When you get a tattoo, you are taking part in an ancient practice which has spanned the course of human history—battling stigma, hatred, and banishment. It has paved its way and knocked a niche into our modern society, making it less of a barbarian practice and more of a fine art.
It is a memorable experience. And, often, an expensive event. But, just like fine art that hangs on the walls of your house, tattoo artwork is an investment.
And, as with all investments, tattoos need to be properly cared for.
Did you know that improper aftercare can actually cause damage to the tattoo?
Regardless of how great your artist is, how incredible your tattoo looks—if you don’t handle the aftercare process correctly, your tattoo can turn into a big ugly mess. Improper care can lead to blurring, fading, early aging, scabbing, and, in some cases, color loss.
You’ve paid for it—now care for it.
Your shop should have given you an aftercare sheet with basic instructions on how to care for your tattoo during the healing process. If you need a refresher or just a little more detail—don’t fret. I’ve got ya covered. First, let’s review the traditional method of healing.
Here’s the deal.
Directly after the tattoo has been completed, the artist will clean off your tattoo and place a small amount of ointment over the area. Some artists will wrap your tattoo with plastic wrap. After one to two hours, you need to remove this wrap in order to allow the area to breathe.
Once you remove the wrap, it is imperative that you wash the tattoo. Make sure to use an unscented, mild antibacterial soap. Avoid any scented or colored soaps as these can aggravate the tattoo during the healing process. As you wash the tattoo for the first time, be certain to remove all traces of blood and plasma to minimize the risk of scabbing.
Helpful Hint: It is suggested to use your hand to wash your fresh tattoo (after ensuring your hands are clean, of course) as washcloths and other such materials can be harsh on the tattoo.
Pat the tattoo dry using a soft-textured cloth or paper towel and let air dry—exposed—for approximately 20 minutes.
After the tattoo has been allowed to dry, apply a very thin coat of an aftercare product. There are several options for this. If you’re looking for something cheap and easily accessible, Aquaphor is a water-based ointment that can be used as an aftercare product. For those who do not like the sticky, greasy feeling (and residue) that Aquaphor leaves behind, there are other options such as Redemption or TattooGoo. For those looking for an all-organic, non-greasy, vegan-friendly alternative, there are products like After Inked on the market. After Inked is not only to be used during the initial healing process but long after to help maintain the integrity of your artwork. It is important to avoid products with alcohol, Vaseline, petroleum jelly, or sunblock to a fresh tattoo.
When applying the ointment, it is vital to apply the right amount. You want the tattoo to have a slight shine to it. This will help keep the tattoo hydrated and prevent it from drying out. However, you don’t want it to be too moist as that can cause issues in healing, as well. Don’t oversaturate—make it shine, don’t make drip.
Avoid rebandaging the tattoo. Once the initial wrap is removed, you will keep the tattoo open to allow it to breathe. During the first portion of the healing period (the first three to four days), you will continue to wash, dry, and apply product several times a day. At a minimum, three times a day (think after every meal). If you work outside, sweat a lot, have a contact with large amounts of people (think retail, teacher/school, etc) or anything that could cause contamination of the open skin, you may need to wash and apply ointment more frequently.
After the initial healing period, continue to apply aftercare product whenever the tattoo feels stiff or dry. Avoid perfumes and colognes and colored or fragranced soaps/lotions during the first ten days to two weeks. These can aggravate the skin and slow the healing process.
During the healing period, it is perfectly normal to see small flakes of colored skin falling off. This is normal. We promise
your tattoo is not falling off, but rather, the top layer of skin is sloughing off. This will also cause the tattoo to lighten in darker areas or colors to become more vivid. Again, totally normal.
Make sure to avoid long showers and bathing, swimming, or soaking in any water. Be particularly careful to avoid swimming in the ocean, lakes, pools, hot tubs, or saunas during the healing period as this can transfer bacteria directly into your fresh tattoo.
Do not itch, scratch, pick, or play with your new tattoo. It will itch (like mad, be warned!) but this is completely normal. It is a sign that your tattoo is healing properly. Disturbing the skin by scratching, rubbing, picking, or any similar behavior can actually damage the tattoo.
Do not shave, wax, or exfoliate the area until after the healing period. Keep your tattoo out of the sun as the healing skin is more susceptible to a sunburn than normal. Even after the healing period, it is recommended to keep your tattoo out of the sun as much as possible. When exposing the tattoo to sunlight, use a sunblock (of at least 30 SPF) to keep the tattoo from fading. This applies to sunbed tanning, as well.
Now, this isn’t the only method of healing.
There is another choice now.
There are products on the market which can take all of the washing, drying, and ointment applying out of the mix. These are more like stick-it-and-forget-about-it type deal. Recently making headway in the tattoo industry are products such as Saniderm—a medical grade film that protects the tattoo and takes the aftercare process out of the hands of you, the client.
This film is placed over the tattooed area at the completion of the tattoo. It is then removed after 24 hours and replaced with a fresh piece. From there, the tattoo is left alone for 5-7 days with the secondary piece of film remaining. At the end of the 5-7 days, the piece is removed, the tattoo is washed off and that is the end of it.
Products, like Saniderm, are great for clients who may not be able to break away from work several times a day to wash the tattoo and reapply ointment. It is great for clients who work in conditions that are not conducive to proper healing, like nurses or mechanics.
There is no worrying about applying too much ointment or not enough. You don’t have to worry about getting pet hair stuck in the ointment. Bed sheets and clothes are saved from harsh stains from cheaper, greasy aftercare products.
Aftercare extends beyond the healing period.
Whether you opt to use the traditional method of healing or decide to use one of the medical grade films on the market, it is important to care for your tattoo long after its application.
Tattoos fade. They age. They blur slightly over time. It happens. But, with the right long-term aftercare, you can slow the process and avoid as much unnecessary damage as possible. Keep the tattoo out of direct sun as much as possible and, when in sun, keep it covered with sunscreen. Drink lots of fluids consistently. Continue to apply a tattoo moisturizer, like After Inked, daily to help keep the tattoo hydrated and healthy.
Your tattoo is an investment. Treat it as such.