Your tattoo artist will kick-start your aftercare routine as soon as their work is complete. After all, this is their masterpiece, and they want to preserve its beauty. They’ll likely apply a thin layer of petroleum-based ointment over your ink and then cover it with plastic wrap or a bandage.
While you might want to gaze at your new addition (or run your fingers over it), resist the urge. A tattoo is basically an open wound, so keeping it covered (and your hands away from it) prevents bacteria from getting into your skin.
Plus, depending on where the tattoo is on your body, keeping it covered will prevent your clothes from rubbing against it and causing discomfort and irritation.
Follow these do’s and don’ts for basic tattoo aftercare:
- Do follow your tattoo artist’s instructions. Leave your tattoo covered for several hours to let it absorb any fluid, blood, or excess ink that might leak out. (This is totally normal.)
- Do remember that a tattoo is a wound. When you’re ready to remove the bandage, treat your tattoo like you would any other skin injury. Wash your hands before touching your tattoo and carefully wash the affected area with soap and water. Always use lukewarm water and a mild, fragrance-free soap.
- Do keep it moist, but let it breathe. Then, cover your whole tattoo with a thin layer of ointment or other products recommended by your artist. If your tattoo is in an area that isn’t covered by clothing, leave it uncovered to let your skin breathe and facilitate healing.
- Do cover up when you’re in the sun. Opt for loose-fitting, sun-protective clothing until your tattoo heals. Then, pile on the SPF — tattooed skin isn’t immune to UV rays or premature aging.
- Do reach out to your tattoo artist or doctor if you have any unusual swelling, irritation, or other signs of infection or allergic reactions.
- Don’t rub your skin dry — pat it gently to avoid irritation.
- Don’t wear sunscreen until your tattoo is fully healed, because the chemicals or minerals could irritate your broken skin.
- Don’t pick, scratch, or rub your tattoo until it’s healed. You could cause scarring.
- Don’t swim, soak in a hot tub, or take a bath until your tattoo has healed completely. Opt for a shower instead. (It’s fine to soak or swim if you can keep your new tattoo out of the water.) You should also avoid steam rooms and How to take care of your ink: A timeline
Your healing process will be as unique as your tattoo itself. Bigger tattoos will likely take longer to heal, as will those that rub against clothing. All the tattoo aftercare tips we share below are normal parts of the healing process.
- You may notice blood and clear plasma oozing from your tattoo, as well as some ink. You may also feel warmth or swelling.
- Keep your new tat clean (wash it with fragrance-free soap after a few hours).
- As your skin heals, you’ll notice thin scabs starting to form. Don’t pick them. Your tattoo may look duller or cloudier right now — don’t worry.
- Wash your tattoo twice a day, and then use a moisturizer that’s free of alcohol and fragrance.
- Some ink may wash off your skin.
- The redness will start to fade, and scabs will continue to form. Keep your hands off them!
- Wash your tattoo twice a day, and then use a tattoo aftercare cream that’s free of alcohol and fragrance.
- Your scabs will start to fall off. Don’t help the process!
- Itching is normal, so keep your tattoo aftercare lotion handy and rub it on several times a day.
- Redness and swelling should have subsided. If they haven’t, talk to your tattoo artist or a dermatologist.
- Your tattoo might still look a little dull or dry, so tattoo aftercare products will continue to be your BFF.
- Keep up the hydration routine until your skin is fully healed and supple again.