Taking care of your new tattoo is really easy, but also very important. I have recommended the same procedure for many years.
The single most important factor is keeping your tattoo clean. To be totally honest with you, if all you do is wash the tattoo with warm water and a mild soap 4 or 5 times a day, and pat it dry afterward, it will heal up just fine. Moisturizing just helps accelerate the process. So let’s go over the list pictured to the left, here…
I did your tattoo, I’ll tell you how to heal it.
You will notice most tattooers have different info, usually similar with small differences, but sometimes drastically different. There are many reasons for this, but the main reason is that people tattoo differently, and use different equipment (needles and inks) and techniques (some cause more skin trauma, some cause less). As a result different techniques work better for healing tattoos done by different artists. Any tattooer worth his salt has experimented with aftercare and arrived at works best for the tattoos HE HAS DONE. So LISTEN TO THE PERSON WHO DID YOUR TATTOO. I don’t care what your friends tell you. I don’t care what your uncle who got a tattoo in the Navy in 1974 tells you. I don’t care what some dude I never met who works at some shop I’ve never been to tells you. If I did your tattoo, all that matters is what I tell you.
Leave your bandage on for at least two hours.
Longer is better.
In most cases, two hours is enough time for your skin to begin healing to the point where you will no longer be dripping plasma from the fresh tattoo. The longer you keep it covered initially, the better jump on the healing process your skin can get before it has to start dealing with other concerns, like dirt and germs found outside the bandage, in the real world. Tattoos on your legs and feet may require a little more time, especially if you are particularly active after getting tattooed. This is because of gravity. You just have more blood down there, If you lived on the international space station your legs would heal at the same rate as your arms.
Wash your tattoo with mild soap and warm water, using only your hands.
No sponges or washcloths for at least 2 weeks.
This should be obvious. Basically, you have a fresh cut in your skin. Keep it clean to avoid infection and to allow your skin to heal. Using anything abrasive, like a washcloth, is going to damage the newly forming skin. It’s also going to hurt like a motherfucker. You probably wouldn’t end up using a washcloth more than once, anyway…
Gently pat the tattoo dry with a clean towel.
Again, self explanatory, but yes, a CLEAN towel (NOT the hand towel that is hanging on the rack in your bathroom that everyone in your house uses) will help you prevent infection, and using it to PAT or BLOT the tattoo dry, rather than WIPE it dry will be far less damaging to newly forming skin. You can use a paper towel to blot your tattoo dry. They’re clean, and better yet, disposable.
Apply cocoa butter or regular white hand lotion.
I repeat, this helps the tattoo heal more quickly and helps prevent scabs from getting too crusty, but is NOT essential to the healing of a tattoo. If you are using a cocoa butter STICK, be sure you are the ONLY person using it. You don’t want to be rubbing anyone else’s filth into your open wounds…
Repeat steps 3-5 about 4 or 5 times a day.
More often if you’re out there getting really filthy, obviously.
Never use Vaseline, Neosporin, A&D Ointment, or anything else with Petroleum Jelly in it.
There is a reason for this. The petroleum has a tendency to clog your pores and prevent air from getting to your skin. Your skin needs air to heal. Your skin WANTS air. So it begins pushing out the petroleum… and along with it, some of the ink. Sometimes it’s not enough to be noticeable, sometimes it’s enough to make your tattoo look like a piece of shit.
So why take the risk? Seriously – listen to me on this one. I’d say 99 out of 100 people who come to me with splotchy tattoos that need to be touched up, when I ask how they took care of their tattoo while it was healing, will say “Oh, I just put A&D on it every day…”
Do not pick or scratch the tattoo or any scabs. Stay out of swimming pools, hot tubs, the ocean, etc, until it heals.
Your new tattoo will itch. That means it is healing. It will itch like crazy, sometimes, and you can’t scratch it. This sucks. But again, you don’t want to damage the newly forming skin. And if scabs have formed, you don’t want to pick them, because you are usually PULLING PIGMENT OUT OF YOUR SKIN when you do that.
If it itches really badly, slap it. Go on, try it. Slap it hard. You’ll be amazed at what a relief it is. If the itching becomes intolerable – and you know you aren’t allergic to antihistamines – take some Benadryl.
Legal disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I did not go to medical school, and, more importantly, I don’t know you or your medical conditions. Legally, I cannot dispense medical advice. I can, however, tell you from personal experience, and from anecdotes relayed to my by other clients, that benadryl has a reputation for helping to relieve itching. If you are allergic to it, or have never used it before, don’t try it just because I suggested you do. Consult your healthcare provider before taking any new medication.
Also, not soaking underwater is important for the healing skin. You don’t want any scabs getting mushy. Plus the chlorine in pools and hot tubs aren’t the best thing for the pigments in your skin. The saltwater in the ocean may be good for helping you heal – if you are in a nice, clean, pollution-and-medical-waste-free area, but honestly, I wouldn’t risk it. I’d go in a pool with a fresh tattoo before I’d go in the ocean. And I grew up at the Jersey Shore- nothing scares me.
Allow the tattoo to breathe. Avoid tight or binding clothes and synthetic fabrics.
Again, this should be a no-brainer, because wearing tight clothes over a fresh tattoo will hurt. Pain is your body’s way of letting you know you shouldn’t be doing something. (Well, except the pain of getting tattooed. That’s just your body being overwhelmed by how much more awesome it is suddenly becoming.)
But, like I said, think of healing your tattoo like healing a cut. You want fresh air getting to it so it can heal. Wearing polyester over it is gonna make you sweat and your tattoo will hate you and your stupid polyester clothes.
When your tattoo is healed, protect it with an SPF 30 or higher sunblock when you are outdoors.
This doesn’t just mean at the beach. This means when your tattoo is exposed to direct sunlight, you either need to protect it, or accept that the sunlight is breaking down the pigments in your skin. Some colors fade worse than others… Look at old political bumper stickers on people’s cars- notice how the red ink has faded into yellow? Look at an old Budweiser can that has been laying in your yard all summer. Notice how the red ink on the label has faded into yellow? Red isn’t a super stable, light-fast pigment. Red tattoo ink will fade on you harder than other colors.
Now go look at your grandpa. Notice how in his tattoos, the black – faded and spread out though it may be – is still freakin’ BLACK? Black ink holds up the best, even if you never protect it like your grandpa didn’t. (I’ve never met him, but trust me. He didn’t.) It’s gonna outlast all the other colors- UNLESS you protect them. The last thing I need you to look at is a professional roofer. Notice how all of his tattoos look like shit. Also notice that even in the dead of winter, he has a darker tan than your Corinthian leather couch. Roofers are up on roofs all day, in the blazing sun, and for some reason never wear freakin’ sunscreen, and ALWAYS have shitty looking tattoos. They can be a year old and damn if they don’t look twenty years old.
Protect your ink and your skin, people. It can look great for the rest of your life, I promise.