How you care for your new tattoo in the weeks following the appointment is equally as important to how your tattoo was applied! If a tattoo is poorly cared for in the healing process it may not look well. The best thing to keep in mind while healing your tattoo is that a fresh tattoo is basically an open wound. It is a breach in your skin’s defense system so it is susceptible to infection. However, if you follow the aftercare and take measures to keep your new tattoo as clean as possible you should have no issues.
After your tattoo is completed, your artist will place a bandage over your tattoo. You can take the bandage off after 2-4 hours unless otherwise instructed by your artist. You do not have to recover the tattoo unless instructed.
Once you remove the bandage, wash the tattoo thoroughly with antibacterial soap and warm water. Pat dry with a clean towel or paper towel.
Apply a very very very very thin coat of ointment. One of the biggest mistakes people make is using too much ointment. It prolongs healing and can cause breakouts. The ointment does not actually heal the tattoo, it is only meant to keep the skin moist. More ointment does not make your tattoo heal better. In this case, less is more. We like A&D or Aquaphor. DO NOT use neosporin or triple antibiotic creams. These ointments have properties that can take color out of a tattoo.
For the first three or four days you will repeat the washing and ointment application three times a day.
After the first 3-4 days you the tattoo will begin flaking and you can switch to an unscented lotion. Like with the ointment, you want to rub the lotion in well and not apply too much.
Do not pick at any flaking skin or scabs. This may cause color to be pulled out.
Avoid pet hair. We all love a good cuddle with our furry friends, but pet hair is the #1 way people get their tattoos infected. If you sleep with an animal or can’t avoid pet hair we recommend wrapping your tattoo. Please reference the section on wrapping your tattoo for more information.
Q: Is it really a big deal if I go swimming or sunbathe a couple days after I get a new tattoo?
A: Yes. Any form of swimming (even soaking in a bath tub) can be harmful to the tattoo. Pools have harsh chemicals that can irritate the tattoo. Ocean and pond water contain bacteria that could cause serious infections. If you cannot avoid swimming or lying out in the sun we suggest postponing your tattoo until after summertime or your vacation. We recommend giving your tattoo at least a solid two weeks before it is safe to swim or tan again.
Q: I’ve seen other shops put a clear bandage on and instruct to leave it on for several days. Why don’t you do that?
A: Bandages like tegaderm are becoming popular in the tattoo industry because they offer “hands off healing”. However, leaving a bandage on for several days could cause issues. Bandages like these were never intended to be worn for days on end and could cause serious infections. If you would like to use these bandages that is not a problem, but we recommend changing them at 24 hours maximum.
Q: How do I I know if my tattoo is infected?
A: Infections occur when your new tattoo comes into contact with a bacterial source, usually in the first few days of healing. If your tattoo becomes red around the edges, remains sore and is leaking fluid it may have become infected. Usually there is no need for any treatment and your body will heal the infection on its own. However, if you do feel you may have an infection we ask that you contact your artist for further instructions or stop in to the shop. In the meantime, wash your tattoo and stop applying any lotion or ointment, as excess moisture will make an infected tattoo worse.
Q: Why did I get such big scabs on my tattoo? Should I pick them off?
A: Do not pick your scabs. We can tell when you pick them. Scabs form for many reasons and are normal. Areas on joints or where clothing rub are more susceptible to scabbing. Even if your scab is gigantic DO NOT PICK IT. Your body forms scabs as part of the healing process and knows how to get rid of them.
Q: My artist told me to wrap my tattoo. How do I do that?
A: When a tattoo is on a joint or a sensitive area like your foot we often recommend wrapping the tattoo for a few days. Wrapping the tattoo decreases swelling and acts like a barrier to protect your tattoo from germs. The wrap also tricks your skin into thinking it already formed a scab so healing is expedited.
After each time you wash your tattoo and apply ointment you can wrap your tattoo in Saran Wrap and secure with tape or tight fitting clothing like a sock on your foot or compression shirt. Be sure to change the wrap 2-3 times per day. If you do choose to wrap your tattoo it is wise to let it air dry an hour or two between wraps, but not to leave it uncovered for too long. When left exposed to air for too long the tattoo will begin to dry out and wrapping it is no longer appropriate. If that does happen just return to washing and applying ointment.
Q: My tattoo is really swollen. Is that normal?
A: Swelling in the area surrounding a tattoo is completely normal, especially around joints and on the feet. If the swelling is painful you can ice and elevate the area, as well as take ibuprofen or other NSAIDS to reduce the swelling.
Q: My finger tattoo looks terrible. What went wrong?
A: Finger and hand tattoos often look terrible for several weeks, partially because of the high use of that area of the body and partially because of the way that area needs to be tattooed in order to make the tattoo stay. In most cases you do not need to do anything besides continue washing your hands frequently. Eventually the scabs will come off on their own and the tattoo will come back to the surface. They may take up to 3 months to heal, so be patient.