Chlorine and Tattoos: What You Need to Know

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 22, 2020
    Last Updated: December 30, 2020

Enjoy hanging around the pool on a hot day? Chances are that your favorite swimming pool is treated with chlorine to keep the water as clean as possible. For most people, this chemical’s presence isn’t a huge issue—it might not smell the best, but it’s typically not problematic beyond that.

If you’ve got a fresh tattoo, though, it’s a different story. You’re going to want to make sure everything goes swimmingly for it throughout the healing process.


To make sure your tattoo stays vibrant and healthy, you should keep it well away from chlorine until the aftercare phase is complete. Chlorine can cause irritation and infection to a healing tattoo.

Chlorine and Tattoos: The Facts

Yes, chlorine (and the things you can expect to find alongside it) can be harmful to your tattoos. There are a couple of significant ways chlorinated environments can be bad news for your new ink (and for you):

Color Fading

If you’ve spent a lot of time and money on your body art, whether it’s got vivid hues or a simple, muted design, chances are you’re not going to want the colors to fade right after getting it. 

If you go for a dip in the pool, though, that’s exactly what might happen. Pool water containing chlorine can essentially drain the ink from your tattoo. Not only will your ink fade, but it won’t last as long overall as it would if you avoided chlorine exposure. This chemical can dry out and irritate newly tattooed skin, causing even further damage to an already-injured area.

Don’t think you’re safe by avoiding non-chlorinated water alone. Saltwater has the same effect. In other words, consider avoiding both pools and ocean beaches until your tattoo has had time to fully heal – roughly two to four weeks depending on your specific circumstances.

Infections

Faded ink could be the least of your worries after a swim, though. Exposing your new tattoo to chlorinated water can bring on a whole host of infections—sometimes deadly ones.

Dermatitis

The most likely infection you’ll encounter is dermatitis. This infection brings with it symptoms such as rashes, itching and even fluid discharging from the site of the tattoo. 

You’ll want to see your doctor right away if this is happening to you. Dermatitis isn’t usually deadly, however, it’s not something to be taken lightly, either. That’s especially true if you have any health conditions that put you at a higher risk of complications from infections.

Sepsis

It’s not just the chlorine you have to worry about: it’s everything that’s mingling with the chlorine that may be a problem too. A particularly terrifying effect is that sepsis can cause death if the case worsens without any medical care. This can happen as a result of flesh-eating bacteria that infects the wound.

While this case happened in a saltwater environment and you’re pretty unlikely to encounter Vibrio vulnificus at your local swimming pool, this incident emphasizes the importance of staying away from bodies of water that could be teeming with bacteria. That does include your local pool. (Think about it: do you want some kid’s pee getting into your tattoo? Probably not.)

A very red and swollen area around what looks like an infected tattoo

What Do You Do Now?

If you love swimming and tattoos, finding out about the risks of chlorine (and everything that can come with it) might be a downer. The good news is that you don’t have to avoid chlorine forever! If you do things right, you’ll be able to jump back into the pool soon enough.

The most important thing you can do is to make sure your tattoo has fully and adequately healed before going for a swim. How long you have to wait depends on, among other things, the size of your tattoo. Smaller tattoos will generally require less time to heal than more elaborate pieces. 

That said, you’ll want to wait at least two to three weeks for things to heal up, and don’t be surprised if it takes up to four. If things take longer than four weeks, or if you’re experiencing unexpected symptoms as your tattoo heals, be sure to talk to your doctor. 

Plus, make sure to follow all aftercare protocols your tattoo artist might give you. After all, regardless of your plans to be around chlorine, your tattoo’s proper healing is essential.

In Conclusion

All in all, chlorine can be harmful to your new tattoo in different ways. It’s not just the chlorine either—it’s what you find with the chlorine that can cause major problems. If you want your colors to last, or don’t want any gross discharge flowing from your body art, you’re going to want to steer clear of chlorinated waters.

Once your tattoo has healed, though, the risks associated with chlorine are much less. As the tattooed skin heals, a new layer of protective skin will regenerate over the area, completely protecting the ink from chlorine exposure.

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.