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Caring For Healing Tattoos

Updated on January 21, 2016
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Raye has many body mods, SFSI training, former CFR-D creds, and a decade-long stint as BellaOnline's body art editor, under her belt.

Before Tattooing

This is the peacock feather I photographed for my tattoo design.
This is the peacock feather I photographed for my tattoo design. | Source
Here's the symbol for the left side of my chest piece
Here's the symbol for the left side of my chest piece | Source
Here's the symbol I wanted for the right side of my chest
Here's the symbol I wanted for the right side of my chest | Source

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 twenty-five years now), from talking to other tattooed people and from being the Body Art editor at BellaOnline for eleven 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 Hub, 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 Hub 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.


After Tattooing

As you can see on the left side of this picture, my finished peacock feather.
As you can see on the left side of this picture, my finished peacock feather. | Source

Sunscreen for tattoos is essential

Source

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 rick 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 petroluem 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 petroluem. 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 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!


Staph Infection

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 tattoist 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 if your tattoo might be infected, Go See Your Doctor!


Got A Tattoo Question? - in the interest of saving space and time, I'm going to answer things not already addressed by the Hub.

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      Rachael 7 weeks ago

      Hi i went back to my tattoist after a week getting my done and told her there is a little red around one area she just said it is just a irritation from something it is slowly slowing going cause i am using benthpan on it but it is only light red and suggestions is paw paw ointment good to use

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      Raye 11 months ago from Seattle, WA

      Frank, a person who can't actually see your tattoo can only make random guesses. Is it extra ink on the skin? Did the artist screw up? I have no idea, I can't see what you are talking about. You need to consult someone who can look at your arm, like another tattoo artist, in person.

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      Frank Robinson Jr. 13 months ago

      I got a tattoo yesterday and got the bandage on for 24 hours. It said if there was excessive leakage, I could remove, which I did today. Some of the fine lines look to be a little blurry. Is that normal? My NEW normal? Weeep.

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      Raye 15 months ago from Seattle, WA

      Shanni, not seeing the fine white bumps, I can't say exactly what is happening, but it is NOT normal and I suggest you go back and let your tattooist take another look at what's developing. A commercial cocoa butter could have a lot of chemicals in it, so I can't say if I would recommend it.

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      shanni 15 months ago

      I got a tatto 3 days ago and yesterday i realised that it has some fine white bumps on it.. is that normal? Also is cocoa butter a good ointment to use on it?

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      Raye 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Martin, I have not. I don't use anything that isn't organic on my own skin or for healing wounds.

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      Martin 2 years ago

      Have you tried Sorry Mom? They have creams for both the healing process, for older tattoos and a sun screen for tattoos.

      I have tried it and i think that my tattoos heal faster!

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      Raye 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Tanya, what you are describing is normal for a new tattoo, but each person's skin heals at their own rate. You tattoo will flatten out as it heals more fully.

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      Tanya 2 years ago

      I had a wrist tattoo 2weeks ago the writing is still raised and looks shiny under the skin will the writing go down if so how ong will it take ? Thanks

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      Raye 2 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Selena, what do you think is going to happen if someone eats pork while healing a tattoo?

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      Raye 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Jessica, let it dry for a bit and then put a very thin smear of organic moisturizer on it and see how it does.

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      jessica 3 years ago

      Hi I just got a rose on my shoulder and when i got home i washed of the cream they put on it and put paw paw cream on it not realising the ink would run. i noticed it after some time so i quickly dabbed the cream off it took a bit of ink off but it seems to be okay what should i do now? Keep it sealed with glad wrap or let it dry out?

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      Raye 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Rita, have you looked at the tattoo? Any signs of an infection? That most often what heat indicates.

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      rita 3 years ago

      I have a quarter size heart behind my ear and after almost two week's i still feel a hot sensation. What does that mean?

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      Raye 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Tina, it will get even blurrier looking as the scab on the surface thickens. Once the scab comes off (no picking!) you'll find crispier lines that probably will still need a little more healing to go.

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      Tina 3 years ago

      I recently got a tatto done on side left of my neck and on shoulder ,,it's just been 3 days and the tattoo font looks blurry ? Is it normal .. Will it be on with time ?

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      Raye 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Tina, the trauma of getting a tattoo causes blood to rush to the area and that's what creates the sensation of heat.

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      Raye 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Djs, 1) don't stand in the water spray so that it pours down on the new tattoo the whole time, 2) wash very go wn't,y with your hand, not a washcloth or scrubber, 3) rinse promptly and 4) pat dry very gently.

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      Tina 3 years ago

      My tattoo area is very hot is that ok.

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      Raye 3 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Marissa, it's just like healing any other sort of cut or scrape. It's winter, it's cold, sleep with a blanket for goodness' sake...

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