So you’ve just gotten a totally rad piece of ink. Now what? If you want your tattoo to continue to look incredible, you’re going to need to take steps to cleanse and protect it. While you obviously need to consult your artist for tips that are right for you, here are a few steps that can be seen as a general guideline for tattoo care.
Right after your tattoo is completed, your artist will bandage it for you. The bandage needs to be left on for a minimum of two hours, and a maximum of 24 - there is no specific amount of time that is universally correct. It will all depend on the type of tattoo, where it is on your body, and what you have planned for the rest of the day. If your tattoo is wrapped in saran, however, do not leave it on for more than 2 hours.
After removing the bandage you’ll need to immediately clean your tattoo to remove any excess ink, blood and plasma, and to just generally disinfect. First, ensure your hands are clean, and then splash water onto your tattoo. Never place your tattoo directly under running water! Between the pressure and the temperature, it’s just not good. Using soap free of dyes and fragrances, use your hands to gently cleanse your tattoo. Do not scrub aggressively, and do not use a loofa, sponge, or hand towel to clean - these can harbor bacteria, causing an infection. After gently washing your tattoo with your hands, pat it dry with a clean, soft towel. Apply a small amount of lotion free of dyes and fragrances. Avoid petroleum-based products, as they do not allow the tattoo to breathe.
Here’s where aftercare gets a little tricky. This may come as a surprise, but there is no industry standard when it comes to caring for a fresh tattoo. However, there are a few DOs and DON’Ts that are fairly universal across the board, as well as a few lesser-known tips. Let’s have a look, shall we?
discover a cleansing method and schedule that works well for your skin. Most artists recommend cleaning two to three times a day for the first few days.
over wash. This can cause more than just the excess ink to expel from your skin, fading your tattoo. Washing your tattoo once in the morning, and once before bed tends to be sufficient, however if your daily life exposes you to more bacteria than the average bear, maybe wash one additional time daily.
moisturize lightly after cleansing.
over moisturize, and do not use any lotions that contain dyes, fragrances, alcohol, etc. Avoid anything that will irritate or dry out your skin, namely these three culprits. Over moisturizing, or using heavier lotions, slow down the skin cell regeneration process. Ensure that you are only moisturizing enough to benefit your tattoo, as opposed to being counter productive. Less is more!
discover the benefits of swapping out a cleansing with wiping your tattoos with a hot, clean towel after the first few days. This is a lesser-known method, however once I was told about it I discovered how much faster my tattoo healed. Chemical-free methods start to become your friend after the initial stages of the healing process.
rinse your tattoo under water directly. Do not soak in bathtubs, hot tubs, pools, lakes, etc. until your tattoo is fully healed.
allow the new layer of skin to form over your tattoo naturally. Scabbing is not only normal, but necessary to the healing process.
pick or scrub off your scabs. This is one of the most crucial parts of tattoo aftercare! Picking your scabs and not allowing them to fall off naturally will leave light spots and/or scars on your art, and that is certainly not what you want. I repeat: DO NOT pick your scabs! I don’t care how gross it looks while it heals; it’ll be worth it in the end!
protect from the sun for the first 10 days, especially if your tattoo contains white ink. When exposed to direct sunlight, white ink can turn yellow or brown, and that’s just not cool.
re-bandage your tattoo. Your ink needs to breathe in order to heal, so covering your tattoo will prevent oxygen from penetrating the skin.
listen to your body! Treat your tattoo like an open wound, because that’s exactly what a fresh tattoo is. Use natural washes and lotions, and do your best to not aggravate the area unnecessarily. Use your common sense to prevent and recognize infection, and always contact your artist if you are unsure of anything. They want your tattoo to look amazing, too!
These steps are meant to be taken as guidelines, not as a strict regimen. Once you become more familiar with the tattoo process, you’ll discover what method is right for you. Enjoy your ink.