Tattoo Aftercare - The Complete Guide
After choosing your tattoo design and getting the ink done at a studio, tattoo aftercare is by far most important aspect of your tattoo journey.
Post tattoo care should not be taken lightly - you need to know how to take care of a tattoo as best as possible.
This huge all-encompassing tattoo care instructions guide will walk you through every single stage of your tattoo journey and tells you what to do, and what not to do in order to help keep your tattoo looking perfect.
Why Tattoo Aftercare Is So Important
Throughout the history of tattooing, the healing process hasn't always been considered an important part of the process, but as time has gone on, we've been able to learn just how fundamental this section of the journey is.
Caring for a new tattoo is your responsibility from the very moment you get out of the tattooist's chair, right through until the moment you die (sorry for getting dark).
It is vital that you treat your new tattoo care routine with the respect it requires in order for your ink to look as crisp, sharp and colorful as it possibly can for as long as you’re alive.
When you initially finish getting your sparkling new tattoo at a studio, your skin will essentially be a big raw wound, open to all sorts of nasty germs and bacteria.
Correct aftercare procedures ensure that the tattooed area of skin remains infection free in an environment that is perfectly set up to ensure that healing proceeds to happen as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It’s not only the initial healing process where proper aftercare is important though. As you age, so does your tattoo. There are many environmental factors that will dictate how good(or how badly) your tattoo will look as it ages with you.
Throughout the rest of this article, we will walk you through all of these factors, as well as accompanying instructions on how to protect your tattoo through all stages of its life.
Suggested Aftercare For Tattoos
- Leave your bandage/wrap on until told by your artist. While some artists may ask you to leave your bandage on for only an hour, others may ask you to keep it on for a whole day. Your artist knows which length of time is best for you and your tattoo, so ensure you listen to their advice.
- Wash your tattoo well after removing the bandage/wrap. Wash your tattoo thoroughly (but carefully) using warm water and a fragrance-free soap to remove any excess/dried blood and plasma.
- Pat your tattoo dry after cleaning it. Use a clean paper towel to dry your tattoo by gently PATTING the area. DON'T RUB.
- Apply a small amount of lotion. After cleaning your tattoo, ensure the area is COMPLETELY dry before applying a very thin layer of your chosen aftercare product/lotion to help moisturize and nourish the area.
- Wash your tattoo regularly. Continue to use a fragrance-free soap and lukewarm water to clean your tattoo at least twice a day.
- Repeat the cleaning process until the tattoo is fully healed. Remember that your tattoo isn't completely safe from germs and bacteria until it has COMPLETELY finished scabbing and peeling. Continue to wash the tattoo until this point (usually 2-4 weeks).
- Don't pick and pull at the flaking/scabbing skin. Picking away at your healing tattoo can delay healing, cause fading, and increase the chances of infection.
- Stay away from the sun. Don't expose your new tattoo to intense sunlight and don't apply any sun lotion to the area until it has fully healed.
- Stay away from water. All bodies of water can contain nasty bacteria that can ruin a new tattoo if you're not careful. Stick to short showers until your skin has fully healed, and don't go swimming.
- Continue to look after your tattoo once healed. Once healed, keep your tattoo well protected from the sun and ensure you continue to moisturize the area regularly. Healthy skin means a healthy looking tattoo.
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Not only will you learn about everything you need to do before and after getting a tattoo, but I also go through every single thing that can go wrong with your tattoo, and explain how to prevent and treat each and every one of these issues.
With hundreds of tips and tricks spread over a whopping 400+ pages, Becoming Inked will reshape the way you think about tattoos, and will give you all the tools and strategies you need to ensure your own tattoo turns out to be everything you hoped it ever would be.
What NOT To Do While Your Tattoo Is Healing
There are a number of things that definitely shouldn’t be done in the first stages of tattoo healing, below is a list of the most important things that you should not do while your tattoo is healing.
If you would like any clarification on the below points, we explain most of them further down within the rest of the article.
Pick the Scabs - This is vitally important. After a few days, your tattoo is going to begin to scab over. This scabbing should be mostly light, but some thick scabs can appear over certain areas depending on how much the area was worked on, and how rough the artist was.
These scabs should not be picked or pulled off under any circumstance. Scabs that are not ready to fall off are potentially still connected to deeper skin layers where the ink is still in the process of setting, meaning that pulling a scab off could cause ink to be pulled out of the skin along with the scab.
Pick Off Peeling Skin - Once your tattoo has finished the scabbing phase, the skin will begin the peel and flake away. This flaky skin, no-matter how inviting, should not be played with, picked, or peeled off.
This skin may look like it's only literally hanging on by a thread, but it can still be connected to pigments of setting ink, meaning that by picking at the skin, you could be removing bits of ink too.
Scratch your Tattoo - This is probably the most important rule of all when it comes to caring for a new tattoo.
So many things can go wrong with a tattoo if you begin to scratch it.
Firstly, by scratching your tattoo you can very easily pull off multiple scabs and many pieces of peeling skin all at one. This can pull out large amounts of ink, making your tattoo look patchy and probably guaranteeing that you're going to need a touchup over the damaged area by your artist at some point in the future.
Heavy scratching can cause pits to develop in scabbing areas of the skin - this can lead to much longer healing times for the tattoo, as well as permanent scarring in some cases.
Not only this, but your fingernails harbour some pretty disgusting bacteria (think poo, uncooked food and public toilets - you get the picture).
By scratching your tattoo with your dirty fingernails, you are opening the wounded area up to all of these millions of types of nasty bacteria, greatly increasing the chances of getting your tattoo infected - which can become very serious in some cases.
Submerge your Tattoo in Water - Most bodies of water harbour many different kinds of nasty germs and bacteria, and it's imperative that you avoid coming into contact with any of these as best as possible.
Places like baths, lakes, ponds, puddles, washing up sinks and many other areas all contain large amounts of nasty little germs, so keep your tattoo away from all of these areas as best as possible for at least a month.
If you do happen to accidentally come into contact with any of these types of water-bodies, wash your tattoo as soon as possible with a fragrance and alcohol free antibacterial soap.
Stay away from swimming with a new tattoo or bathing in any type of water for at least three weeks.
Expose your Tattoo to the Sun - Another extremely important rule. If you didn't already know this, the sun is the #1 tattoo killer. You must keep your tattoo covered at all times if going outside in warm weather.
When your tattoo is new and your skin is red raw and swollen, it is an extremely sensitive area, and even tiny amounts of UV rays from the sun can cause lots of damage to the area in short spaces of times.
During this important healing stage, the sun can swell and blister a tattoo, as well as prolong the healing times and fade the ink, so stay away from the big circle in the sky (and sunbeds too for that matter, they are just as bad in terms of UV production).
Please keep in mind that UV rays can also penetrate cloud-cover easily, so even if it's not sunny outside, you must still be cautious.
Re-wrap your Tattoo - Unless specifically advised by your artist, and told in detail how to do this properly, you mustn't re-wrap your tattoo once the initial wrap has been removed.
Your tattoo needs to breath in order to heal properly and the wrap will suffocate the area, leading to poorer quality healing - which will also take longer than normal compared to if the tattoo was able to breath normally.
Not only this, but when wrapped the area becomes very moist and warm, which is a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. The longer you leave a poorly sterilized wrap on a tattoo for, the more likely the area will get infected.
Smother the Tattoo in Lotion/Ointment - As with the re-wrapping, if you put too much aftercare cream/lotion onto the tattoo, the thick layer of product is going to prevent the area from getting enough air and oxygen, which will affect the quality of healing and potentially cause the tattoo scabs to bubble.
You should only apply a very thin, barely shiny layer of lotion to your tattoo. If you accidentally apply too much then you should gently dab off the excess lotion with a paper towel until you're left witha more appropriate amount.
Use Petroleum-Based Products - ~Most of these product types (such as Vaseline) are very dense and heavy, and should not be used on tattoos. Even applying a thin layer can prevent your tattoo from breathing properly. Not only this but some petroleum-based products contain ingredients that can actually draw ink from your tattoo if used too often.
Use Fragrance/Alcohol Based Soaps to Clean the Tattoo - The main reason not to use products containing artificial fragrances is that these ingredients are highly likely to irritate the very sensitive skin at this stage of the healing process.
Many artificial fragrances can cause your skin to react adversely in many ways such as causing a rash, inducing extreme itching, and making the area extra tender.
Alcohol-based products shouldn't be used either as alcohol is generally a very harsh ingredient (hence why it's added to the majority of household/industrial anti-bacterial cleaning products).
Like artificial fragrances, alcohol can cause problems with the sensitive skin. The main issues with alcohol is that it can make the tattooed area extremely dry, flaky and irritable.
We share our favorite tattoo soaps here.
Use Abrasive or Dirty Cloths/Towels to Clean or Dry the Tattoo - For the first month or so, nothing should be used to clean your tattoo apart from your sparkling-clean fingers.
Even after coming straight out of the tumble-dryer, a cloth/towel can still carry many different types of germs - therefore it's always recommend to only clean your tattoo by using your fingers in a circular motion to gently rub the area with lukewarm water and soap.
You should also never use an abrasive or fluffy washcloth to dry your tattoo. Abrasive cloths can pull off layers of skin and ink, potentially damaging your tattoo, and fluff can get stuck onto the tattoo scabs and cause problems with healing.
And remember - always blot the area dry with a clean paper towel, or leave the area to air-dry naturally. NEVER rub or scrub the area to clean or dry the tattoo.
Wear Tight-Fitting Clothing - Depending on the location of the tattoo, tight-fitting clothing can rub against/irritate the sensitive area. This can result in outbreaks of rashes and other symptoms such as scabs being rubs off and pieces of healing skin being pulled loose.
Workout/Exercise too Soon - There are a couple of reasons why you should hold back from working too hard for a couple of days after getting a tattoo.
Firstly, depending on the length of time spent in the artist's chair, getting a tattoo can sometimes affect the immune system due to the trauma carried out to your skin over long periods of time.
Proceeding to push your body even further by exercising while carrying an already weakened immune system can help cause you to 'burn out', making it more likely for you to catch an illness or for your tattoo to take longer to heal.
Sweating can also be a problem. When the tattoo is brand new, the ink is still setting into the deeper layers. As your body temperature rises with exercise, your skin pores will start to open, increasing the chance of some of your ink seeping out.
Another problem is that gyms are naturally very dirty places, with lots of germs sitting around on various pieces of exercise equipment. Do not let you tattoo rub against any of the equipment and make sure you wash the tattooed area well as soon as you're out of the gym.
Finally, be careful when exercising a body part that has been tattooed over a joint. Excess joint movement underneath a new tattoo can cause rubbing and irritation.
Wash your Tattoo with Hot Water - Your skin is extremely sensitive during healing, and hot water running onto the tattooed area can cause irritation much easier than if the area was fully healed.
Hot water can also cause the pores to open wider on your skin, potentially causing unsettled ink to leak out.
Use Saunas/Steam Rooms - Same as above - the heat from the steam and the humid atmosphere can really open your pores up, not only increasing the risk of ink loss but also making it easier for bacteria to enter the wounded area.
Touch your Tattoo with Dirty Hands - I see so many people get a brand new tattoo and proceed to rub and prod the area with their dirty grubby hands. This is an extremely bad idea as risk of infection at such an early staging of the healing process is so great.
Let Anybody Else Touch your Tattoo - An even worse crime than above. Do not under any circumstance let anybody else apart from your tattoo artist touch your tattoo for at least several weeks. You have no idea where their hands have been.
Shave the Tattooed Area - Don't shave the area for at least a few weeks after getting a new tattoo. Trying to shave within this timeframe will probably cause you to shave right through a scab or a patch of peeling skin.
If you're a girl with a new tattoo and don't want a hairy leg on show when you go out, it might be best to wear some trousers or tights for the next few weeks/month.
After a few weeks, run your fingers over the area with your eyes closed, and if you can't feel any raised areas of skin then you should be fine to shave the area. If the skin is still a little raised or bumpy then leave it for another week and then try the test again.
Drink Too Much Alcohol - Drinking alcohol with a new tattoo can be detrimental during the first 48 hours of healing, as your tattooed area is still oozing blood and plasma. This advice is due to alcohol's ability to cause your blood to run thinner than usual. This is also true if you happen to take blood thinners before or after a tattoo.
This blood thinning can prevent scabs from properly forming as quickly as they should do, delaying healing and increasing the risk of infection.
Not to mention, getting too drunk could quite easily cause you to fall over and graze or scrape your tattoo on a hard/rough surface, delaying healing and potentially causing scarring.
Important Tattoo Aftercare Steps You Must Ensure You Take
Some of our other awesomely-helpful guides:
Initial Tattoo Aftercare - The Most Important Stage
Without doubt, the time in which tattoo aftercare is at its most important is directly after getting the tattoo, right through until about 3 weeks afterwards when the top layers of your skin have completely healed.
This timeframe is when the risk of infection is at its greatest, and is also when a tattoo’s appearance can get easily ruined through poor/lack of aftercare.
If you're interested in each of the important tattoo healing stages, check out our in-depth healing stages article here.
At the studio
As previously mentioned, aftercare starts from the moment your tattoo is completed at the studio.
Cleaning and Wrapping
Once your artist is happy with their work, they will gently wipe your tattooed area clean with mild soap, water and most-likely some type of antibacterial ointment. This may sting a bit - you can read more about reducing tattoo pain here.
Once the artist has finished cleaning the area they will proceed to wrap your tattoo, this is primarily to keep the area protected against bacteria and also helps to prevent rubbing. The bandaged area should be 99.9% bacteria free at the time of wrapping thanks to the previous soap/antibacterial cleaning.
The wrapping will most-likely be make made from either a sterile cloth dressing, or a cling film-like plastic material - either of these materials serve their purpose effectively so don’t worry if you get one or the other. There are a couple of differences between each material though:
Pros: Will help to soak up any oozing fluids (ink, blood, plasma) that may seep from your tattooed area
Pros: The material is more breathable, ensuring that the area doesn’t become too hot and sweaty, which could create a welcoming environment for bacteria
Cons: Can stick to your skin if the area starts to scab, potentially causing ink to be pulled out if a scab tears off
Cons: Can be difficult to cover large or awkwardly placed tattooed areas
Pros: The plastic material won’t stick to your tattoo, meaning that scabs don't get pulled off
Pros: The material covers larger and more awkwardly placed tattoos easier when compared to bandaging
Pros: The plastic is clear, meaning you can show your friends and family your amazing new tattoo as soon as you’re home
Cons: The material can cause the area underneath to become very warm and sweaty, creating an ideal environment for bacteria if left on for too long
Cons: No fluids are absorbed by the material, meaning your tattoo can become quite messy by the time you’re ready to take the wrap off
How To Care For a Tattoo On The First Day
Removing Your Tattoo Bandage/Wrap
The answers to the question of how long you should keep the wrapping on your new tattoo for are wide and varied. Tattoo artists can recommend 2 hours, 24 hours, and anywhere in-between.
Please be aware that there are many different wrapping methods. Many artists use their own specific wrapping techniques and will advise of their own specific lengths of time in which a tattoo should remain covered.
Just because one wrapping method is popular, it doesn't mean that other methods are wrong. Always follow your artist's advice, he is the one that knows your specific tattoo best and what’s right for it. This section is designed to give you a general idea of what the wrapping stage normally entails.
Generally, it’s regarded safe for you to remove your wrapping after 2-3 hours as long as you’re able to clean your tattoo immediately after removal. After a couple of hours of wrapping your tattoo should have stopped oozing so heavily (although it will continue to ooze over the next couple of days).
On the other hand, some artists recommend you sleep your first night in the tattoo wrap/bandaging to prevent rubbing over the raw area and to stop any fluids that are still oozing from sticking to bed sheets.
Another reason why you may be advised to keep the wrap on for longer periods is tattoo placement. Any tattoos that are likely to rub against other parts of your body may be better to remain wrapped for a night to allow the healing process to begin without any immediate rubbing.
When the wrapping time advised by your artist has passed, you’re finally able to remove your wrap and present your brand new piece of art to the world!
GENTLY remove the wrap by undoing or carefully cutting through the medical tape used by your artist to stick the wrap to your skin.
If your wrap is plastic, gently peel the material away from your skin, it shouldn’t stick at all.
If you had a cloth bandage applied to your tattoo, very very gently start to peel the material away from the skin. If you start to feel any pulling or sticking whatsoever, run some lukewarm water and pour it over the bandage until it’s soaked enough to be pulled away from the skin with ease.
Initial Clean - Tattoo Aftercare Instructions For Your First Wash
This is a very important stage of the aftercare process. The first wash of your tattoo can very easily cause your tattoo problems if not done correctly, so make sure you read on carefully to ensure that you pass through this part of the process successfully.
After you’ve removed your wrap, your tattoo is likely to be covered in a thick gooey layer of blood, plasma, ink and lymph fluid. The clear plasma is what you will want to clean off most thoroughly as this is the fluid that will eventually start to set and harden in order to begin the scabbing process.
Although you certainly do want your tattoo to scab (and it will), a heavy layer of plasma left over the area will cause your skin to scab much heavier than is required, making your tattoo look much more unsightly during the healing process. Heavier scabbing will also make the probability of having a scab tear off greater than normal.
Before cleaning your tattoo, you will want to clean your hands thoroughly to kill any bacteria present.
Proceed to gently cup lukewarm water over the area, wetting the area with your palm and fingers, NOT a rough/dirty wash towel/cloth.
Ensure the water is not hot as the heat/steam can open up the recently inked skin pores which could potentially allow ink to leach out of the area, making your tattoo appear patchy.
Your tattoo is likely to be red and sore at this point so it may be relatively painful to wash this area - suck it up and try your best!
Once the area is wet, rub a good amount of clear/fragrance free mild antibacterial soap over the area and proceed to try and get all of the gooey and dried bits of blood and ink off of the surface.
Always check the ingredients of the soap before you rub it over your tattoo - if it contains any artificial fragrances or alcohol, do not use it. Fragrances and alcohol can burn the very sensitive area and dry the skin out.
If you see any ink coming off as you wash or dry your tattoo - this is completely normal. A good artist will pack the area with as much ink as possible and some ink will naturally get trapped in the upper of layers of skin and will continue to leak out slightly over the next week or two as you wash and pat dry the area.
If there are any stuck-on bits of dried blood or ink that refuse to come off with gentle rubbing, leave them as they are - they will rub off in the coming washes . Don’t force them off as this could cause some ink to be pulled out.
After a thorough but gentle cleanse of the area with soap, cup some more lukewarm water over the area to ensure that all remaining soap is washed away.
After washing is complete, you can either let your tattoo air-dry or you can pat it dry with a paper towel. DO NOT RUB OR SCRUB your tattoo with as this can rub some ink out of the area, always pat dry.
Try not to use a fabric cloth/towel as pieces of fabric can come off and stick to the area - not to mention the cloth will probably be full of bacteria too, even if it’s ‘fresh’.
Once the area is COMPLETELY dry you will want to very lightly rub in some sort of specialized ointment/lotion to moisturize the area and help with healing. You will only want a very thin layer to cover the tattoo - your skin needs to breathe in order to heal effectively and a heavy layer of lotion will prevent this from happening.
The best tattoo lotion I've ever personally used is a (vegan) tattoo 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 that annoying itching and irritation.
You must ensure that the area is completely dry before adding an ointment or lotion because any moisture trapped between your skin and the layer of ointment can cause your scabs to soak up the moisture and swell/become gooey, increasing the likelihood of them sticking to materials/objects and being pulled off.
Cleaning Process Roundup:
- Clean your hands thoroughly, you don’t want any bacteria getting into the raw tattooed area
- Run the tap until the water is lukewarm, NOT hot. Cup the water with your hand and very gently wet the area with your palm/fingers
- Rub a fragrance-free mild soap over the area and make sure as much excess ink/blood/plasma has been washed away
- Use more water to wash away any leftover soap
- Allow the tattoo to dry completely, either through air drying or with a paper towel - not a dirty rough washcloth though. Always PAT dry, do not SCRUB
- Apply a very thin layer of ointment to help moisturize the area and help with healing
The Rest of Day One
Your tattoo will likely be very sore for the rest of the day (and for the next few days). It will probably look red and swollen and the area will also likely feel warm to the touch due to the increased blood flow to the area (your bodies way of aiding the wound to make it heal as quickly as possible).
The above is all completely normal for the first several days, especially if the tattoo is a big piece or if the artist had to go over the same areas multiple times for shading.
Depending on the area of the tattoo on your body, your first few sleeps will probably be rough. Your tattoo will be sore if it’s pressed against the bed and you will be consciously trying to prevent your tattoo from rubbing anywhere. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can really do about this and you will just have to prepare for a few nights of uncomfortable sleeping.
Some people recommend using old/cheap bed sheets for the first few days after getting a tattoo in order to prevent your best sheets for getting all bloody and inky - so if you’re worried about ruining your sheets, consider pulling out an old set.
Other people even resort to wearing gloves at night to stop them from scratching their tattoo in their sleep if it begins to itch (which could also probably help if you have bed bugs).
Another important thing to mention with regard to sleep is that it’s quite common after getting a tattoo to wake up these next morning being stuck to the bed sheets.
If this ever happens to you, do NOT just pull the sheets away from your skin, this could rip ink out from your tattoo. Instead, you need to soak the stuck area with warm water until the sheets peel away easily. If you need to drag your sheets into the shower with you then so-be-it.
Days 2-3 - Continued Soreness and Rawness
For the next couple of days, you tattoo will likely look and feel the same as it did on day one. Redness and swelling will have probably gone down slightly but it will likely still look and feel sore for the next several days (up to about a week).
The tattoo will probably still be oozing small amounts of ink, lymph and plasma and this is completely normal.
Although your tattoo will likely still be sore and red for up to around a week; if the soreness or redness does not start to ease (or continues to get worse) then you should proceed to get checked with a doctor to make sure there is no infection present.
Along with the soreness, redness and oozing, the area will probably also feel slightly raised above the skin and could looked bruised. Again, this is nothing to be worried about.
Bruising is normally very minimal but can be slightly worse in some cases if the artist is quite heavy-handed, or has needed to go over the same area quite a lot.
Just to reiterate though - if you experience anything extreme (like heavy tattoo bruising), especially after a few days since the tattooing session, or are worried about anything, go and see a doctor.
Sleeping will likely still be quite uncomfortable depending on tattoo size and placement, but with each day that passes your comfort levels should start to slowly increase again.
Making sure your tattoo is clean is still extremely important at this stage - you will likely start to see some very light scabs forming over your tattoo at around day three, but your skin is still essentially an open wound at this point and you need to ensure that the area stays bacteria-free as best as possible.
Days 4-5 - Let the Scabbing Commence
At this point you’re going to see scabs popping up all over your tattoo. Like mentioned previously, this tattoo scabbing should only be a light layer of skin covering all of the inked areas as long as you was able to wash away most of the oozy plasma in the first couple of days.
Carry on cleaning your tattoo exactly as you have been for the last several days, washing the area using your fingers with a mild soap, and drying completely before applying a very thin lotion/ointment to keep the area hydrated and moisturized.
Your tattoo is going to start looking slightly dull and cloudy at this point as the scabs start forming over the ink - don’t worry though as this stage doesn’t last too long and the sharpness will return.
It is absolutely crucial that you DO NOT pick or pull at the forming scabs. At this stage of the tattoo healing process the scabs will not yet be ready to come off and by picking at them you risk pulling ink out along with the scab.
Even if a scab looks like it’s ready to come off, or if it’s only slightly still hanging onto the skin, just leave it alone. Don’t do anything that you may instantly regret afterwards - it’s best to play it safe.
If you do pick off a scab, or one accidentally gets pulled off, there is a chance of ink coming out which may result in a patchy looking area, or a pit forming in the skin. These problems will increase the healing times of your tattoo and may require you to go for a touchup at the studio.
Avoid wearing any very tight clothing or anything that may be able to rub or catch against a scab, potentially pulling it off.
Although most scabbing should only be light, you may have some areas that are thicker than others. This can be expected, especially if the artist had to go over the same area multiple times.
However, if many/most areas of your tattoo are covered in thick ugly scabs, this may be the result of the artist being too rough and pressing the needle deeper than it needs to go. Go back to the artist if you are concerned.
Alternatively, don't get worried if your tattoo doesn't look like it's scabbing at all. Some tattoos will scab extremely lightly to the point that it may look like nothing is happening (but you tattoo will be healing). This is especially true for very fine tattoos, or tattoos that are made up primarily with very light colors, like white ink tattoos.
Also, tattoos can begin to scab before days 4-5. They can even scab after a day or two. This, again, is completely normal and you shouldn't get worried by this. Some people will just generally heal faster than others.
Days 6-14 - Things are About to Start Getting a Little Itchy…
This part of the tattoo healing process is the part that most people dread. This is mainly due to the intense itching that some people suffer, and also because your tattoo can look really quite dreadful for a few days as it peels and flakes.
As you reach roughly day six (give or take a day), your light scabbing should be well-formed and covering the complete area. As the scabs and old pieces of skin begin to reach maturity, they will now begin to peel and flake away.
Your skin is going to become very dry, and in most cases, it’s this dry skin that brings on the itching that so many people can't stand.
You tattoo will start to look a little dry at first, and as the days go by you will start to see more and more peeling and flaking skin.
Although it’s going to be very tempting to pick at the peeling skin, DO NOT pull any off or mess with it. Although the flaking skin only appears to be hanging on very slightly, it’s still attached enough to be able to potentially pull some ink away with it.
If you do begin to itch, DO NOT scratch your tattoo, this is amongst the absolute worst things that you can do in the whole of the tattoo healing process
Scratching the healing skin not only pulls away scabs and skin prematurely, pulling out ink in the process, but the bacteria on/under your fingernails can cause an infection around the area.
If you do find that your tattoo regularly starts to itch quite badly, this is normally a sign that the skin is becoming too dry. Once your skin starts to peel this is the perfect time to find a great moisturizing lotion to apply to the area. Myself and many others find instant relief after rubbing a quality lotion into the tattoo.
Other methods that could help to prevent extreme itching include:
- Cooling the area with cold water or ice
- Gently tapping the area instead of scratching
- Taking a shower (not too long as to saturate the tattoo with water though)
- Distracting yourself with other activities
We have a great guide to itching that goes into detail about why tattoo itching occurs and how to prevent it.
As your skin reaches the peeling stage, you’re going to want to moisturize as often as possible. Some people advise that moisturizing 6-7 times a day is required during this stage, but as long as you moisturize after each wash and before bed, this should keep the area well hydrated.
You can either use a general skin-sensitive moisturizer, a specialized tattooing lotion or even a completely organic and natural product such as coconut oil or cocoa butter to try to soothe your new tattoo and to promote healthy and quick healing.
During this stage, as you wash your tattoo you may start to see the peeling skin come off colored in ink. This is completely normal and your tattoo isn’t getting washed out.
All tattooed skin will peel away along with excess ink at this stage, and personally all of my tattoos have done this and every single one was turned out absolutely fine. Continue with the correct aftercare and you should have no problems.--
Unfortunately your skin is going to look very unsightly for a few days as the top layer of damaged skin sheds in preparation for the brand new layer below. Your tattoo will look dull, scaly, flaky and dry - but as mentioned, this only lasts for a few of days.
If you’re going out with your tattoo on show and it’s looking at it’s absolute worst as it’s peeling away, applying a thin layer of lotion should dampen the loose skin, causing it to stick down and look much nicer than it does when it’s dry and hard. Your tattoo should look marginally better for the next few hours using this trick.
You will notice that as time goes by, the more you wash your tattoo the more flakes that will fall off, and as soon as very loose areas begin to come off, you will start to see glimpses of a much clearer, sharper tattoo breaking through from beneath.
Below is a great video showing first-hand experience of a healing tattoo throughout its first week.
Days 15-30 - Nearly There
At this point, your tattoo should have largely completed peeling, apart from the odd small area of flaky/dry skin.
Your tattoo should no-longer be red or sore (and if it is, it should be subsiding every day). Any raised areas should be slowly flattening to the point where you cannot tell where the tattooed parts are compared to your un-inked skin when running your fingers over the area.
You will notice however that your tattoo will likely still look a little dull and scaly, and it will continue to look and feel slightly dry, so continue moisturizing 2-3 times a day.
There is typically still a very thin layer of dead skin covering the area at this stage, which is contributing to the lack of sharpness, but this dead skin will flake off gradually over the next 4-8 weeks. The flaking will be extremely light and will be nowhere near as bad the previous peeling.
There may still be the odd bout of itchiness although nothing too extreme - BUT, you should still not scratch your tattoo for the next month or two if possible because although the top layer will appear to have healed up nicely already, the lower layers of the tattoo will still be healing, and can actually take up to 6 months to completely regenerate back to normal.
Did You Know
The upper layers of skin will always heal faster than the layers below. This is because of the greater importance in getting the outer layers of a wound sealed up as quickly as possible to prevent any kinds of infection.--
Continue to wash your tattoo everyday up until the 1 month mark. Your tattoo may not be as prone to infection as it was in the first couple of weeks but it’s best to be completely sure that your tattoo is getting the best aftercare as possible.
I’m sure some of you will also be wondering when it’s possible to shave your tattoo if some of it is hidden in a hairier region. The best method of determining when you’re able to shave your tattoo is to close your eyes and run your fingers over the area.
If you cannot feel any raised or bumpy areas then you should now be fine to shave over your tattoo. If it’s still a little raised or bumpy, give it another week or two and try the test again.
This is also a good time to inspect your tattoo closely to ensure that there are no blemishes, faded spots or areas of tattoo blowout. If you find any problems with your tattoo at this point then contact your artist so they can give you advice on what to do next.
A Tattoo is for Life, Not Just For Summer
Congratulations! Your tattoo should be starting to look the best it has done for several weeks. BUT, just because your tattoo has all but healed, it doesn’t mean that you can start neglecting it from now on for the rest of your life.
If you want your tattoo to continue looking its best for as long as possible, there are some aftercare procedures you should continue to carry out indefinitely.
Tattoo Care Instructions
- Always Use Sunscreen - This is an extremely important rule to remember, and is the number one rule to follow after the initial healing period is over. Always cover your tattoo in at least factor 30 sunscreen when out in the sun or on a sunbed.
Although after healing your tattoo will have a few layers of skin form over it to protect it against most elements, the UV rays from the sun/sunbeds will easily penetrate these layers and can really cause a lot of damage to your tattoo.
If you’re a sun god/goddess and you’re always outside in the hot weather, it won’t take long for the sun to turn your bright, clear, colorful tattoo into a dull, wrinkled, blurry mess - so never forget to properly protect it when outside or on a tanning bed.
- Continue to Moisturize - Your tattoo will continue to look at its best for as long as your skin is kept at its best. Keep your skin as healthy and as hydrated as possible and your tattoo should stand up to the test of time.
- Drink Plenty of Water - As well as moisturizing to keep your skin hydrated, drinking enough water will also help greatly in clearing out toxins beneath your skin.
- Live and Eat Healthy - An active lifestyle and a high nutrition diet will do wonders for your skin and your tattoos. A healthy lifestyle will ensure a good strong blood-flow to all areas of the body, treating your skin to the correct nutrients whenever it requires them.
From time-to-time some tattoos, no-matter how old, can raise above the skin slightly or go dry all of a sudden for no real reason. More times than not this happens when a tattoo has been exposed to the sun, heavy sweating, and other elements such as saltwater and chlorine.
These changes are normally only temporary and should subside after a few hours to a few days.
If you’re overly concerned with any changes to your tattoo, see your artist or book an appointment to see a dermatologist or your doctor.
So there you have it! Probably the most comprehensive aftercare guide you're every likely to come across. Hopefully you've now learned what to do during the aftercare process (and beyond), and what to definitely not do.
The month immediately after getting out of the tattoo artist's chair is definitely going to be most important time for your tattoo, and as that big patch of ink is going to be with you for the rest of your life.
You're going to be wanting to do anything in your power to ensure that the whole thing heals perfectly - and remains perfect as long as possible for the rest of its (and your) life.
Hopefully you now know how to take care of a new tattoo, and understand that new tattoo care is extremely important no matter how big or small your tattoo may be.
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