Amy Jackson is a former tattoo newbie and spent the few months before her first one researching aftercare and tattoo tips.
I reached a whole new milestone this year: I got my first tattoo. That was in April, and I now have three of them. It’s safe to say that, after the first one, I was most definitely hooked. But why did I wait until the age of 26 before getting my first tattoo? Well, of course there’s the common fear of needles and it being painful, but actually, my fear was more around the aftermath.
In the back of my mind, there was always the fear that it would get infected and I’d end up regretting my decision. However, upon chatting with friends who had already taken the plunge, I realised that as long as you take care of it and do as your artist tells you, the chances of your tattoo getting infected are unlikely. So, how can you ensure that you give your new ink the best aftercare?
8 Aftercare Tips for Tattoo Newbies
- Keep It Covered
- Keep It Clean
- Wash Your Hands
- Be Mindful of It
- Let It Breathe
- Regularly Apply Aftercare Cream
- Use the Right Products
- Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions
1. Keep It Covered
Once it’s finished, your artist will usually cover your tattoo with cling film or plastic wrap, and this is simply to avoid potential infection-causing bacteria from entering your new tat. While you need to let your tattoo breathe in order to heal, it’s important to keep it covered for the first hour or two, particularly for your journey home.
How Long Should I Leave on the Plastic Wrap?
How long you’re advised to leave the plastic wrap on can vary depending on the location of your tattoo and among different artists, but most often this is usually for around 1–2 hours. They may even recommend that you cover it again for certain activities, such as sleeping or if you work in a dirty environment.
Depending on where your tattoo is located, this could be quite fiddly! With my first tattoo on my ankle, driving home was a little difficult where I was paranoid to knock the wrapping off. However, it's important to keep it on for those first few hours—so persevere!
For more on wrapping your new tattoo, check out this article.
2. Keep It Clean
Hygiene is key when it comes to new ink, as it is with new piercings and wounds. Generally, it’s a good idea to clean your tattoo with warm water around 2–3 times a day. Use running water rather than soaking it, and don’t scrub or pull your skin. Afterwards, gently pat the area dry with a clean towel before you apply your aftercare cream. Keeping it clean also extends into general day-to-day activities, too, and you may have to take extra precautions depending on the location of your tattoo.
For example, I have another tattoo on my foot. My artist advised me to change my bedding when I got home because the area where my feet would normally lay was likely to have a fair bit of bacteria there. Putting fresh bedding on would ensure it was kept as clean as possible during those first few days. Plus, who doesn’t love fresh sheets?
3. Wash Your Hands
Okay so we’re going back to basic hygiene 101 here, but keeping your hands clean before touching your new tattoo is essential. You wouldn’t clean a cut without washing your hands first, would you? The same goes for tattoos. It’s essentially an open wound, especially for those first few days, so it’ll be more susceptible to infection. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before cleaning it or applying aftercare cream.
This article has some great tips on cleaning your new tattoo, so check it out if you need more information.
4. Be Mindful of It
While a fresh new tat probably won’t restrict things too much for you, there may be a few things to avoid in those first few days. If you play contact sports, work in a dirty environment, or even if you’re off on a sunny holiday, you may need to take extra precautions, such as keeping it covered. Again, depending on the location of your tattoo, this may extend to other day-to-day things, too, such as:
- Outdoor activities such as gardening or sports if your tattoo is on an exposed part of your body.
- Certain items of clothing—be wary of your bra if you have any rib or shoulder tattoos!
- Exercising or going to the gym. Dirty exercise mats and equipment can harbour bacteria, so either skip your session for a couple of days, or keep your tattoo covered.
In some cases, you may find your tattoo is a little bit tender when you do certain activities. Driving for me was something I struggled with after getting my foot tattoo especially! I had it done in the summer months, so it meant wearing 'summer' shoes like pumps and sandals; however, it meant that I would occasionally knock it when moving from different pedals!
5. Let It Breathe
Okay, so this one may be a little contradictory, but hear me out. Your tattoo needs to be exposed to the air in order to heal properly, so make sure you’re still giving it time to breathe. When you’re at home doing normal activities, leave your tattoo uncovered, and this will give it plenty of healing time. Keep it uncovered when showering and avoid wearing clothing that’s too tight for the first couple of days.
Having a tattoo on my wrist meant that it was fairly easy to let it breathe most days, and again, where my foot tattoo was done during the summer months, this was also fairly easy. With my ankle tattoo, I found wearing loose pyjama bottoms and trousers was a godsend!
6. Regularly Apply Aftercare Cream
Each tattoo artist is different in terms of what products they would recommend when it comes to aftercare, and they’ll generally advise you before you leave the tattoo parlour. Some will advise you to use a specific tattoo aftercare cream, while others will suggest a range of general moisturisers that you can buy from your local pharmacy. Products designed solely for tattoos are a good option as they are made with ingredients designed to heal your skin, prevent infection and keep your skin feeling soft.
My artist suggested a few different products, such as Sudocrem, an anti-septic healing cream, or Aveeno moisturiser—which is great because it's my go-to moisturiser anyway! He emphasised that there was a lot of choice out there but the main things to look out for were:
- moisturising properties
- no harsh chemicals
- nothing heavily scented
He also advised that because my tattoos were quite small, there wasn't really a need to invest in specific tattoo creams, although had I gone for a larger and more complex design, it would have been worth doing.
This article reviews a whole range of tattoo aftercare kits, so it can be a good place to start!
7. Use the Right Products
It’s not just aftercare cream that you need to be aware of when it comes to choosing your post-tattoo products. Be mindful of your everyday toiletries, too, such as shower gels, soaps or lotions. Ensure that you avoid using any harsh chemicals or heavily scented products on your tattoo as this can cause irritation and may delay healing.
8. Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions
I was so pleased with the experience I had at the studio I went to that I saw the same artist for all three of my tattoos. Not only was it nice to build up a bit of a rapport, but it meant that he checked in with how each one was doing every time that I went back. It gave me plenty of opportunity to ask questions, too.
If you’re in doubt about any aspect of aftercare on your new tattoo, don’t be afraid to get in touch with the tattoo parlour. Chances are they’ll have heard your question plenty of times before, and they’ll happily be able to solve any problems or queries you might have.
Always Ask If Something Doesn't Seem Right
If you notice anything that doesn’t seem right, it’s better to get them sorted sooner rather than later. Remember, a little redness and irritation is normal within the first few days, and they should improve over time. However, if they don’t, it’s always worth getting in touch with your artist or your doctor if you’re concerned.
This article provides a detailed guide on spotting any signs of infection with new tattoos.
What About Your Tattoos?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Amy Jackson (author) from Bath, UK on November 11, 2019:
Thank you :)