Recently, a Texas man went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico a mere five days after getting freshly tattooed — and died. His tattoo, an open wound still at that point in the healing process, was infected by Vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium commonly found in coastal ocean water. Three days after his swim, he went to the hospital with a high fever, swollen bruised skin, and fluid collecting in his leg. It was no good — he was suffering from septic shock, and it progressed quickly. Two months after his initial hospital visit, he passed away. The 72 ounces of beer a day he was drinking didn’t help — apparently liver disease makes you more susceptible to complications with this specific water bacteria.
We are, naturally, horrified. Whatever other mitigating factors that led to this man’s death, the initial mistake was swimming in open water with a new tattoo. There’s a reason your tattoo artist has a list of things to tend to after you’ve been tattooed — it’s not just about the quality of the art. So we’ve compiled a list of questions artists frequently get, and some straightforward answers so you have a quick reference.
1. Can I go swimming in the ocean after I get tattooed?
NO. You might, for instance die. Or at least get infected. Wait until you’ve healed. Listen to your artist.
2. Can I go swimming in a chlorinated pool after I get tattooed?
NO. Wait until you’ve healed. Listen to your artist.
Put on some sunblock. Wear a shirt. Get a beach umbrella. Listen to your artist.
4. Can I go to the sauna after I get tattooed?
NO. Listen to your artist.
5. Can I sit in a hot tub after I get tattooed?
NO. Soaking in bubbling water with a fresh wound? C’mon. Listen to your artist.
6. Can I swim in a lake after I get tattooed?
NO. See above horror story. Listen to your artist.
7. Can I rub myself against my dog or cat after I get tattooed?
NO. We know you love them. Their dander and dirt will give you an infection. Listen to your artist.
8. What if I wanted to use my fancy expensive heavily scented soap on my tattoo?
NO. Use what aftercare products your artist recommends. Listen to your artist.
9. Can I loofah my tattoo?
NO. We can’t believe we have to address this. Your tattoo is going to seem scabby and like dried skin. Do NOT loofah or scrub it. Listen to your artist.
10. I hate showers, can’t I just shower once my tattoo is healed?
NO. Don’t be gross. Wash yourself. You don’t want gunk building up in an artistic open wound. Listen to your artist
We have a lot more ways you can make sure you take the best care of your new tattoo, and the best care of yourself. But remember the go-to, in case it didn’t stick yet: listen to your artist. They’re the expert, and what they tell you is the golden standard.