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The 4 Stages of Tattoo Aftercare

Posted by Drew Plotkin (Chief Dude Officer) on

STAGE 1: IMMEDIATE TATTOO AFTERCARE

This is, by far, the most critical stage in the tattoo aftercare process. First and foremost, consult with your artist. Their expertise and guidance will be critical in the first steps of aftercare. Your artist should provide you with detailed instructions on how to care for your tattoo safely and properly in the immediate days after a brand new tattoo.

Tattoo Aftercare | Tattoo Wrap

Depending on the size and placement of your tattoo, most tattoo artists will wrap your tattoo before you exit the tattoo shop. While some artists provide wraps primarily to protect against dirt, sun and other environmental factors on your way home from your tattoo, other tattoo artists believe the wrap is part of the actual healing process.

First Day After a New Tattoo Aftercare

Your tattoo artist will typically wrap your tattoo before you leave the shop. Keep the wrapping on until you get home or indoors (outside of any pollutants such as rain, dirt, smog, sun, etc.) Some artists recommend removing the wrap as soon as you get indoors, others suggest keeping the tattoo wrapped for a minimum of 6 hours or even overnight for a 24 hour period. Again, consult with the artist doing your specific tattoo.

It is not uncommon for your tattoo to still ooze plasma and fluids that first night. Some artists suggest that keeping your new tattoo wrapped securely overnight will help eliminate the blood getting on your clothing or sheets and help protect the tattoo in its initial healing stage. An alternative to wrapping overnight is taking a warm shower and using plain soap to gently rinse the new tattoo before bed. This will often eliminate the majority of oozing overnight. It is also recommended that you avoid sleeping in a way that puts direct pressure on the new tattoo.

A common, normal occurrence with fresh tattoos is known as “weeping”. This is when some ink or plasma (fluid) may come out of the tattoo and form a thin, moist coating on the skin. (Note: This typically can last anywhere from 24 hours to about a week or so. If it continues longer than a week, or if any excess oozing or redness occurs, consult with a doctor.) If this happens, gently dab the skin with a clean paper towel in quick, gentle movements. Do not press. Seeing excess ink on the paper towel can be expected.

A new tattoo can be expected to be red, swollen and irritated. This is normal and can range from 1 to 3 days before subsiding. If irriatation continues to get worse beyond this point check with the artist to verify everything is going according to plan and there are no signs of infection.

Removing the Wrapping

Wash hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap. Avoid soap with fragrances and exfoliating scrubs or beads.

Carefully and gently remove the tape first, then the bandage/wrapping. If the bandage sticks to your tattoo, gently wet the area with lukewarm water, then carefully slide it off. NEVER rip or tug the wrap in a way that is harsh on the new tattoo or skin.

Cleaning Your Tattoo

Use a mild, unscented, fragrance-free antibacterial or antimicrobial soap and lukewarm water. With your hands, gently rub the tattoo in a circular motion, removing all traces of blood, plasma or leaked ink from the area. This will help prevent the tattoo from scabbing too prematurely.

Do NOT use a washcloth, sponge, loofah or harsh towel to clean the tattoo. These are too abrasive, can harbor bacteria and damage your skin.

After washing, pat your skin dry with a soft cloth or paper towel. Allow the tattoo to air dry for 15 to 20 minutes. This will allow the tattoo to breathe and any excess moisture to evaporate.

Once the tattoo is dry, apply a thin layer of a non-scented, antibacterial ointment. DO NOT put on another bandage or wrapping. Your tattoo needs to breathe.

In the past, ointments such as A&D and Aquaphor have been recommended. However, these petroleum-based products can be heavy and lead to infections in some cases. Many artists today recommend naturally based tattoo balms with anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing ingredients instead. Whichever you choose, apply a layer thin enough to make the tattoo shine but be careful not to rub hard. Rub gently until it’s absorbed into the skin.

(Note: Be careful not to apply too much ointment which can suffocate the skin and encourage bacteria to grow).

If necessary and you are experiencing mild discomfort, some artists may recommend using a topical anesthetic spray

Continue to wash and moisturize your tattoo with the above-mentioned twice a day until the tattoo has completely healed. Again, depending on the size and placement of your tattoo, this can take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks.

USE A MILD, ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP

Washing your new tattoo

GENTLY RUB IN A CIRCULAR MOTION

rub tattoo

Stage 1 Summary (WHAT TO DO)

  1. Listen to your artist! Follow the instructions they provide.
  2. Wash your tattoo regularly as instructed.
  3. Dry your tattoo by patting gently with a fresh paper towel.
  4. Apply a thin layer of an antibacterial ointment or tattoo balm just to keep it moist.
  5. Leave uncovered.
  6. Use a topical anesthetic spray to reduce excessive pain (if needed).
  7. Wear loose-fitting clothing to prevent the fabric from pressing or rubbing the tattoo.
  8. Drink lots of water! The more you hydrate, the better your skin and more vivid your tattoo.

Stage 1 Summary (WHAT NOT TO DO)

Nothing! – Doing nothing is a bad move! Make sure to follow the aftercare instructions provided by your artist. This is essential for preventing infection and proper healing.

Don’t remove your bandage too soon! – The bandage absorbs excess blood, ink, topical anesthetics, ointments, etc. Keep it covered for as long as your tattoo artist recommends.

Don’t use hot water! – Never use hot water to clean your tattoo. Hot water will cause pores to open, leaving new tattoo susceptible to bacterial infections and ink leakage.

Don’t Soak or Swim!Do not soak your fresh tattoo in a bath. And NO swimming in pools or oceans. Showering is OK, as long as you don’t put it directly under to soak. Water entering the wound can interfere with healing and lengthen the time required for healing. Submerging in water can also negatively affect the ink and tissue underneath. Swimming pools have chlorine and chemicals that are harmful to wounds, and swimming in a natural body of water – salt or fresh – increases your risk of infection due to bacteria and other contaminants. Hot tubs are an absolute NO!

Don’t Sauna! –This is important for at least 6 weeks after your tattoo. Excess water or sweating prevents tattoos from healing properly. Try to avoid until the tattoo is completely healed. Minimal sweating is expected and not detrimental. But excessive sweating is not good for the first few weeks until the scabbing phase is complete. That includes saunas, hot yoga and other sweat-inducing activities.

Don’t Cover It! – Tattoos need to breathe in order to heal. After you uncover the initial bandage or wrapping per your artist’s recommendation, keep it uncovered so it can stay dry, breathe and heal.

Don’t Touch, Pick, Rub or Scratch! – This is a big No-No! Tattoos are open wounds and vulnerable to infection during the healing process. Picking or scratching tattoos can interfere with the healing process and also transfer bacteria from your hands to your affected skin. Only touch the tattoo when cleaning it and after you have washed/sterilized your hands.

Don’t Caress or Fondle! – Yep, your new tattoo makes you a sex symbol, we get it. But your skin is still healing from trauma and it’s the most vulnerable. It’s important the fresh tattoo not be rubbed, touched and/or further irritated until it has completely healed. Ignoring this part of the process can lead to scars, discoloration and infection, especially when another’s hands touches your skin without being properly disinfected with an antibacterial or antimicrobial soap.

Don’t Expose to Direct Sunlight! – Exposure to direct sunlight before your tattoo has healed can be detrimental to your skin and the fresh tattoo ink. Although it may be difficult to keep it hidden and protected, try to avoid the sun. After 2-3 weeks, you can apply a tattoo specific SPF 30+ every time you are outside and the tattoo is uncovered. But avoid sunscreen when the tattoo is still fresh as some ingredients in sunscreen can damage a newly healing tattoo.

Don’t Shave! – Depending on where your tattoo is located on the body, hold off on shaving until after it has fully healed. Scraping over a fresh wound and/or healing scabs can cause an interruption in healing, infection, and irritation. Avoid shaving until the scabs and shedding has finished and your tattoo is healed.

Don’t Wear Tight-fitting Clothes! – Tattoos need air to breathe and heal properly. Wearing tight clothing and/or fabrics that don’t allow for proper ventilation can negatively impact your healing process. Tight clothing can stick to your skin, promote sweating, chafing and rubbing. Loose fitted clothing is best to avoid constricted movements and allows for better moisture flow.

Don’t Apply Too Much! – Over applying ointment, balm or salve is equaling damaging as doing nothing. Making the skin too wet can lead to infection and can further delay your healing process.

Don’t Use Excess Cigarettes, Alcohol or Drugs! – Everything in moderation! But this tip is highly recommended to maximize the health of your skin so it is in the best condition during the healing process. Serously, dudes, lay off the tequila!


STAGE 2: Intermediate Tattoo Aftercare (Days 2-14)

caring for your new tattoo

2-6 Days After Your New Tattoo

You made it through the first day and night. Now you’ll start to notice that your tattoo looks a bit dull, perhaps even have a ‘cloudy-looking’ appearance. It may also look red, swollen and still ooze blood, plasma, lymphatic fluid and ink. Not to worry! This is normal.

During this time, it’s imperative to continue washing your tattoo at least twice a day and continue applying a non-scented, antibacterial ointment, or naturally based anti-inflammatory tattoo balm. You may even use a fragrance-free, alcohol-free moisturizer instead. Remember not to over-apply. When you cleanse, you may also notice the tattoo may bleed a little ink in the water when rinsing. Not to be alarmed. This can happen and is just excess ink coming through the skin.

Also during this phase, you may notice scabs begin to form, and peeling and redness will begin to subside. It’s important to not pick at the scabs as it will result in scarring.

TATTOO DAY 1 (left) & DAY 5 (right)

new tattoo healing after 5 days

PEELING DURING HEALING PROCESS

peeling during tattoo healing

7-14 Days After Your New Tattoo

Here’s where the itching may begin. When wounds heal and scabs form, the skin around it may become dry and itchy. This is normal – although your scabs won’t be the same thickness as typical scabs from other cuts and wounds. Allow this to happen and for the scabs to fall off naturally. A little scabbing is normal, but too much scabbing is an indicator of a poorly done tattoo. Continue using the ointment, balm or moisturizer to relieve any itch and discomfort.

It’s also critical to monitor the skin around your tattoo. Look for any redness or swelling. By this point, both of those should have subsided, but if redness and swelling persist, you might have an infection that requires a visit to the dermatologist.

STAGE 3: Final Tattoo Healing Stage

15-30 Days After Your New Tattoo

Now you’re entering the final stage of the healing process. The last of the dry, dull skin will be working its way out. Scabs will be lessening and most of the skin shedding should start to wind down as well. It is important to keep up the hydration with regular moisturizing of the affected area. Keep the routine and eventually by the last week, the outer layers of skin should be healed. But there is more healing to do.

After the first month, you still need to be diligent about protecting and caring for your tattoo as it could take 3 to 4 months for the lower layers of skin to heal fully and completely. You are completely healed when your tattoo surface is clear and has an even texture and feeling as the rest of your skin. What you’ll be left with is a bright, healthy, vibrant tattoo.

STAGE 4: LONG-TERM TATTOO AFTERCARE

During the first 2-3 weeks, it’s easy to remember to care for your new tattoo. However, it’s important to remember that the layers of skin are still healing and require a lot more time to fully heal – that’s why it’s necessary to keep up with your daily aftercare routine for several months to help all the layers of skin heal, help the tattoo stay clean, and look its best.

Once your tattoo is completely healed, it’s necessary to shift your focus to maintaining its appearance. You invested a lot of money on your tattoos – it’s important to preserve that investment and protect the health and integrity of the tattoo!

long term tattoo aftercare

Long-term Aftercare + Maintenance:

SPF, SPF, SPF! Often overlooked, but critical for long-term tattoo aftercare. Just as the paint on a car, house or boat can fade over time, so can tattoos if exposed to too much direct sunlight. Using a tattoo sunscreen whenever you go outside is strongly recommended. And make sure to reapply as needed.

AVOID DIRECT SUNLIGHT! Even after you’re completely healed, too much direct sunlight or spending too much time in the sun can fade your tattoo. Even with applied SPF, try to not overexpose your tattoos to reduce the risk of fading.

MOISTURIZE!  Regular, daily topical hydration is essential for tattooed skin. Using an ultra-hydrating tattoo balm kit ongoing as part of your regular maintenance care will help restore the color, lines and details of a tattoo, but also help moisturize the layers of your skin so the tattoo looks fresher and lasts longer.

HYDRATE! Hydrate from within! In addition to topical hydration, drinking plenty of water helps to keep your skin moisturized from the inside out – which will only help your tattoos continue to look fresh.

KEEP CONSISTENT! Avoid excess weight gain or loss. Fluctuating weight can stretch out skin and distort the tattoo.

Conclusion: Why is tattoo aftercare important?

Anytime you open the skin, you leave yourself at risk for infections, complications and scarring. A tattoo causes trauma to your skin – and your skin is the the largest organ on your body. Proper tattoo aftercare is critical to lower the risk of infection and to help your skin heal properly after any tattoo, which is vital to ensure your new tattoo looks and remains vibrant and bright for many years to come. Tattoos are expensive, dude. Let's protect them and make sure they continue to be as vibrant as they day we got them.

Tattoos are permanent, self-expressions that require money, time and a lot of TLC. But with a little attention, you’ll be able to show off those tattoos and enjoy them for years to come!

Take it easy, dudes.

-Drew Plotkin (Chief Dude Officer)

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4 comments

  • Nicholle on

    I’m going to get a new tattoo this week and found this article super helpful!

  • Nicholle on

    I’m going to get a new tattoo this week and found this article super helpful!

  • Emma on

    Needed this info!! Will definitely try out the Tattoo Balm 🔥

  • Tommy H on

    I use an all-natural, unscented tattoo balm from day 1 to 3 months and then switch to a good SPF for my exposed tattoos. Never did anything for tattoo aftercare when I was in my 20s. Some turned out ok but some have had to have touch-ups. If I wasn’t so complacent, I’d use the tattoo balm always but whatever.

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