetic procedure, and your immune system and the lymphatic system work hard to heal your fresh tattoo.
Day by day tattoo aftercare instructions:
Here are my day-to-day tattoo aftercare instructions that are critical for the first 4 weeks of your tattoo.
Three to four hours after leaving the tattoo shop, gently remove your bandage or cling wrap that the tattoo artist puts on to allow your new tattoo to breathe.
If your tattoo artist used cling film (I wouldn’t recommend using this) after the four hours, take it off and replace it with a new one, you should wash your tattoo in lukewarm, sterile water with fragrance-free soap.
If your tattoo artist has used specialized tattoo film, then keep this on for the first 24 hours and then remove and allow your tattoo to breathe.
Make sure the wrap is well placed and not exposed while you sleep, also. Try to avoid sleeping on the area of the tattoo (where possible).
When changing bandages, make sure you wash gently with warm water and tattoo cleanser or a fragrance-free, antibacterial soap.
Boil the kettle with water to ensure the water is clean and sterilized and leave to cool until it is warm but not to boil after you’ve gently cleaned your new tattoo, dry with a paper towel, and apply a thin layer of gentle moisturizer.
Keeping the initial bandage on for the first night helps prevent rubbing and aggravating the skin and prevent leaking. Ensure that the tattoo film you use is breathable to allow the wound to get enough oxygen and prevent moisture build-up, which can cause infections.
Here’s a tip: use clean sheets and towels when sleeping:
After getting a new tattoo, you want to make sure that you’re keeping it as clean as possible. I would also recommend placing down a towel while your tattoo is healing to prevent staining and for your general health too.
Also, make sure you never dry your tattoo with a towel; if you do, make sure no one else has used it or will use it. After you wash the tattoo, you would recommend that you blot dry with a paper towel to prevent the chance of infection.
You should care for your tattoo for the first three days as if it is an open wound as new tattoos can easily get infected, and no one wants that.
On day two, you should now be able to remove your plastic bandage, as in order to care for your new tattoo, you will need to let it breathe. This is when you can pick up your moisturizing and washing routine.
You should regularly wash and keep your tattoo clean throughout the day; I would recommend cleaning 2-3 times a day and gently wash the area with sterile water and fragrance-free soap, as well as using a gentle moisturizer once the area is dry.
Once you’ve cleaned the area, you should apply a thin layer of moisturizer and a new layer of protective film for the next few days, allowing periods of time for the tattoo to breathe.
Whenever you wash your new tattoo, remember to care and wash your hands thoroughly beforehand to prevent the chance of infection.
Now you’ve got up a routine of washing the tattoo with water, tattoo cleanser, or a gentle soap 2-3 times a day; you may notice that your tattoo is beginning to notice tattoo scabs and peeling– which is normal.
Once you’ve cleaned and dried the skin around your tattoo, make sure you moisturize with regenerative balm or aftercare ointment.
Some people’s tattoos will heal faster than others; it all depends on your age and health. If you’ve noticed that your skin is dehydrated, then you can apply the balm more often.
Resist the urge to itch and try applying tattoo lotion provided by your tattoo artist– this will massively help soothe the skin and relieve the urge to itch.
Try not to pull off the loose skin as that part may be still healing, and you may open the wound and cause it to take longer to heal– it may even detriment your design!
Here’s a tip: make sure you apply aftercare ointment daily
It is so important that you let your tattoo breathe and give it the air to help with the healing process; products like vaseline may be too heavy for your tattoo.
Your tattoo artist may recommend products like lanolin, petroleum jelly, and taking vitamins A and D as a form of tattoo aftercare ointment. Coconut oil is also a brilliant way to keep your skin moisturized as it’s natural and fragrance-free.
You should keep up to date with regular cleaning and applying ointment and moisturizer for the first month after your tattoo.
Ensure you keep your tattoo covered and out of direct UV rays; remember to apply SPF 50 if your tattoo is exposed to the sun as the skin will be sensitive; it also prevents your tattoo from fading too.
Bigger tattoos take longer to heal than smaller ones; this is because there is more skin and a larger area to heal. The top layer should heal in the first 3-4 weeks, but it could take up to 4 months for all the layers to fully heal.
Don’t get it wet:
Except for the circumstance of cleaning your tattoo in sterile water, you should avoid getting your tattoo or skin around the tattoo wet for the first two weeks.
Try and avoid getting it wet in the showers or bath, and don’t swim for the first weeks. I wouldn’t recommend swimming until stage 4 to be on the safe side.
Key things to know about how to take care of a tattoo:
Here are some top tips about tattoo aftercare and things to expect after getting a tattoo which your tattoo artist may not tell you about:
Your tattoo may be swollen for the first week or two:
When you first remove the bandage, you should be prepared that your new tattoo will look gross and swollen and red, bloody, and even bruised in some cases.
But no need to fear; this is completely normal and temporary– it’s your body’s reaction to trauma, especially if you got tattooed in a sensitive area.
Tattoo machines pierce your skin 3000 times a minute, so a little blood and swelling, as a result, is nothing to worry about; your skin has just been through a lot of trauma!
Your tattoo will be a bit messy for the first few days:
Your tattoo will ooze cats and dogs for the first few days; you will notice all skins of fluids coming out of the skin, including blood, clear plasma, lymphatic acid, and even ink– YUCK!
This is completely normal; it’s very much ‘trust the process’ kind of thing; your body responds to the open wound and works hard to heal the tattoo and reduce the chance of infection.
This is why it is important to wash the tattoo and skin multiple times a day and bandage your tattoo for the first day or two. Washing your tattoo is crucial as all these yucky liquids oozing out of the tattoo can lead to infection if not cleaned properly.
Whatever you do when you care about your new tattoo, don’t use alcohol-based products; this will sting like hell. Make sure you use gentle, fragrance-free products and rinse with lukewarm water, not hot.
Your tattoo will scab and itch like hell for the first two weeks:
You may see celebrities getting tattoos and say, ‘oh, mine didn’t get scab’ or ‘mine healed within a week.’ I’m going to be real with you here; in reality, your tattoo will take a month or two to heal and will scab like no tomorrow.
You should expect scabbing, flaking, itching, the whole lot. Scabs are our body’s way of healing; they provide a protective layer that covers the wound on your skin, and it protects your tattoo from bacteria and the risk of infection.
If you see scabbing, that’s a good sign! It means that your tattoo is healing properly, and your body is doing what it needs to heal the skin damaged by the tattooing process. It may look a little ugly for a few weeks but trust the process.
You may feel unwell for a few days after:
Many people often forget how much stress your body is put under when getting a tattoo, so if you feel under the weather for a few days after, it’s completely normal– especially if you got a big tattoo.
The stress of the tattoo and the piece created by your tattoo artist may affect your immune system, so if there’s a cold going around, then you’re more likely to catch it, but it should pass after a few days.
Stages of Tattoo Healing:
Everyone is different, but it will usually take around a month for your tattoo to heal and up to four months for your tattoo to heal fully.
Let’s look into the tattoo healing week by week in more detail:
During the first week of your fresh tattoo, your skin may ooze, swell and you will feel a painful sensation on your skin– your tattoo may even leak ink (don’t worry this is completely normal!)
This is your body’s way of healing and if you see scabbing after a few days then it’s a good sign, your body is responding to an injury after all.
In the first week, you should try to clean your tattoo multiple times a day (I would recommend 2-3 times). This keeps the skin clean and prevents any infection, it also encourages your body to start scabbing over the wound.
We want our body to scab (as nasty as it looks sometimes) because it is our body’s way of healing open wounds and prevent bacteria from getting into the tattoo wound and infecting the skin.
After your tattoo has begun to scab you will notice significant flaking, your tattoo may even become very itchy– resist the urge to itch! This is because your tattoo has scabbed and the skin is dry as a result.
Instead of itching the tattoo like no tomorrow (yes I know it is tempting) try to apply some tattoo lotion provided by your tattoo artist to soothe the skin and make it less itchy.
In the second week, your scabs may begin peeling more and more, this flaking can be annoying, you may want to hide the tattoo from the world during this stage of healing, but don’t panic this won’t be the end product.
The best way to care for your tattoo during this stage is to keep it moisturized and don’t pick at the flaking skin as some parts may still be healing, you could open the wound and make it even longer to heal.
Tattoo lotion will be your best friend doing the second week, it will ease off the flaking gently and when your body is ready– plus it helps massively with the itching.
Week Three and Four:
During weeks three and four, your tattoo is on its way to being healed but it may still appear scaly, shiny, or even cloudy. No need to panic though, this will disappear in a few weeks and won’t be the end result!
Now, the top surface has probably healed by this point but your body is working through healing all the layers under your skin. You should still be cautious for the next few months.
You should maintain your tattoo aftercare routine, regularly cleaning and moisturizing. This will speed up the healing process of this stage, keep applying the tattoo lotion provided or recommended by your tattoo artist.
Sunscreen is your tattoo’s best friend so make sure you remember your SPF. Protecting your tattoo from direct sun exposure and UV rays is crucial in the healing process, as your skin is very sensitive.
During the healing process you should try to keep your tattoo covered as much as possible and if it is exposed don’t put anything less than SPF 50 on the area.
Even once your tattoo has fully healed, you should still be using SPF 50 to prevent your tattoo from fading, no one wants their expensive tattoo to fade now do they?
The best way to care for your tattoo during these stages is to keep up your aftercare routine, keep applying tattoo lotion and top up on your sunscreen on a regular basis.
The aftercare is just as important as the preparation before the tattoo; it allows your body to heal and prevents the chance of infection.
Your tattoo heals in stages, and taking care of your new tattoo is so important. The first month is crucial for looking after your new tattoo but remembering to keep your tattoo protected with SPF 50 will keep it fresh and prevent fading for years to come.
Getting a tattoo is an awesome long-term investment; making an effort in the aftercare will make a world of difference.
Wash, moisturize, repeat!