Just got some new ink? Congratulations! It’s important to take really good care of it for the first couple of weeks. If you went to a professional shop, they should have given you written instructions on how to care for your new tattoo; but I know some only give verbal advice, which is pretty much useless at the end of a tattoo session. You’re sore, you’re tired, you’re excited to show off your new ink, and you’re not listening to a word they say.
It’s okay, I understand. Honestly, it’s their fault if they didn’t send you home with written tattoo aftercare instructions. However, if they did give you written instructions, you should follow them – I mean, if you trusted them enough to tattoo you, you should be able to trust them to give good advice on how to care for it, right? But, if you’re having a problem with their recommendations or just can’t remember them, you can always use my advice as a backup.
The only problem with my advice is I don’t know you, I didn’t tattoo you, and therefore I don’t know what’s best for you. All I can do is tell you about the different products out there and my personal opinions of them; from that point, it’s up to you to decide what to try.
First Things First
Before you left the shop, they should have put a protective bandage over your tattoo. I know you’re excited to show off your new ink, but it’s really in your best interests to keep the bandage on for at least an hour or two, to allow it to stop bleeding and oozing, especially if it’s a large piece. If you must remove the bandage, wash it right away, pat it dry with a clean paper towel and as soon as you see any new signs of bleeding or oozing, wash it again.
If your artist used Tat2 Derm to protect your tattoo, then the circumstances are different and they should have given you very clear instructions on how to use it properly. Tat2 Derm is a revolution in tattoo healing and does everything for you without having to wash, treat, lotion or anything! And it’s waterproof, so you can even go swimming or surf. Ask your tattoo artist if they use Tat2D Derm – if they don’t, ask why not?!
Saran wrap has become popular in many tattoo shops as a covering for new tattoos – this is not an acceptable form of bandaging. For more information on why, read Plastic Wrap is Not a Bandage by tattoo health expert, Peggy Sucher.
The Ultimate Goal to Healing
There are just a few basic things you need to know about healing a tattoo successfully:
Now let’s talk about the different ways to accomplish those goals:
This one’s pretty simple. Keep your tattoo clean. Wash it gently with a mild liquid soap (using only your hand), rinse it well with water, pat it dry with a clean towel. Do this 2-3 times a day.
This is one of the trickier steps. There’s a lot of different things that can harm your tattoo. Here are the most common dangers that you should avoid during the first two weeks:
- Stay out of hot tubs, pools, lakes or any significant exposure to water. Showers are fine, soaking in a bathtub is not. You should wear gloves to wash dishes if your tattoo in on your hand or wrist.
- Avoid friction from clothing. Ankle tattoos can be irritated by socks or the tops of shoes, lower back tattoos can be rubbed raw by waistlines on pants.
- Avoid exposure to chemicals. Cleaning solutions, cosmetics, hair products and other irritants can make a new tattoo very angry.
- Avoid excessive muscle manipulation. Bending and flexing in the area where the new tattoo sits isn’t a good idea. Keep that in mind if you’re an athlete or have a job that requires this kind of motion.
A tattoo doesn’t necessarily need moisture to heal, but it’ll make the process a lot more comfortable for you. Dry, dead skin cracks and peels with every movement and can be rather painful. Keeping the area moisturized makes it much more comfortable.
This one can be a double-edged sword though – too much moisture is just as bad as not enough. Here’s what I always recommend: take a small dab of your product of choice, rub it in carefully but thoroughly for about 30 seconds, and then take a clean tissue and dab it. Just like blotting your lips after applying lipstick, it will remove the excess product without taking away too much. (Sorry guys, I don’t have a similar analogy for you.)
But what product should you use? It’s ultimately up to you, but here are my top recommendations:
- Aquaphor Advanced Therapy Healing Ointment
This is my personal favorite now. It’s a thick, clear ointment that goes on smoothly, doesn’t burn, doesn’t stink, and is long-lasting. I use Aquaphor for at least the first week of healing my tattoo, sometimes longer, before switching to a lighter product, like lotion.
- A&D Ointment
This is my second favorite. I have used it successfully to heal many tattoos – honestly, I think it works just as well as Aquaphor, but it smells weird. For that, Aquaphor wins out.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E oil or cream will keep the skin supple through the healing stages and is just as effective as the ointments listed above. And if you happen to have a sensitivity to petroleum or lanolin, Vitamin E doesn’t contain those ingredients (Aquaphor and A&D do).
- Eucerin Lotion
Eucerin contains lanolin alcohol, but it’s one of the last ingredients on the list. It’s known to be a very good all-around lotion. Some artists will tell you to use lotion from day one, some will say to switch to lotion after your tattoo starts peeling. It’s really up to you and what your comfortable with.
A lotion that is highly recommended by both tattoo artists and collectors alike. Myself, I don’t like it – whenever I apply it to a raw tattoo, it burns. If you experience discomfort with any product, don’t use it. There are plenty of other options.
During the first two weeks of healing, you won’t be able to apply sunscreen to your tattoo. So, avoidance is the only way you can protect it from the damaging UV rays. If you must go out in the sun, cover your tattoo with your clothing and shade yourself as much as possible. I can’t stress enough how damaging the sun is to any tattoo, especially a new one.
After the first two weeks have passed, it’s important that you always apply sunscreen or sunblock to protect your tattoo when you go out in the sun.
About the Guru:
Karen L. Hudson has been writing for the body art community since 1999. She is the author of Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos--and the Women Who Wear Them and Living Canvas: Your Total Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modification. After leaving her position as About.com's body art expert in 2011, she founded Tat2Guru to continue her efforts as a safety and acceptance advocate for the body art community. Read Her Full Bio