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Tattoo Aftercare: Tips and Tricks for People With Sensitive Skin

Heather writes about music, A/V editing, interior design, fashion, tattoos, organization tips, healthy eating, and the great outdoors!

Sensitive skin and tattoos

Sensitive skin and tattoos

Can You Get a Tattoo if You Have Sensitive Skin?

I knew after my first tattoo that I would have to find a special aftercare routine. My skin was red and swollen for a couple of days, but luckily the reaction was not bad enough to harm my tattoos. I just have to pay extra attention to how I heal them.

Skin type can greatly affect how you heal and will determine which aftercare regimen works best for you. In some extreme cases, skin conditions and sensitivity may prevent you from being able to get tattooed at all. If you are worried about whether or not your tattoo will heal correctly, discuss your concerns with a dermatologist or tattoo professional.

My first tattoo proved that having sensitive skin would play a huge part in how I cared for my tattoos.

My first tattoo proved that having sensitive skin would play a huge part in how I cared for my tattoos.

How Sensitive Skin Reacts to Tattoos

It is always best to start off with the aftercare routine your artist recommends. However, you may want to consider changing routines or discussing different healing options if you notice any issues with the way your body handles the healing process.

A few things to look out for:

  • Moisture rash: This is caused by applying too much ointment, or by excessive moisture under the plastic wrap or bandage covering the tattoo.
  • Excessive sweating: If you are using the plastic wrap method, this could lead to a rash or infection.
  • Any rash: This could be a reaction to the ointment or healing product, including medical tape.
  • Dryness: It is normal for a new tattoo to be itchy and dry when it begins to peel. But pay attention to how quickly your tattoo dries out after washing or if it seems to dry out too quickly between applications of ointment or lotion. I have this problem because I like to take very hot showers, which tend to dry out the skin. You may want to turn the temperature down a bit to keep this from happening. If the ointment or lotion you use doesn't keep your tattoo comfortably moist for very long, try switching to a different product. Avoid applying too much, as this can cause an allergic reaction or moisture rash.
  • Excessive scarring or bubbling: If this happens, contact your artist or tattoo professional immediately. It could damage the tattoo.

What I Did

After my first tattoos, my artist recommended these steps to help my tattoos heal: Depending upon the size and location of the tattoo, either:

  • Use Aquaphor
  • Keep the area wrapped in plastic wrap

I did this for about a year before deciding to change things up. Both routines seemed to do an alright job of healing the tattoo, but I disliked the way the Aquaphor would rub off on everything, including clothes and sheets, and leave greasy stains.

But since I have sensitive skin, Aquaphor gave me a few pimples around the tattooed area, which is never good when you're trying to heal. The routine of keeping the skin covered with plastic wrap and holding it in place with medical tape was annoying. It worked well for large areas that required a lot of ointment, or under clothes that I didn't want rubbing or irritating the tattoo as it healed, but my skin is easily irritated by medical tape. After repeatedly taping in the same areas, my skin would be red, itchy, and painful. Although I wrapped the tattoo loosely and open on the sides to let air in, having my skin covered caused me to sweat a lot more. The plastic wrap would stick to my new ink, and after a couple of hours, it would get smelly. This was especially bad during the summer. I decided to steer away from routine as I didn't want to risk getting an infection.

Artist: Kelsey Rogers

Artist: Kelsey Rogers

What Worked for Me

This is actually one of my favorite pieces. I acquired it at a convention a little over a year ago and after this, I decided to try and change my aftercare regimen. It worked out well, as fall was just beginning and the weather was comfortable. I wanted to avoid having to plastic wrap the tattoo, so I stuck to shorts or loose-fitting pants to avoid irritating the area with clothing. I also decided to try a different healing product since I didn't like the Aquaphor. I've always had a problem with heavy lotions; to me, they feel sticky and gross.

Tattoo Aftercare for Sensitive Skin

  • Avoid wrapping the tattoo unless absolutely necessary.
  • Avoid tight or abrasive clothing. This will help eliminate the need to wrap the tattoo. If you must wrap it, change the plastic every couple hours or when it starts to get sweaty or sticky.
  • If you sweat excessively in the area, rinse it off with cool to lukewarm water a few extra times a day. You don't have to use soap; just get the sweat off.
  • Wash with an unscented, gentle soap preferably without a lot of harsh chemicals. Start by doing this a few times a day for the first two or three days. Then once a day (in the shower is easiest) until the tattoo heals.
  • After washing, blot or air dry, and let the tattoo dry out completely before applying more lotion. I've found that if I reapply it immediately after washing, it will dry out a little faster than normal. It is always good to let it dry out completely and breathe every once in a while.
  • Use a light, sheer lotion. It will be less likely to clog pores or cause a rash due to over-applying. No thick ointments and definitely nothing petroleum-based.
  • By picking a product that is light and sheer to initially heal the tattoo, I can continue using the same product once the tattoo starts peeling to keep it hydrated and help with the itching. Usually at this point artists would recommend that you switch from the healing agent to an unscented lotion.
  • After the tattoo has healed I continue to use a natural moisturizer. This keeps the tattoo and skin healthy.
  • Always put on sunblock!
  • Take your skin type into account when choosing products. My skin is naturally oily and sensitive. I picked a product that would keep my tattoo clean and oil-free without being harsh. The moisture stays in but I don't break out.

My Preferred Product

After researching a few different products I decided to give Tattoo Goo a try. It comes in a kit you can find at Walmart. I have stuck with this as it has worked well for me from day one. The kit includes aftercare lotion and soap, both of which are fragrance-free and very gentle on my skin.

I used to shudder at the thought of having to wash my tattoo for the first few days because the soap would burn and sting. I was pleased when I tried Tattoo Goo soap. It was gentle and soothing and did not burn at all. The lotion worked well for me as it was very lightweight and sheer, so I could apply it under clothes or before bed. Although it is not thick and absorbs pretty quickly. My tattoo didn't dry out soon after applying the lotion. It stayed moist even after all the lotion had absorbed in and I couldn't feel it on the surface of my skin. The kit also comes with a long-term care salve, which is nice when you want to freshen up an older tattoo, and a sunblock stick. I spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer, so that was a plus.

Keep Your Tattoo Looking New

One thing that can have a huge impact on the care of your tattoo after it has healed is the weather. Here in Oklahoma we have blistering hot summers and freezing cold winters. The elements can take a toll on your ink, just like they do the rest of your skin.

I cannot emphasize it enough: Wear sunblock! The sun damages and ages skin and it will damage and age your tattoo. They make sunblocks specifically for tattooed skin. I find that they work so well that I use them on my untattooed skin as well as a regular sunblock. And if you have sensitive skin, they work well for that too. I never used to apply sunblock to my face. I tried everything and I still got sunburned. I don't have that problem anymore.

Winter can be just as harsh on your ink as the hot summer sun. Cold temperatures and wind dry and crack skin. They caused my tattoos to fade slightly and not look as fresh and pretty. Using things like moisturizing body washes and lotions can help keep this from happening. I prefer to use natural products, especially on my tattoos. Who knows what harsh chemicals might damage that beautiful ink? For my smaller pieces, I just continue to wash them with the aftercare soap, since it was made to be safe for tattoos. I try to stick to the same lotions that would be appropriate for a fresh tattoo. Unscented is usually recommended. I prefer products like cocoa or shea butter, which I know will be gentle on my skin and won't damage or fade my tattoos.

Caring for an Injury on a Tattoo

Having beautiful tattoos is just one more incentive to be careful and take good care of my skin and body. But every once and a while I bail really hard on a longboard (something I really shouldn't do at all considering how uncoordinated I am.) and get some nasty scrapes and bruises. I was lucky that only a small section of one tattoo was damaged. It was a light enough scrape that I didn't have to worry about scarring, but the loss of color is common when the skin over a tattoo is damaged, especially if it scabs over. I treated the tattoo to fresh ink, washed it with the tattoo soap I use for new tattoos, blot dried, and kept it loosely covered with a bandage until it began to heal, but hadn't started scabbing over. At this point, I applied the lotion I used for new tattoos. It seemed to work, as the damaged part of the tattoo looked good as new once healed.

Please Note!

These are tips that I found helpful in customizing the healing process to fit my personal needs. They may not work for everyone. If this is your first tattoo, it may be best to stick with the instructions your artist gives you. If something does not seem to work well for you, do not try to continue the healing process that way. Instead, go back to the routine set forth by your artist. They know best. If you encounter any issues during the healing process such as infections, rashes, or reactions to a healing product, please consult with your artist or a dermatologist. Thanks for reading!

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.


mishka on September 03, 2018:

hi I just got my tat recently between my breast I do sweat but im using lukewarm water on my tattoo just to dampen it and get rid of most sweat and then I let it air dry and use an ointment but its starting to peel I just don't want my tat to fade???? :( isit normal for your tattoo to peel after a week?

Josinah Mabuela on May 04, 2018:

I just had my tattoo on my chest 4months ago..But the tattoo it is still painful and burning which makes my left breast and back to hurt.

zuber on February 23, 2017:

I have got a bubbles on my tattoo....

Heather Basgall (author) from Oklahoma on December 31, 2016:

Fairysmom - sounds like maybe a moisture rash? With aquaphor its important not to overapply as it will not allow your skin to release exess moisture (ie sweat) thus causing the bumps. Make sure it is a very thin layer. Better to apply less, more often, than to overapply and prevent the skin from breathing properly while it heals.

Fairysmom on December 31, 2016:

I am a tattoo veteran. I just recently got a tattoo and my artist advised aquaphor which is fine. I've been the type to just use coconut oil in it's virgin cold pressed state. So I thought I'd give the aquaphor a try. My daughter used it and had no issues. Well the placement of my art made it difficult for me to reach it. On days where I couldn't reach well I would just use the oil. Recently one of my other children started to put the aquaphor on and now I have little red bumps all over my tat

Sarah Smith on July 21, 2016:

I want to get my first tattoo but am worried about my sensitive skin. Thanks for the advice about turning the temperature down when you take a shower so that you don't dry out your skin as much. Now I just need to find a good tattoo artist that I like.

luke on September 20, 2014:

I have just got a tattoo it's a lil red and its burning is it ok