Tattoo Aftercare: Instructions, Tips and Products

Woman applying cream on her arm with tattoos against light backg

There is a lot of information available on how to prepare for your tattoo, but there can be a lot of conflicting advice on how to care for it after getting inked. Aftercare is an essential step as failing to do so can result in infection and irritation. It is also important to listen to the instructions that your tattoo artist gives you, as the time to wait before removing the bandage can differ depending on the size of your design and the placement. It is also beneficial to ask their advice on creams for moisturizing. This comprehensive tattoo aftercare guide will make that process easier, so keep reading to find out more.

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Tattoo Aftercare Instructions

Getting a tattoo is an exciting process. After careful consideration of your design and placement, you have now been inked with a meaningful tattoo that you probably cannot wait to show off. Still, before you do, there are a few steps to take to ensure your piece heals without any issue. Tattoo aftercare is important but also simple and involves keeping your skin clean and dry and avoiding exposure.

Removing Bandage

When you get a tattoo, your tattoo artist will apply a layer of petroleum jelly or antibacterial cream onto your skin and cover it with plastic wrap or a bandage. The covering process helps prevent bacteria from getting into the skin and acts as a barrier between your skin and clothing, reducing friction and preventing irritation. The first step in your aftercare would be to remove this bandage after around two to three hours; unless you are informed differently. Some artists may want you to keep the bandage on longer to prevent leaking and friction. It is important to remember that certain placements may require you to keep the wrap on for longer. Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching your skin.

Wash

Before touching your skin, it is essential to wash your hands by scrubbing them with soap. The first wash of your tattoo and the surrounding area is important, and this should be done using warm water. You want to clean the area with hypoallergenic or unscented antibacterial soap, but do not scrub and avoid using a cloth as this will irritate the area. After washing your tattoo, pat the area dry using a paper towel. You do not want to rebandage the area.

Hydrate

Once the skin is completely dry, you can hydrate it. This should be done with an unscented moisturizer. This could include creams like Aquaphor, Vaseline, or Shea Butter. You need to take care not to over-moisturize and use a thin layer of cream. You can ask your tattoo artist for their recommendation on which cream is best to use and how long you should wait to apply it; each artist will have slightly different aftercare tips, and some may want you to wait longer.

Allow the Tattoo to Breathe

Your skin needs time to breathe and should not be rebandaged. It will still feel tender and could be red and warm to the touch. It’s important to keep it clean, wash it several times a day, apply moisturizer, and let it air. It is also advisable to wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid rubbing against the skin.

Avoid Sun Exposure

You want to avoid submerging your tattoo in water, for example, going swimming, and direct sun exposure for several weeks. When going outdoors, it is advisable to wear clothing that can cover your ink as the sun can cause it to fade faster. Sunburnt skin will hurt, but it can also increase the risk of infection, make the healing process longer, and damage your design. Once your tattoo has healed, you want to continue to avoid the sun as much as possible and always apply sunscreen to it.

Day 1

The first few days after getting your tattoo, you want to treat it as an open wound. You need to take care to keep it clean and dry, moisturize it, avoid direct sunlight, and do not submerge it in water. It is important to consider the environment you work in and the climate as hot weather or physical work will result in more sweat, and you will need to clean your skin regularly. Your skin will likely appear red and feel warm.

Day 2

The aftercare for your tattoo on the second day will be similar to the first. You can repeat the steps mentioned above to ensure it is kept clean and hydrated. You want to continue treating it like it is a wound. By day two, you should not be using a bandage anymore; some tattoo artists may have requested you keep yours on longer than average.

Day 3

It is possible, especially for smaller designs, that your tattoo will already look as if it has healed. It isn’t, so you want to continue taking the appropriate measures to keep it clean and hydrated for several weeks to avoid infection.

Week Two

From day one to week two, you want to continue repeating the steps to keep your tattoo clean, dry, and moisturized. At this time, any redness or swelling that you may have had should have disappeared, and the scabs may be flaking off. You want to take extra care to be gentle when cleaning your tattoo to prevent ripping the scabs.

Week Three and After

Everyone heals at different times, and how fast your tattoo will heal depends on the placement and size. Around week three and after, most of the scabs and flakes should have disappeared. Your skin should not appear red or swollen, and the outer layer of the skin has healed. At this point, it is much harder for your tattoo to become infected. However, you still want to follow the steps to clean and moisturize the area daily and avoid direct sunlight.

Tattoo Aftercare Tips

Knowing how to care for your tattoo can help avoid or identify an infection. It is essential to be armed with this knowledge for the best possible results. This includes what to do, what not to do, and how to react if you think your piece is infected or you are having an allergic reaction to the ink.

Tattoo aftercare tips

What to Do

  • Keep your tattoo clean by regularly washing it.
  • Use a fragrance-free soap to prevent irritation and wash with warm water.
  • Pat the skin dry with a paper towel after washing it. Wait some minutes to make sure it is completely dry before adding moisturizer.
  • Find a great unscented lotion for aftercare.
  • Use clean bedsheets to prevent infection or irritation.

What not to Do

  • Never pick at the scabs or scratch the skin, even if it is itchy.
  • Do not stop cleaning and caring for your tattoo, even if it appears to be healed in the first few weeks.
  • Remember that colored tattoos and larger pieces take longer to heal, give it time, and do not rush this process.
  • Avoid submerging your tattoo in water.
  • Keep it away from direct sunlight and even after it has healed, use sunscreen.

Potential Side Effects and Complications of Tattoos

Allergies

It is possible to have an allergic reaction to the ink used in your tattoo. This is most common with red pigments. A reaction can happen within the first few days after getting inked but also can take weeks to appear. If you have an allergic reaction, it could appear as a raised, red and bumpy rash. The skin can also be itchy, swollen, and painful. It is advisable to consult with a medical professional to determine the appropriate treatment.

If Tattoo is Swollen

It is normal for your tattoo to appear red or slightly swollen in the first few days. It can also be painful to the touch, and you may see clear fluid oozing from it. If this persists beyond three days, you can use an anti-inflammatory balm to soothe the skin and reduce swelling. If unsure,  it is advisable to contact your doctor for a consultation.

Scabbing and Itching

If your tattoo develops scabs, this is normal and a sign that the tattoo is healing. The important thing is to never pick at them as this will introduce bacteria into the area and damage the skin. Itching can also be a normal sign of healing and can happen around two weeks. You should never scratch at the skin and instead, use a moisturizer to soothe it.

When to Consult a Doctor?

If your tattoo takes a long time to heal, looks like it could be infected, or smells bad, you need to seek medical attention. Other problematic symptoms include fever, swelling, a persistent rash, or excessive oozing. It is always advisable to consult with a doctor. An infection can be serious.

Tattoo Aftercare Products

There are many products on the market to use as aftercare lotions. It is a good idea to ask your tattoo artist for their recommendations. Popular choices include Aquaphor Healing Ointment, Mad Rabbit Soothing Gel, Lubriderm Daily Moisture Hydrating Lotion, and Hustle Butter Tattoo Care & Maintenance Cream. To enhance the color, you can also try Tattoo Goo Balm. Other options include Shea Butter and Coconut Oil.

FAQs

What should you not do after a tattoo?

Taking care of your tattoo is essential to prevent infection and irritation. This can be achieved by keeping it clean, dry, and moisturized. We all heal at different rates, and some parts of the body heal faster than others. It is normal to experience some discomfort and tenderness in the days after getting inked. You will also have scabbing and itching, which is entirely normal. If the area is swollen, has excessive oozing, or experiences an allergic reaction like a red rash, you need to contact a doctor.

How long after a tattoo should I apply cream?

It is recommended to remove the bandage from your tattoo around three hours later. You can then wash it with warm water and pat it dry with a paper towel. When the skin is completely dry, you can apply an unscented cream. Depending on the size of your design and the placement, your tattoo artist may advise you to wait longer before removing the bandage; this could be up to 48 hours.

How long should I want to shower after a tattoo?

You can wash your tattoo with warm water after removing the bandage. This can be around three hours after getting inked unless you are advised differently. You want to avoid submerging it in water, for example, going for a swim until it is fully healed.

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