Caring for Healing Tattoos
Before TattooingClick thumbnail to view full-size
Help and Advice for Tattooed People (Or Those About to Be)
Here is some of my best advice, collected from my own experiences under the needle (I've been tattooed for over 25 years now), from talking to other tattooed people and from being the Body Art editor at BellaOnline for 11 years. There are tips for all phases of tattooing (before, during, and after), informational links, recommended products, and more.
The links listed just below are quick links to the various parts of this article, so you can either read the whole thing if you are just considering some ink, or you can jump to the section that you need if you've got some ink already. There's also a spot at the end where you can ask questions. Please note, if the answer is in the article and you missed it, I'm just going to tell you to go back and read the appropriate section. It's nothing personal and I'm not blowing you off, it just saves me typing the same stuff over and over.
Before You Get Tattooed
If you're getting ready to go get your first tattoo, here are a few things you should know.
- Since tattoos are a healing surface wound, you need to avoid hot tubs, swimming pools and soaking in bathtubs of water during the healing period. Before the surface heals, the skin is susceptible to infection and public pools and water are easy sources of bacteria.
- Also, the soaking can cause the scab to come off too soon, which can also hurt your new tattoo. So don't go get tattooed the day before that beach vacation or cruise! Make sure you get a good night's sleep the night before your tattoo appointment and be sure to eat a good meal an hour or two ahead of time. The process of enduring being tattooed is more tiring than most people would imagine and it often stresses the body the same way vigorous activity does, even though you aren't being highly active.
- Do not drink alcohol or take aspirin before you get tattooed. Both of these thin the blood and can cause you to bleed heavily during the tattoo process.
- Do not be drunk or high when you decide to get tattooed. More bad tattoos get born into the world from poor decisions than anything else.
- If you are going to be tattooed for a long time, make sure you have a way of getting home that is safe, or have someone else drive you. Some people become disoriented or a bit fuzzy-headed after long tattoo sessions due to the endorphin rush.
If you have any allergies to antibiotic ointments, latex, or petroleum products, be sure to tell your tattoo artist before they start to do any work on you. That way they can make sure any equipment or products they might use on you will be safe.
While You're Getting Tattooed
The actual tattoo process is the most exciting part. It's also the most painful. But here are a few suggestions to help you hang in there.
Try not to move around to much, or watch what the artist is doing. Any sudden movements on your part may result in a permanent mistake! Be sure to ask your tattooist to stop if you suddenly realize you have to cough or sneeze.
Bring along water or juice for you to drink. With larger pieces, sometimes people find they like to take a break and have a small snack to help them get through the process.
If there is music you really like to listen to, bring along some earphones and your portable music player.
If you are going to have to lay down to get tattooed, you might want to bring along a favorite pillow or a blanket to be more comfortable.
Some people bring along a friend for support. Make sure to ask ahead of time to make sure your tattooist is ok with someone hanging out and watching, or even if they can sit with you and talk or hold your hand.
Sunscreen for Tattoos Is Essential
Taking Care of a Healing Tattoo
Once your tattoo is done, it's not too hard to make sure it heals the best that it can. And it is worth the few days of special care after all that cost and discomfort it took to get it.
- Whatever you do, do not pick at the scab on your new tattoo. If the scab comes off too soon, you run the risk of having the ink "heal out," which leaves a blank spot in the design and then you'll have to get that part redone. This can happen a little bit during natural healing, but picking at a scab pretty much guarantees it. No matter how much it itches, don't scratch it.
- You can shower with your tattoo, but don't let it sit under the spray and get soaked. Wash it gently with a mild, natural soap using just your fingertips, and try to roll or scrape off as little scab as you can. Rinse quickly and make sure when you dry off to pat (not brush/scrape) the tattooed area.
- Tattoos that are totally brand-new get a light smear of antibiotic ointment on them, until the scab forms. Once the scab starts, you will want to switch to a natural or organic, unscented lotion to keep the skin moisturized. You do not want to use anything that contains lanolin or petroleum jelly in it for healing your tattoo, as these will clog the pores and often contributed to the ink healing out. I personally tell people to avoid diaper rash creams (aka A&D ointment or bepanthen), as these very often do contain lanolin and petroleum. I've also learned that the Australian product Lucas Paw Paw Ointment contains petroleum jelly (although it doesn't say so on the label) so avoid that one too!
- While tattoos are healing, you want to avoid skin trauma. This can include clothes that rub the area too much, any activities where the tattoo would get hit hard, anything that scrapes or scratches the healing surface and heavily sweating. Sweat is how the body cools itself and gets rid of toxins. That toxic sweat can cause your new tattoo to become infected.
- Initial healing from new tattoo to scabbed is about 3 days on average and the scab often falls off around days 7–10 but your individual skin healing can vary. The tattoo usually still has some dry skin on top (nicknamed "the saran wrap" phase by many because the tattoo can look shiny) after the heavy scab comes off and after two weeks the skin surface is often healed. The tattoo may be flat to the skin at this point, or it might take a little longer to become flush with the skin. Until the entire surface is healed you want to avoid any swimming or soaking in a hot tub!
- Now and for the rest of your life, your tattoo needs as much sun protection as it can get. If the surface is still raw, do not put sunscreen on it, as it can skin irritation. Keep it covered with soft clothing and out of the sun. Sunburn causes tattoos to lose colors or fade in intensity, and it can make fine lines and details turn blurry.
Remember, your individual skin healing and reactions may vary! If you think you are having a problem, go back and talk to your tattoo artist or see a doctor!
How to Recognize an Infection
- Tattoos can be red, swollen (raised-up), weepy/bleeding and just plain sore when they are done. The more complex a design and the longer you sat there, the greater the chances for these symptoms. If your tattooist had a really firm grip on you or if you tend to be sensitive to it, there might even be a few bruises.
- If your tattoos increase in redness, become more painful, and either the skin or the fluids weeping out become yellow-greenish in color, those are all classic signs of an infection. In those cases, either go back to your tattooist or doctor to have the infection confirmed and evaluated.
- If left untreated, infections can not only damage the tattoo itself, they can potentially lead to something life-threatening like blood poisoning.
- Some people have allergic reactions to tattoo inks or and experience adverse skin reactions. To determine this, you need to see a doctor or dermatologist.
If you have more questions about your tattoo possibly being infected, go see your doctor!
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.
© 2007 Raye