How To Keep A New Tattoo Clean

If you’ve spent enough time around a tattoo studio or friends with ink, you’ve likely seen a botched or bad tattoo. We often think this is the fault of the artist. Poorly designed and executed tattoos can result in patchy ink, faded artwork and intense scarring. However, the quality of a tattoo isn’t the sole responsibility of the artist.

As a customer, you have an obligation to care for your tattoo. This duty is especially important in the days and months immediately following your appointment. Keeping a new tattoo clean is one of the most important parts of getting one. Failing to do so can ruin even the most beautiful work.

Keep your new tattoo clean by:

  • Washing gently to avoid infection
  • Wearing loose clothing to prevent contamination and rubbing
  • Moisturizing appropriately with gentle, fragrance-free lotions
  • Resisting the urge to scratch or itch the area

Tattoos Are a Superficial Injury

Tattoos are open wounds. A tattoo needle is like being stabbed with a little sword, and often you’ll experience bleeding while being inked. Your body reacts to a new tattoo as if it’s going through trauma.

Like any wound, your body’s response to the injury is to activate white blood cells, platelets and lymphatic fluid. These cells fight potential infection and eventually close the skin with a scab to keep bacteria out of your body.

Raised, light scabbing over the tattoo

How to Help Your Tattoo Heal Properly

Once you’ve gotten a tattoo, the tattooist should have explicit and clear instructions on how to care for your artwork. There are general rules that most artists adhere too, although each individual has their specific tips and tricks that they trust best. Listen to their specificity and follow their guidance.

The basic tenets of keeping your tattoo clean are pretty simple to follow. With aftercare, you want to avoid:

  • Infection
  • Abrasion/friction
  • Dry skin
  • Scab picking 

Infection

In the first days of a new tattoo, the most important thing to do is keep the site clear of bacteria. Your artist will bandage the piece once you leave the shop and tell you when you can remove it. This is usually around 8 hours after the tattoo and no longer than 24 hours. 

Once you remove the bandage per their recommendation, you have to clean it:

  1. Make sure that your hands are clean before washing the tattoo
  2. Avoid spraying a high-pressure showerhead directly onto the site
  3. Use fragrance-free and alcohol-free soap to clean the tattoo
  4. Pat the area dry with a clean paper towel once finished
  5. Apply a small amount of lotion to the area to promote hydration and healing
  6. Clean all clothing, sheets, bedding, and pillows that will come into contact with your ink

Cleaning your tattoo on a regular basis in the beginning stages of healing not only prevents bacteria but helps remove excess amounts of oozing plasma that’ll scab your wound. As long as you remember to be gentle, you can wash away the substances on the surface. 

Abrasion/Friction

As the tattoo heals, the deposited ink finds a permanent place in your body. Before it’s fully healed, friction and abrasion can affect the quality and placement of your tattoo. 

Wear loose clothing to keep the possibility of abrading your tattoo to a minimum. Wearing loose clothing also prevents the material from sticking to the tattoo. If clothing sticks, it can get stuck in the fluids healing your wound. When you pull it away, it may pull ink with it as well. Be careful and, if this happens, wet the material to make it easier to remove.

Dry Skin

Keep your tattoo moist with natural lotions. A dry wound slows cellular activity and hinders the healing process. Tattoos that are well-moisturized encourage faster healing and create a layer of defense against bacteria.

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.

You don’t need much at any one time, however, so don’t cake it on; the skin needs oxygen in order to heal, and suffocating the area will do you no favors.

You’ll also want to ensure that the skin is completely dry before adding any lotion, as you don’t want a layer of water trapped in the middle, as this could cause any scabbing to waterlog, which could, in turn, lead to bubbling and loss of ink.

Scab Picking

In the later stages of healing, your tattoo will likely scab. Resist the urge to pick at these scabs. Doing so may pull color from the tattoo or create an unintended scar where you disrupted your recovery. Picking at scabs may also create a possibility of infection at the later stages because you’re reopening the wound and may have bacteria under your fingernails. 

Your tattoo may itch, and scratching that itch is similar to scab picking. By scratching, you may dislodge scabs, and create the same problems as if you’d intended to peel them away.

This tattoo is scabbing quite heavily, so will probably peel away in larger flakes

When you wash your tattoo, however, you may incidentally flake away some of the scabbing. This is normal and shouldn’t be something to worry about.

Be Gentle With Your New Tattoo

While tattoo maintenance can seem complex, the basics are really simple — keep it clean and be gentle. You’ll be hyper-aware of your tattoo after you get it, anyway, so keeping an extra vigilant eye on it won’t be difficult.

Prevent infection by maintaining good hygiene. Keep your tattoo moisturized, as well as the rest of your skin, for that matter. Let it heal in its own time. For anything out of the ordinary, call a doctor.

Once the area has completely healed, and a new protective layer of skin has formed over the tattoo, you can then finally ease up on the religious cleaning and aftercare practices.