Tattoo Bandages: How Do They Work?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 21, 2019
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

After a tattoo, the cells in your skin activate an immune response to the invasion of ink and the multiple puncture wounds at the site. While a skin abrasion heals best when it isn’t bandaged, in the hours directly following this artistic “wound,” your body needs a bit of extra protection.

To help hasten the healing process and set you up in the right direction, tattoo artists will bandage the tattoo once you leave the shop.

Tattoo bandages should be:

  • Sterile
  • Non-adhesive
  • Medical-grade

Types of Tattoo Bandages

When you leave the tattoo studio, you’ll do so with your new tattoo covered in a bandage. Best practice is to pick a non-stick bandage. Your tattoo artist will adhere it to you using medical-grade, non-hypoallergenic tape.

Tattoo shops generally pick from two types of bandages to use:

  • Gauze
  • Common plastic wrap


Gauze is made with fibers that are loosely woven together. This loose weave allows your tattoo to breathe. The gauze, which is used in hospital dressings, also absorbs the excess fluid that will leak out of your tattoo in the hours following its completion. 

The most recommended dressing is one that is individually wrapped by the manufacturer to ensure sterility. Gauze bandages are usually sterile, packaged with a non-stick cover

The disadvantage is that gauze can stick to the tattoo if you don’t remove it in time. It also covers the tattoo so that you can’t show it off until you remove it.

Common Plastic Wrap

Tattoo artists often go with a standard plastic wrap to ensure that their clients keep their bandage on long enough to be effective. 

Excited, newly tattooed people want to look at their ink, and the transparency of plastic wrap allows them to do so. Opaque gauze may tempt them to remove it prematurely so they can look at it. 

Plastic wrap disadvantages are that it doesn’t allow the tattoo to breathe or dry out at all, which are essential parts of the healing process. Plastic wrap is also not a medical-grade material. 

A bit of blood under the wrap is completely normal

Why Do You Need to Use Tattoo Bandages?

The tattoo artist bandages your tattoo immediately following its completion to protect it while it oozes blood and plasma. 

Airborne Contaminants

In the hours directly after a new tattoo, your body hasn’t made a lot of immune response cells yet, meaning that you’re more susceptible to infection. Since you’re also most likely going from the studio to your home, you’ll encounter a lot of contaminants along the way. 

A lowered defense system combined with an environment filled with airborne contaminants, like dust, allergens and debris, is risky.

Protection from Clothing

The artist is also protecting the tattoo from your clothing, and protecting your clothing from the tattoo!

Depending on the site where you get your tattoo, it may be covered by your clothing. If left unprotected, the tattoo will ooze plasma that will leak onto your clothes and may even cause them to stick to the area. 

Since your clothes aren’t sterile, there may be bacteria on them, which can easily get into your fresh wound at the time.

From a practical standpoint, an unbandaged tattoo may even ruin your clothes with excess ink and blood staining them beyond repair. 

Complications of Tattoo Bandages

Since you’ll have a newly bandaged piece of artwork when you come home, you have to be careful about how you handle it on your own. Being too rough with your tattoo can damage it. Being overly cautious, however, can also have its downsides.

What If My Tattoo Sticks to the Bandage?

As you go to remove your bandage, you may find that it has stuck to the tattoo. If the bandage sticks to your tattoo, try wetting it with water to loosen the coagulating blood and plasma beneath its surface. Take this process slowly because this is a crucial moment. Don’t rip the bandage off while it’s stuck.

Ripping the bandage off can cause ink to be pulled from the skin and disrupt the quality of your tattoo as it heals. It may also hurt. At the same time, however, don’t, in any circumstances, submerge your tattoo and its bandage into a water solution as this may lead to a bacterial infection.

What If I Don’t Remove My Bandage In Time?

Your tattoo artist will tell you how long to leave your bandage on for. This is usually somewhere in the region of 4-24 hours. If you wait too long to remove your bandage, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. The tattoo may become too moist and damp, which can cause it to trap bacteria or water. 

One result of trapped moisture is referred to as “tattoo bubbling.” This bubbling isn’t supposed to happen and is a result of too much ointment or water trapped in the tattoo

To avoid tattoo bubbling:

  • Remove the bandage
  • Let your tattoo dry out completely
  • Moisturize
  • Do not re-bandage

Making Sure Your Ink Is Protected

A bandage placed on your tattoo by your artist is a precautionary measure to protect your new piece of artwork from contamination. They might use gauze or plastic wrap to protect your tattoo from contaminants in the air or on your clothing. 

Tattoo bandages are meant to be removed relatively quickly, and the tattooed area should be cleaned immediately upon the removal of the wrap. Failure to do so can result in complications.

When you eventually go ahead with getting your dream tattoo, it’s imperative that you always follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare advice closely, and be sure to invest in a high-quality tattoo healing lotion to aid recovery.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated, but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times, and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.​

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