How Often Should You Wash A New Tattoo?
Once you leave the shop, the artist is no longer responsible for the tattoo. Informed aftercare starts from the minute you leave the shop, and this involves washing the area diligently.
Treating your new tattoo with appropriate attention and responsibility can make the difference between a well-healed, crisp, long-lasting piece of art and an uneven, distorted shadow of the tattoo you envisioned.
Here’s how often you should wash your new tattoo:
- For the first time, within 5–24 hours of getting it
- At least daily until it’s completely healed – ideally twice-daily
- After any point in which your tattoo has become contaminated with dirt or bacteria
Washing Your Tattoo Prevents Infection
When you sit down to get a tattoo, you’ll most likely be greeted by the whirring motorized buzz of a modern tattoo machine. These tools of the trade are mechanized instruments that pulsate a single needle or series of needles into your skin at 6000 times per minute.
As the needle pulls out of the hole it just made, the ink on your skin sucks down into that space, penetrating through the top layers of your skin and into your dermis.
With all of the puncture sites and ink deposited into the layers of your skin, you have an open wound at that site. In the hours after your tattoo is completed, the immune cells in your integumentary system activate. From then until your tattoo is fully healed, preventing infection is the most important part of aftercare.
Even though our immune systems, for most of us, are strong and adept at fighting infections, you can prevent them from occurring in the first place. Stopping foreign bodies from entering the new wound by washing is key to this.
How Often Should You Clean Your Tattoo?
In general, washing your tattoo for the first time within 5 hours of its completion is recommended. Do not go longer than 24 hours without cleaning it if you can help it. Different artists will have different recommendations when it comes to how long to leave the tattoo wrapped for, so respect their opinion and go with what they advise.
Continue to wash and moisturize your tattoo a couple of times a day (morning and evening) until it’s fully healed. The complete healing cycle can take anywhere from 2–6 weeks, depending on the location and size of the design.
A good rule of thumb is to realize that as long as your tattoo has scabs or pieces of peeling skin, it’s still healing, and should still be washed and moisturized regularly to keep it clean and hydrated.
Best Practices for Washing Your Tattoo
Once you leave the studio, your tattoo should be bandaged/wrapped. Someone at the parlor should advise of a recommended timeframe to keep it on for, along with instructions for its removal.
The first thing you’ll have to do with a new tattoo once the wrap has been removed is to wash it. Washing your new tattoo will become a ritual that you should be vigilant at. The most common health complication with a tattoo is a localized skin infection, so there’s a lot of incentive to wash the area properly to avoid this.
Cleaning Blood, Ink, and Plasma
Like any skin abrasion, when you first take the bandage off of your tattoo to clean it, the area will be covered with a kind of cellular slime. This is blood plasma seeping out of the tattoo while you traveled home — expect to see some blood, too! This plasma will eventually form a scab over the area to keep contaminants out of your skin.
Ink might also have seeped out of your tattoo. This is normal in the beginning, so don’t worry about any light leaking of ink.
It’s important to clear away as much of the weeping plasma as possible when you clean your tattoo for the first time, and successive times as well. Doing so is essential to avoid heavier scabbing, which is much more likely to be caught on something and ripped off, leading to potential fading or scarring.
Make Sure Everything Is Washed
Whenever you touch your tattoo, make sure that you do so with something very recently cleaned. This includes your hands, dying cloths, bedding and clothing.
Thoroughly wash your hands before cleaning your tattoo and then use them to wash your tattoo with antibacterial soap. Be gentle but thorough. Try to avoid using a cloth or a loofah to wash the tattoo since bacteria can bind to the fabric more easily. Loose fabric can also detach and get stuck within the skin.
If you have time, leave the area to air-dry. If you’re in a rush, pat the tattoo dry with a clean cloth/paper towel.
Washing your skin often, especially with antibacterial soap, can cause excessive drying. We want to avoid drying out our skin too much because dry skin heals slower than moisturized skin.
Each time you’ve washed your tattoo, put your choice of moisturizing, fragrance-free lotion on the area. Don’t use a lotion that you share or have dipped your fingers into many times.
The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a (vegan) aftercare product called Hustle Butter. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process – not only to keep your tattoo really well hydrated, but it’s also very good at soothing any annoying itchiness or irritation.
Ensure the area is completely dry before applying the lotion as you don’t want any water becoming trapped underneath it. This can lead to waterlogged scabs and subsequent bubbling of the tattoo.
Washing Your Tattoo Is Key to Caring For It
Infection is the most common complication following a tattoo. While you can take antibiotics to clear this up, the lasting legacy of infection is a tattoo that healed improperly. Poor healing shows in the crispness and quality of your tattoo. To prevent this, get ahead of infection by keeping your tattoo cleaned properly and moisturized.
Don’t forget to was your new tattoo within the first 24 hours and make it a part of your regular daily cleansing routine to ensure your tattoo heals well. Continue this process for 2-4 weeks, or until your tattooed skin has completely regenerated and closed up.
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