Tattoo Aftercare Tips and Help
You're either reading this because (1) you've just got a new tattoo or (2) you're thinking about getting a tattoo. Either way, you must remember that tattoo aftercare may vary from person to person and artist to artist.
Usually, your tattoo artist will give you written instructions as to how to properly care for your new tattoo. But, it's best to be prepared and to know what you're getting yourself into when you get a tattoo.
To know how to properly take care of a tattoo, you need to know what a tattoo is...
What is a Tattoo?
A tattoo is a puncture wound that is made deep into the skin, filled with ink. Tattoos are made by penetrating your skin with a needle and injecting ink into the area, which usually creates some sort of design.
What makes tattoos so long-lasting is that they're deep; the ink isn't injected into the epidermis (the top layer of skin), but the dermis (the second, deeper layer of skin). Dermis cells are very stable, so the tattoo is practically permanent.
In the beginning, tattoos were done manually, in which the tattoo artist would puncture the skin with a needle and inject the ink by hand. Although, this technique is still used in parts of the world, most tattoo shops use a tattoo machine, which is a handheld electric instrument that uses a tube and needle system. On one end of the machine is a sterilized needle, which is attached to tubes that contain ink. A foot switch is used to turn on the machine, which moves the needle in and out while driving the ink about 1/8 inch (about 3 millimeters) into your skin.
Your tattoo artist will know how deep to drive the needle into your skin, as not going deep enough will produce a poor tattoo, and going too deep can cause bleeding, intense pain, and scarring. You will find that complications related to tattoos will generally depend on amateur artists, do-it-yourselfers, and informal tattooers; remember that just because a tattoo shop is in business and has customers and employees, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are clean, sterile, and reputable.
I advise that you strongly consider the following tattoo aftercare tips and advice because if you don't care for your new tattoo properly for the first two weeks, or so, you have a higher risk of infection and scarring.
Depending on the size of the tattoo and your tattoo artist's advice, you should leave the bandage on the new tattoo anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. Typically, you want to remove the bandage when you get home, so that you can let the tattoo breath, but if you are still bleeding you may consider gently dabbing the new tattoo with a new paper towel so that the blood doesn't pool.
When removing the bandage, do so gently by slowly peeling the bandage. If it sticks at all, STOP! Pour cool water between the skin and gauze. Make sure that you don't stick your tattoo under a full force faucet; remember easy does it. Wait a few minutes, and try to remove the bandage again.
The cool water should loosen your skin from the bandage without yanking any color out. Do remember throughout this, to not pull any skin or scabs off the tattoo, as you could pull out the ink, which can result in uncolored or dull gaps in your tattoo.
Once the bandage is off, wash the tattoo very gently with your fingertips. Use a mild antibacterial soap or any other gentle soap that is free of deodorants, skin softeners, or other additives.
Rub the soap gently on the tattoo using your fingers.
After you clean the tattoo, gently pout cold water over it for a few minutes. The cold water will tighten your pores, which will help the tattoo heal healthily and quickly. Some tattoo artists believe that the cold water helps the color set in.
Lightly, pat the tattoo dry with a soft towel.
Carefully, apply a light coating of A & D ointment. DO NOT smear ointment on too thick because your skin needs to be able to breath. A small drop of ointment should be enough to cover the tattoo, depending on the size of the tattoo. Gently massage a small dab of the ointment into the tattoo using your fingertips.
You can use Bacitracin or even a gentle additive free lotion as long as it is water based, such as Corn Huskers Lotion. But, since A & D ointment contains nothing but skin healing vitamins A and D, it's the ideal balm to use on a new tattoo.
For the first two weeks after you get your tattoo, keep it away from water as much as possible. Use only your fingers to wash the new tattoo. And, blot it dry with a soft towel.
New Tattoo Don'ts
- Do not re-bandage a tattoo.
- Never use soaps with additives such as special scents, skin softeners, etc. Make sure to use water-based products, non-petroleum based.
- Never use loofahs, sponges, washcloths, cotton balls, paper towels, or anything else but your fingers to clean a tattoo.
- Do not put a new tattoo under a full force faucet.
- When taking a shower, don't let the water directly hit the tattoo.
- When taking a bath, don't submerge the tattoo in the water.
- Don't coat the surface of the tattoo too thick with ointment, as you will suffocate the skin, cause it to scab up and increase your risk of infection.
- No rubbing, scrubbing, picking, or scratching, no matter how much it itches!
After the Tattoo Has Healed
Once the ink has settled into your skin, you can return to life as usual.
If you are going to be outside for any length of time, remember to always use a strong sun block on your tattoo, as the sun rays will fade the tattoo.
Tanning beds, are not recommended, even after your tattoo is healed. If you choose to go to a tanning bed, cover the tattoo fully.
Also, just like the rest of your body, your tattoo will look better, longer, if you get into the habit of using skin lotions.
After your tattoo has fully healed, if you are not happy with the way the tattoo looks (the color has gaps or is patchy), go back to the tattoo artist. As tattoo artists want to do the best job they can for you, most of them will be happy to do a touch up on the tattoo once it is fully set in.
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.