You’ve decided to get your first tattoo (or maybe your second or sixth), you’ve figured out what design you want, and you’ve decided where you want to put it. But there’s another part of the tattoo process that’s just as important: your tattoo aftercare routine.
After all, the tattoo itself is a deliberate injury to your skin. “When the tattoo is administered, it intentionally damages the skin, creating thousands of tiny wounds,” said Geeta Yadav, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Facet Dermatology in Toronto. “After getting a tattoo, you’ll basically walk around with an open wound.” This is why prioritizing tattoo care immediately afterward is extremely important, both for the health of your skin and to ensure that your new tattoo ends up looking as good as possible.
Here’s the thing, though: The tattoo healing process takes days, weeks, and even months, during which time all sorts of changes occur in the upper and lower layers of the skin. And there are different things that are important to do (and not do) during each recovery phase.
The good news? Tattoo aftercare instructions are pretty simple and only require a few basic skin care products that you probably already have. It is a true “minimum effort for maximum results” situation. Read on for advice from dermatologists on the tattoo healing process.
What does the tattoo healing process look like | How to take care of tattooed skin | How long does skin take to heal
What should I expect during the tattoo healing process?
Because the dermis (the area of skin where pigment is deposited) contains nerves and blood vessels, tattoos can be painful and bleed, says Brian Hibler, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, to SELF. “You may notice some light bleeding the first day or so as your skin begins to recover from the trauma. The oozing of a clear liquid is also normal. It’s plasma, and it indicates that your body is working to heal the area,” says Dr. Yadav. You may even see a little excess ink coming out of your fresh tattoo, which is also totally normal and won’t affect the look of your tattoo, she adds.
Over the next few days, your immune system will continue to react to the bites like a sore, leading to swelling and some inflammation, both of which should go away fairly quickly. “A little redness and tenderness is perfectly normal and expected, but if it doesn’t improve or gets worse after a day or two, see your GP or a dermatologist,” Elliot Love, MD, board-certified dermatologist. at the Carolinas Dermatology Group in North Carolina, says SELF. Likewise, keep an eye out for any type of flaky, yellow crust, a potential sign of bacterial infection that also warrants medical attention, he says.
The possibility of infection, which can occur every time you break your skin, is the number one potential risk. These can be bacterial infections or blood-borne viral infections (hepatitis, HIV), the latter being the most likely to occur due to a lack of proper needle sterilization, Anar Mikailov, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Burlington, Massachusetts, and founder of KP Away skincare, says SELF.1 Other signs of an infected tattoo include redness, swelling, and bumps on or under the skin that sometimes contain pus, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
An allergic reaction is also possible, as some people are allergic to substances used in tattoo ink. “This is especially common with red, blue and yellow ink, as the ingredients used to achieve these colors tend to be more allergenic than the carbon used in black ink,” says Dr. Hibler, who cites carbon oxides. iron, cobalt chloride and manganese as some examples.2 Signs of an allergic reaction include redness, swelling, itching or a rash at the site, he says. It should be mentioned that this reaction can occur immediately after the tattoo or even a few years later, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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How to take care of tattooed skin?
Your tattoo artist will take care of the immediate aftercare of the tattoo, applying a thin layer of antibiotic ointment and a tattoo wrap or bandage before leaving the shop, says Dr. Yadav. A tattoo wrap does two things: it will protect your skin from bacteria that can cause infection as well as irritation from clothing, bedding, or other possible irritants in your environment, she explains. You will probably be asked to leave the tattoo in place for about 24 hours. This is when you may also notice swelling and redness, although this may depend on your skin tone, as well as itching, which Dr. Hibler says can be alleviated by placing ice packs on the bandaged tattoo.