Taking care of a tattoo after it is completed is one of the easiest tasks you can do.
*Step One Listen To Your Tattoo Artist
The best way to properly care for you new artwork is to listen to your tattoo artist and follow the directions that they have given you on their instruction sheet. You might get lots of advice from family members, friends and co-workers but it’s your tattoo artist’s instructions that matter the most. If you feel that your tattoo artist did not give you the best advice then please call another reputable tattoo studio and ask them about aftercare. While the internet is full of advice it can vary greatly and what might be okay for one individual may not be the same for you. Your tattoo artist knows your tattoo, it’s placement and your own skin condition and so they will know what will work best for you.
*Step Two Patience Is The Key
Tattoos in general take approximately 3 to 5 weeks to fully heal. Sure they may look healed in less time but with all the different layers of skin working together in the healing process it’s best not to assume that all those layers heal at the same time. Another important fact to bring up is some sections of your tattoo might heal slower than other parts and that can even be said, for example on a small tattoo on the wrist. A professional tattoo artist can tell when a tattoo is healed. We know the phases it goes through and this should be explained to you when you are given the aftercare instructions.
I think many people are riding high from the thrill of getting their tattoo done and seeing how it looks when it is fresh and new on that first day but later loose patience when their tattoo starts really getting into the healing phase. They start taking matters into their own hands, failing to listen to the aftercare instructions they were given and worse, start picking, rubbing, scratching, pulling and peeling at the tattoo. It’s a fact that if you pick, rub, scratch, pull or peel at your tattoo when it is going through the shedding phase you will alter the way your tattoo will look when it heals. I know it’s tempting when you see one of those flakes come off and underneath you can see the shiny bright ink, but have patience and let your body naturally let those scabby bits come off. Trying to help the tattoo heal faster will only set you back and actually make it take longer to heal.
What happens when you pull parts of your tattoo off too soon? The process of tattooing is injecting ink through different layers of your skin. The reason your tattoo sheds after a few days is because the top layers are damaged enough by the act of tattooing that they die and fall off. The same process happens when you get a bad sunburn. Those top layers harden and act as a natural bandage until the layers beneath them are healed. When you pull parts off that are not ready you are removing that natural bandage too soon. You would feel that section sting when it is pulled followed by bleeding or a clear liquid coming from the area. That clear liquid will harden and make a new bandage over the area you picked, but because you removed it too soon you will have less tattoo ink in that spot. When it finally heals that spot in your tattoo will look paler than the rest or even be a white spot because the ink was removed.
*Step Three The Basics For Healing A Tattoo
*Your tattoo should have been bandaged by your artist when it was completed. Keep the bandage on over night. Sometimes I allow my clients to remove bandages earlier but it really depends on the size of the tattoo and it’s placement on the body. Basically, if your tattoo artist tells you to leave it on for a certain time, please do what you are told. Remember have patience! Your friends will get a chance to see your tattoo eventually.
*When you remove the bandage you must wash it with soap and water immediately. Do this when you are at home. Get a fragrance free soap or a soap that is mild and for sensitive skin. My top soap brands are, Ivory White Bar Soap, Dove White Bar Soap, Softsoap Clear Antibacterial Soap, Dial Gold Antibacterial Soap, and Cetaphil Liquid Soap.
*Apply the soap onto your fingertips and under a running faucet or shower firmly rotate your fingertips over the tattoo. It’s going to look slimy and feel tender when the warm water hits it. Take your time washing your tattoo and remove excess ink and body fluids from the tattoo. Never use wash cloths or sponges. Only use your fingertips. A good wash cycle should last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes depending on the size and placement of your tattoo. Your artist should give you specific instructions on how long to wash it.
*Rinse your tattoo under running water. Make sure it doesn’t feel slimy but has more of a squeaky clean feeling.
*Dry the tattoo by gently patting it with a paper towel or a clean bathroom towel. Let it air dry after that. There is no need to re-bandage your tattoo and it’s okay if your clothing covers over the tattoo.
*As I keep repeating, it all depends on the size and placement of your tattoo but you will want to let the tattoo feel the air for a day or two. What I mean by this is I do not want you applying any lotions or salves to the tattoo yet.
*After a day or two of letting your tattoo sit naturally you may start using a white unscented lotion or a tattoo approved salve. I like to keep it simple and think any one of these brands that are white and unscented will work fine, Lubriderm, Aveeno, Eucerin, Keri, or Cural. Aquaphor (made by Eucerin) is another brand that has the same texture and look as petroleum jelly is safe to use as long as it is applied in a thin layer. Do Not use, Vasoline, A and D Ointment, Neosporin, Cocoa Butter, or Body Oils on a tattoo.
*When you start using lotion I think applying it to the tattoo twice a day is enough. You do not want to keep the tattoo soaked in lotion at all times. I’ve had some people do this because they are trying to keep the tattoo looking bright like it did they day they got it. Trust me, your tattoo will be bright again once your skin layers heal back over the tattoo. Unless your artist tells you otherwise then keep your lotion applications to a minimum.
*Keep the tattoo clean but do not scrub it as you did when you first removed the bandage and cleaned it. When your tattoo starts loosing it’s top layers it can be damaging to rub on the tattoo even in the shower. You risk pulling sections off prematurely which will cause you to loose layers of pigment and sometimes scar. When my own tattoos are healing I will lightly let soapy water run over it but other than that I do not give it much attention. Even when you are drying the tattoo be gentle. Some of the tattoo will shed very easily and you may notice little pieces falling off in the shower or getting stuck on a towel. Don’t pick at your tattoo!
*Applying lotion when it really starts shedding can be tricky but as long as you are gentle it’s still okay to add lotion.
It takes about a week or so for all those flakes to come off and what you should see is a foggy, milky looking tattoo with a shiny wrinkly surface. Your body has grown new skin over the tattoo and at first it will make the tattoo look cloudy until the skin settles and becomes more transparent revealing your new art underneath. Expect your tattoo to feel itchy at this time. You can apply a thin layer of lotion more than twice a day at this point to help control the itching.
*You are almost to the end of your healing! Your tattoo should start feeling more comfortable to have, the itching will lesson and the skin growing over the tattoo will settle and reveal the true colors of your new tattoo. As long as you did not pick parts of your tattoo or have any sort of accident to the tattoo then you should be healed in 5 weeks.
Step 4 Good To Know
* It is normal for a tattoo to hurt, feel sore, swollen or feel like a sunburn for the first few days after getting it done.
* No swimming or letting your tattoo sit underwater for the first two weeks after getting it done. It’s okay to shower as you normally do, but avoid taking a bath, getting in a hot tub, a swimming pool, taking a dip in any oceans, lakes, rivers,and streams.
* It is okay to workout after getting your tattoo. The first few days you may not want to if the tattoo feels very sore but as long as you keep it clean and wipe down the surfaces on the exercise equipment you should be fine to do your normal workout. No swimming for the first two weeks and I would avoid sitting in a sauna for the first two weeks.
* Tanning is bad for tattoos even after they heal. Letting your tattoo be exposed to UV rays will gradually fade it over time. If you like tanning then put sunblock on where the tattoo is. I would however avoid tanning for the first two weeks after getting your tattoo and do not put sunblock on during the first two weeks either.
* If you have any concerns about the way your tattoo is healing call the tattoo studio you got the tattoo at or call another reputable shop and ask for advice. Do not rely on your family, friends, co-workers, the barista at Starbucks, or the guy tattooing out of his kitchen for advice. Always talk to a professional tattoo artist!
* If you feel your tattoo is showing signs of infection then you will want to contact your doctor.