As a tattoo commentator and writer, I rely on my personal experience and time working in a tattoo studio.
Tattoo: To Wrap or Not to Wrap?
Wrapping your tattoo in cling film or plastic wrap is believed to have developed from the '60s and '70s Biker gatherings. Freshly tattooed Bikers were brazenly ripping off their bandages repeatedly, showing off their new tattoos, blood and ink oozing everywhere.
The "cling film" legend goes like this: one of those bike enthusiasts decided to wrap his new tattoo in see-through plastic, so he could show all his mates without taking off its cover. It worked. His mates could now see his new tattoo, and he didn't flick blood and ooze around. (This was at a time and age where concerns and knowledge about blood-borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis were uncommon.)
Whether this journey back into Biker history has any merit, the message itself does: You need to protect your freshly inked tattoo from external infections for best results. Covering your tattoo causes a lot of heated discussion from within the tattoo community, but there is a benefit to covering your healing tattoo to protect it from the environment. The real questions are:
- What should you wrap your new tattoo with?
- When should you wrap your new tattoo?
- How long you wrap your new tattoo for?
A critical step for a naturally healing tattoo is air-drying it out. Only expose your fresh tattoo to a clean environment like your bathroom rather than the garage. Once the top layer of a tattoo has dried out and flaked off, it will reveal your tattoo underneath.
What Does Wrapping Your New Tattoo Do?
- Legislation in many countries requires a new tattoo to be wrapped in a sterile bandage to limit infections.
- When you wrap your tattoo, the bandage or cover will limit the air flow to the surface of your new tattoo.
- Wrapping your tattoo provides a barrier from bacteria and other antibodies, which if they entered your new tattoo could develop a potentially damaging infection on your tattoo.
- Gives you the control of the tattoo's environment.
- Protects it from knocks in crowds or when playing contact sports.
Quick Reference: When to Wrap Your Tattoo
|Wrap||Do Not Wrap|
On journey home from tattoo session
After you get home for at least 2 hours
When wearing tight clothing
When relaxing in loose clothes
During contact events
During your normal non-contact activities
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When Should I Wrap My New Tattoo?
On the journey home from your tattoo session
Your tattoo artist should wrap your fresh tattoo with cling film before you leave the studio. Laws in many countries specify that a freshly completed tattoo must be covered entirely with a sterile bandage that is securely taped down with medical adhesive (tape).
Whilst in bed, during sleep
When you are asleep. While you are sleeping you might lay on your tattoo, or let the bed linen lay on your tattoo. This is an opportunity for bacteria, dust or fluff to enter the new tattoo, possibly causing an infection.
Wrapping your tattoo will also protect it from being accidentally scratched while you're asleep.
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When wearing tight or irritating clothing
Choose clothing that is not too tight and irritating. Sleeves or cuffs with elastic can easily catch on edges of skin and scabs, ripping them off. If you must wear a certain clothing item that could rub or irritate your new tattoo, wrap your tattoo with a hygienic bandage for protection.
When in a crowd or playing a contact sport
A clean bandage is the best protection for your tattoo when in a crowd, or playing a contact sport. Any knocks or hits directly to your tattoo can cause damage. You are best to try to avoid these activities.
When in a dirty environment
In effect, your new tattoo is an open wound. If you work in an especially filthy workplace, or have to go to the garbage tip for example, wrap your tattoo for protection.
The reality is that cling film or cling wrap is cheap, easily available and actually does do the job of blocking access from any external dirt, airborne antibodies or germs. Unfortunately, bacteria is a stubborn little amoeba that can enter a wound as if by magic. If the micro-climate is ideal, they will multiply and breed, causing infection within the tattoo.
What Should I Wrap My New Tattoo With?
- A sterile bandage should used to completely cover a new tattoo.
- The sterile bandage is required to be taped down with medical adhesive when leaving a licensed tattoo studio.
- Cheese cloth or muslin cloth can be used as an alternative to cling film.
- Do not let sticky tape touch your tattoo.
As a last resort
- Cling film or plastic wrap.
How Long Should I Wrap My New Tattoo?
A common error when wrapping a new tattoo has to do the length of time that it is actually wrapped. Most bandages and other wraps can be worn for a bit longer than cling film.
Suggested Time Frames for Wrapping Your Tattoo
- Wrap your tattoo for the first hour or two, for the journey home. Once home, wash and let your tattoo air dry before applying any aftercare cream.
- Wrap tattoo during sleep for approximately three to five days. When you wake, remove wrapping the and wash immediately with anti-bacterial foam wash.
- Stop wrapping your tattoo when your tattoo has completely sealed itself naturally with a healthy layer of skin.
- If you're wrapping your tattoo to avoid a dirty environment, only remove the wrapping once you have washed your hands and are in a clean place.
Why to Avoid Using Cling Film or Plastic Wrap
Cling wrap should be avoided at all costs. If your tattoo artist wraps your new tattoo with cling film for your journey home, make it a quick journey. The plastic layer is used as a protective film to safeguard the fresh tattoo from airborne particles and micro-organisms.
The very nature of plastic is that it seals firmly around whatever it is applied to and seals it off. In doing this, though, the plastic wrap also limits any air from getting in or out. Fresh air is required for tattoos to heal naturally.
When cling film is wrapped around a freshly inked tattoo, it causes plasma, excess ink and fluids to pool within the tattoo area. This is extremely dangerous as it creates the perfect environment for bacteria to breed. Cling film interrupts the development in the top layers of the epidermis of dry, crusty skin that will typically flake off.
Once an air vacuum is created within the plastic film, the surface temperature of the skin can reach temperatures of up to 103 degrees: the ideal environment for bacteria to breed and grow, in fact a party that all its friends will come to. Bacteria can develop into heart-breaking, tattoo-damaging infections. Using cling film is better than not wrapping your tattoo at all. If you do use cling film to wrap your tattoo, use it for short periods.
Tattoo Aftercare Tips, How Should I Look After My New Tattoo?
- Tattoo Aftercare Tips, How Should I Look After My New Tattoo?
Practical and tested tattoo aftercare Instructions. Why do you need to do it, and how effective aftercare is done.
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.
Anne (author) from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS) on June 01, 2019:
ALL COMMENTS WITH SELF PROMOTION LINKS WILL BE REMOVED
Mark on April 02, 2019:
So I got a tattoo on my foot & decided to read on the aftercare after I got my tattoo... pretty stupid of me. Anyways I have to go to work & i'm wearing dress shoes for 8 hours at a time. So I'm wondering what the maximum amount of hours I can have my tattoo wrapped?
JR on March 22, 2019:
I've been tattooing for years. I never covered my tattoos. The best healing process is to wash your tattoo twice a day, morning and night or between if needed. Hustle butter is good for the healing process. Just do what's best for you and always keep your tattoo clean.
Holkska on January 13, 2019:
MAN i really hate when i hear about "reputable" tattoo artists telling their clients to leave a tattoo wrapped/covered :'(
I am in no means covered in tattoos, but i have just had my 16th and so i do have some limited experience... my 1st one (young and about 16 years ago) i was told to keep it covered - so i did, i didnt know any better, and it was a mess. A total mess. The lines bled out, ink was lost, it was truly awful, luckily it was relatively small.
But the point is, the artist is meant to be giving proper help and advice, a lot of people do not know what to do and thr artist is supposed to be trustworthy - and telling clients to leave a piece of work covered for a week (even a day is bad enough) is just bad form. Really bad form. They shouldnt be doing it (i wonder if some "artists" do this to ensure the person returns for a touch up. If so thats even worse!!)
So Thanks for this article, it will inform people of the caring and healing process, and avoid some ruined tattoos and unhappy people (which is awful, a tattoo is exciting!!)
Libby on December 27, 2018:
Got my 2nd tattoo recently from a different artist who said to keep it covered with cling film for the 2 weeks it’s healing, unlike my first artist.
Must say, thanks to this, I realised how bad his advice was and began letting the air get to it so it’s finally healing - altho there’s very small gaps from the confused healing process.
Emiljano on December 05, 2018:
I have a question.
8 days ago I got a tattoo in Germany Berlin.
First look after getting done was exactly as I wanted it to look.
He wrapped it with a tattoo plastic wrap and said me to leave it on for 6-7 days.
After 6 days I removed it cozz it was very dry and itchy and a lot of ink and skin came out with the plastic papper.It was like a copy of my tattoo in the plastic wrap.I did the process slowly and washing with warm water.
But the tattoo looks nicht top as in the beginning when it was done.
The tattoo is a cross with hands that pray and up is a writting in latin language Fide Nemini.
But the cross details look blurry the lines look a little fadded and I dont know if its normal or not becouse its my first tattoo.
Do you think my tattoo artist had fake instruction given?
I have read many tattoo artists instructions and there is nowhere said that the plastic wrapp must 6-7 days on skin stay.
Thanks for your answer!
Sherry on June 23, 2017:
My son just got his first tattoo all we need to know does he need to keep it wrapped up the next day? 6/23/17
Terri Marshall on April 16, 2017:
I just had my first tattoo done on my back, I went to a very pronoun shop, very clean and professional. They also put a air tight film over my tat and told me I could shower but leave the wrap on for seven days. On the 7th day remove wrap and wash lightly and then several times a day put Palmers Coconut Butter on my tattoo. I am now on my third day and I have no pain at all and tattoo looks good even though it still is wrapped with that air tight wrap. Hope all goes well and can't wait till Friday when I can remove the air tight wrap.
james on April 09, 2017:
hey Raul I'm a nurse and I'm planning on getting my first tattoo next month. I've done a lot of research and I'm planning on using Saniderm on my healing tat. It's the same type of tech that hospitals use to allow wounds to heal while being able to breath. I've used dressing like this on prior patients and it just makes scene to me to use it on healing tattoos. The only negative thing I've read if you are sensitive/ allergic to adhesive it shouldn't be used
Raul on April 01, 2017:
My Tatto guy did a Tat on my leg. He put a medical plastic wrap on it. Its air tight. He informed me too leave it on for 5 days and it will heal itself. Im a lil sceptical. Is this something new or a bad idea?
Fellow on January 28, 2017:
Hey gal, nice post! I'm probably quite late to the party,but the info was still nice. Just one little thing, tho, you said wrapping protects from "bacteria and other antibodies", while I think you meant pathogens. Antibodies are what we make to fight off diseases, aren't they? Anyways, thanks and cya!