We know that tattoo aftercare is one of the most important aspects of the tattoo journey. Though, for some reason the tattoo community has had a hard time reaching a general agreement on how to properly care for a tattoo after being inked. With tens of thousands of parlors in the United States alone, you are likely to get different instructions from one artist and studio to the next. The main reason to why it is so difficult to agree on a single solution is that there literally is not one.
The primary cause may lie in the lack of standard artists from the same shop recommending very different aftercare to their clients. Most artists even offer different aftercare instructions based on the location of tattoo that their client has received (such as a tattoo on a foot getting different treatment than one on an arm). In this post, we will highlight the most important tips to keeping your new piece looking shiny and clean.
Each and every tattoo will go through a healing process, one that typically takes about 2-4 weeks time. Some collectors out there are blessed with forgiving skin, and their tattoos will heal with minimal upkeep and attention. Others are less fortunate, and their new tattoo will need to be kept under a close eye to ensure a proper healing. The first week of healing is critical to how your tattoo will look for the rest of its life, so let's take a look at the proper way to care for your new permanent accessory.
Keep the initial bandage on for a minimum of two hours. Your artist knows which length of time is best for you and your tattoo, so ensure you listen to their advice. After removing your bandage, you should gently cleanse your new tattoo with an antibacterial, fragrance-free soap (we like Dr. Bronner’s Hemp Baby Unscented, Pure-Castile Soap) and hot water. The hot water may cause temporary mild stinging, but will aid in opening pores and killing bacteria for maximum cleansing. For larger scale pieces, you will want to opt for a shower instead of a bath during this time. When you exit the shower, do NOT rub your tattoo with a towel. Let it dry on it's own. Keeping your tattoo clean and washing 2-3 times daily will avoid a potential infection.
Your new tattoo needs to breathe to promote the healing process — which is why most professional tattooers will recommend lotions, butters, or natural oils free of synthetic chemicals, ointments and fragrances that often clog and suffocate the pores and act as irritants to broken skin. The more organic and natural, the better for your tattoo, which brings us to our personal favorite healing method.
Naturally antibacterial, antifungal, anticarcinogenic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and free of synthetic chemicals (unlike most ingredients found on drugstore shelves) coconut oil has become an increasingly popular choice of aftercare for all skin types, especially those with hyper-sensitive skin.
When applied, coconut oil forms a layer which aids in the protection from external bacteria, fungi, parasites, and dust. Its natural lipids speed up the healing process by repairing tissues damaged by the process of tattooing.
In the market for coconut oil — there is a specific kind you want to look for. Unrefined, virgin coconut oil is superior to the refined type as it is the most natural and nutrient dense, free from heat and chemical processing.
The process of tattooing impedes our skin's natural production of oil, which is why it is very important to moisturize your new tattoo regularly. There’s not an exact science to the amount of times you should be applying your aftercare… no matter what, it’s best to listen to your body. Whenever your tattoo is feeling particularly parched, or itchy — you can rub on a small amount. Keep in mind that coconut oil will take a bit longer to absorb, and a little goes a long way.
Sunblocks and screens are typically not formulated to protect wounds like a fresh tattoo. You will feel your fresh tattoo burning if it's exposed to sunlight. If you must be out in the sun, keep it completely covered with sun-protective clothing at all times!
When clothing and fabric abrade against your new tattoo, you run the risk of agitating the healing process. The least amount of contact with fabric is usually the best call while healing a new tattoo. Loose-fitting clothing should be worn around the area for a week minimum... after a solid 2-3 weeks, you can probably wear your tight clothing again like the picture above.
While in the healing phase, it is common for your tattoo to seep excess plasma, fluid, and ink — which may stick to sheets, blankets, or clothing. If you can sleep with your tattoo exposed, that would be best. To be safe, you can place a clean thin towel between you and the sheets. If in the morning your tattoo is stuck to fabric, this is no cause for alarm. Don’t peel it off! Instead, take the fabric with you to the shower and wet it off with cool or lukewarm water.
Scabbing is a very normal part of the tattoo healing process. DO NOT PICK THE SCAB. Don't scrub it either. Scabbing will typically be the same color as the pigment that was used. If you pick or scrub your scab, you risk pulling out the color or causing hypertrophic scarring. Let the tattoo heal by itself. Patience is virtue.
Opt for showers instead of baths for 2-3 weeks as submerging a new tattoo in standing water may expose open skin to unwanted bacteria. This means no baths, pools, jacuzzis, lakes, ponds or quick dips in the ocean.
If you've noticed a sudden outbreak of pimples around your tattoo, chances are you've over moisturized. Dial back on the oil/lotion and try to maintain a moisture level even with the rest of your body.
Professional tattoo artists do everything possible to ensure safe tattooing practices. However, they are not medical professionals. Contact your doctor immediately if the following symptoms arise:
So there you have it. By following this aftercare advice your brand new tattoo will soon mature into a phenomenally healed tattoo. Admittedly this is a lot to do, but considering that you're going to have that tattoo for the rest of your life what's a couple of weeks of paying close attention in the grand scheme of things?