So you just got a tattoo – congratulations! It’s time to focus on the follow-up. If you want your tattoo to age gracefully, the next few weeks are very important in ensuring that it heals properly.
Here is a complete guide to proper tattoo tracking.
Your tattoo artist will start your follow-up routine as soon as their work is done. After all, it is their masterpiece, and they want to preserve its beauty. They will likely apply a thin layer of petroleum-based ointment to your ink and then cover it with plastic wrap or a bandage.
While you might want to look at your new addition (or run your fingers over it), resist the urge. A tattoo is essentially an open wound, so keeping it covered (and your hands away) prevents bacteria from entering your skin.
Also, depending on where the tattoo is on your body, keeping it covered will prevent your clothes from rubbing against it and causing discomfort and irritation.
The biggest mistake people make with new tattoos? Don’t use sunscreen and expose tattoo to sun, says New York-based cosmetic dermatologist Dr Michele Green.
Follow these dos and don’ts for basic tattoo aftercare:
- Make follow the instructions of your tattoo artist. Leave your tattoo covered for several hours to allow it to absorb any liquid, blood, or excess ink that may escape. (This is completely normal.)
- Make remember that a tattoo is a wound. When you are ready to remove the bandage, treat your tattoo as you would any other skin injury. Wash your hands before touching your tattoo and wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water. Always use lukewarm water and a mild, fragrance-free soap.
- Make keep it moist, but let it breathe. Then cover your entire tattoo with a thin layer of ointment or other approved product (see list below for more options). If your tattoo is in an area that is not covered by clothing, leave it uncovered to let your skin breathe and help healing.
- Make cover up when you are in the sun. Wear loose, sun-protective clothing until your tattoo heals. Then put on the SPF – tattooed skin is not immune to UV rays or premature aging.
- Make contact your tattoo artist or doctor if you have unusual swelling, irritation, or other signs of infection or allergic reactions.
Not to do
- Not rub your skin dry – pat it gently to avoid irritation.
- Not wear sunscreen until your tattoo is completely healed, as chemicals or minerals could irritate your broken skin.
- Not pick, scratch or rub your tattoo until it is healed. You could cause scarring.
- Not swim, soak in a hot tub or take a bath until your tattoo is completely healed. Opt for a shower instead. (It’s fine to soak or swim if you can keep your new tattoo out of the water.) Green also recommends avoiding steam rooms and saunas until your ink has healed.
Your healing process will be as unique as your tattoo itself. Bigger tattoos will likely take longer to heal, as will those that rub against clothing. All of the tattoo aftercare tips we share below are part of the normal healing process.
- You may notice blood and clear plasma oozing from your tattoo, as well as ink. You may also feel heat or swelling.
- Keep your new tattoo clean (wash it off with unscented soap after a few hours).
- As your skin heals, you will notice that fine scabs start to form. Don’t choose them. Your tattoo may look duller or cloudier right now, don’t worry.
- Wash your tattoo twice a day, then use an alcohol-free and fragrance-free moisturizer.
- Ink can wash your skin.
- The redness will begin to subside and the scabs will continue to form. Don’t touch them!
- Wash your tattoo twice a day, then use an alcohol and fragrance free tattoo care cream.
- Your scabs will start to fall off. Don’t help the process!
- Itching is normal, so keep your tattoo care lotion handy and rub it in several times a day.
- The redness and swelling should be gone. If not, talk to your tattoo artist or dermatologist.
- Your tattoo may still look a bit dull or dry, so tattoo care products will continue to be your best friend.
- Continue the hydration routine until your skin is completely healed and supple again.
Long term care
- It can take months for a tattoo to fully heal, especially if it is large or filled.
- After about 3 months, your tattoo should look just like you and your artist envisioned.
- Keep your tattoo covered in sunscreen to make it look as vibrant and fresh as possible!
A tattoo is a major investment, and it’s a personal statement that will stay forever – so take care of it!
âIt is very important to use a protective ointment that does not contain any irritating chemicals,â says Green. “The purpose of using an ointment after a tattoo is to allow the scab to heal and to provide an emollient layer to allow this healing.”
The ointment provides a protective barrier that slows healing just enough. Do you know that uncomfortable tight feeling that occurs when a scab dries up? This may indicate that your skin is tightening as it heals, which is not what you want when you have a nice pattern inked on your skin.
“If a scab dries, it heals quick but not as good as when you use a healing balm and keep the area covered, âsays Green. “Using the right product can make all the difference, and it allows for better healing – faster isn’t better in this case.”
What kind of ointment do you put on tattoos? There is no one who is the best. But read the ingredient list and keep these tips from Green in mind:
- Choose a product that is fragrance and additive free, which can be irritating or exfoliating. âSimplicity and simplicity are better in this case,â she says.
- Avoid retinols, salicylic acid, alpha hydroxy acids, and lanolin, which can be irritants.
- Do not use Neosporin or other antibiotic ointments, which could cause an allergic reaction or contact dermatitis.
- Use a mild, fragrance-free soap.
- Try Dial, Dove, or Neutrogena.
- Baby products tend to be good choices because they are generally fragrance-free and mild.
Petroleum based ointments
- These thicker, ultra-hydrating products are best for the first few days.
- Use a thin layer of these products so that your skin can still breathe and heal.
- A&D ointment (yes, the one used for diaper rash) is an inexpensive and popular choice for new post tattoo care. This ointment is also called Bepanthen.
- Another hydrating and anti-inflammatory option is Aquaphor Advanced Healing Ointment.
- Good old petroleum jelly (aka Vaseline) also works well.
- Skinfix Inked is a tattoo care balm that Green recommends.
- CeraVe Healing Ointment can also protect and hydrate your new ink.
- When your tattoo begins to heal and the scabs fall off, use a mild moisturizer as needed.
- Baby care lotions and creams work well on tattoos, but always choose fragrance-free varieties!
- These easy-to-find lotions and creams are solid choices:
Tattoos and coconut oil: a love story
Are you looking for a natural and affordable way to protect your tattoo? Look no further than your kitchen. Coconut oil is a very popular tattoo care product.
The oil is a natural pain reliever (pain reliever) and has anti-inflammatory and antipyretic properties, so it makes sense to use it on your newly inked skin. Make sure to choose virgin coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, rather than refined versions which are liquid.
So you did everything right, but your new tattoo just doesn’t heal. When should you talk to your tattoo artist or doctor? Here’s a look at three common but nasty side effects.
âIf you start to feel heat or the area around the tattoo is throbbing or swollen, you may have an infection,â says Green.
When to be concerned:
- if the swelling gets worse
- if the area becomes more painful
- if it oozes pus or a smelly discharge
- if you have a fever, chills or sweating
âThis is a sign that the tattoo infection is systemic and requires oral antibiotic treatment,â says Green. “Another sign is a greenish discharge from the treated tattoo and a smell of old sweaty socks.” (This is a sign of a serious bacterial or fungal infection that requires immediate attention.)
An allergic reaction
Tattoos involve injecting a foreign substance into your skin, and your skin doesn’t always appreciate the dyes, pigments, and metal compounds in inks. You may experience an itchy (itchy) rash, which may be a sign of an allergic reaction to the dye, says Green.
She also mentions these other symptoms of an allergic reaction:
- rashes or bumps
- redness or irritation
- hard lumps or bumps (a sign of more serious reactions)
The most common reactions are the red dye, Green says. Yellow, black, red and blue inks can cause “a photosensitive allergic reaction due to the tattoo’s interaction with sunlight,” she adds.
âSome allergic reactions go away within a few weeks, and other more serious reactions can last for several months,â she says. “It is important to see a dermatologist to assess the reaction and help treat this condition.”
For mild allergic reactions, she says you can “apply cold compresses to reduce swelling, take an oral antihistamine like Zyrtec or Benadryl, and apply a topical cortisone cream to reduce local inflammation.”
Scars and discoloration
Scarring and discoloration can occur if you don’t take good care of your tattoo while it heals. These side effects are why Green emphasizes applying sunscreen to tattoos – and why you need to keep them hydrated while they heal.
Discoloration and scarring are also common reasons some people decide to have their tattoos removed, a procedure dermatologists like Green can perform.