Tattoo maintenance: products, tips and more


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A tattoo is more than just a work of art and a way to assert your personal style. It is also a medical procedure, as the artist uses a needle to insert the ink under your skin.

Every time you open the skin, you expose yourself to scarring and infection.

Caring for your tattoo can prevent these complications and ensure that the tattoo heals properly. You and your tattoo artist play equal roles in this process. In addition to going to a licensed and reputable tattoo artist, you should take care of your new tattoo at home.

However, it can be difficult to determine how to take care of your tattoo. Many states do not require their tattoo artists to provide aftercare instructions. States that require follow-up instructions often let the artist decide what information to provide.

Read on for a day-to-day guide to help you care for your tattoo, tips on which products to use, and more.

Aftercare begins as soon as your tattoo is finished.

Cover it up

The artist should apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to the tattoo, then cover the area with a bandage or plastic wrap. This coating prevents bacteria from entering your skin. It also protects the tattoo from rubbing on your clothes and getting irritated.

Keep the bandage on for as long as your tattoo artist recommends, which may take a few hours. This will help absorb any liquid or excess ink that escapes from the tattoo.

Gently wash off the tattoo

After a few hours you can remove the coating.

Wash your hands first with soap and water. Then gently wash off the tattoo with lukewarm water and unscented soap. Dry your skin with a soft cloth.

Apply a small amount of fragrance-free, alcohol-free moisturizer to the tattoo. You can remove the liner at this point to let your skin breathe.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows the use of certain fatty alcohols, such as cetearyl alcohol and cetyl alcohol, in cosmetics labeled “alcohol-free”. Unlike ethanol, fatty alcohols do not dry out the skin.

Wait for it to heal

While your tattoo is healing, you should:

  • wear sun protective clothing whenever you go out
  • call your tattoo artist or doctor if you experience symptoms of infection or other problems

You should not :

  • cover your tattoo with sunscreen until it is completely healed
  • scratch or pluck tattoo
  • wear tight clothes on tattoo
  • go swimming or submerge your body in the water (showers are good)

How quickly you heal depends on the size of your tattoo and its complexity. Bigger tattoos will stay red and swollen for longer because they cause more trauma to your skin.

Day 1

You will come home from the tattoo studio with a bandage or plastic wrap over your tattoo. After a few hours you can take it off.

You should ask your artist for details on the wait time. Recommendations vary and can be based on the type and size of your tattoo. Some tattoo artists suggest that you only keep your tattoo covered for 1 or 2 hours.

Once the coating is removed, you will likely notice fluid seeping out of the tattoo. It’s blood, plasma (the clear part of the blood) and extra ink. It’s normal. Your skin will also be red and sore. It may be slightly warm to the touch.

With clean hands, wash the tattoo with lukewarm water and unscented soap. Apply a fragrance-free and alcohol-free moisturizer. Leave the coating in place so that the tattoo can heal.

Days 2 to 3

Now your tattoo will look duller and cloudier. It happens when your skin heals. Scabs will start to form.

Wash your tattoo once or twice a day and apply a fragrance-free, alcohol-free moisturizer.

When you wash yourself, you may notice that ink is leaking down the sink. It’s just an excess of ink that has passed through your skin.

Days 4 to 6

The redness should start to fade.

You will probably notice slight scabs on the tattoo. The scabs shouldn’t be as thick as the scabs you get when you cut yourself, but they will be lifted. Do not pick the scabs, it can cause scarring.

Continue to wash your tattoo once or twice a day. Apply a fragrance-free and alcohol-free moisturizer.

Days 6 to 14

The scabs have hardened and will start to flake off.

Do not attack them or try to pull them out. Let them come off naturally. Otherwise, you could remove the ink and leave scars.

At this point, your skin may feel very itchy. Gently rub in a fragrance-free, alcohol-free moisturizer several times a day to relieve itching.

If your tattoo is still red and swollen at this point, you could have an infection. Go back to your tattoo artist or see a doctor.

Days 15 to 30

In this final stage of healing, most of the large flakes will be gone and the scabs should be gone. You might still see dead skin, but it should eventually go away too.

The tattooed area may still appear dry and dull. Keep hydrating until the skin is hydrated again.

By the second or third week, the outer layers of the skin should have healed. It may take 3 to 4 months for the lower layers to heal completely.

By the end of your third month, the tattoo should be as bright and vivid as the artist intended.

If you are looking for inspiration, take a look at these bright and vivid diabetes tattoos.

Use a mild, fragrance-free soap or a specially formulated tattoo cleanser to clean the area. Your tattoo artist can recommend a specific tattoo cleanser.

Soap options include the following products, which you can purchase online:

For the first day or both, use an ointment like A + D Original Ointment Where Aquaphor healing ointment or the product recommended by your tattoo artist to help the tattoo heal.

It is best to avoid 100% petroleum-based products, such as petroleum jelly. The American Academy of Dermatology says petroleum-based products can cause ink to fade.

However, there is one exception: Authority tattoo says petroleum jelly can come in handy while showering. Because petroleum jelly is non-porous (waterproof), you can apply it to your tattoo before entering the shower so that it can protect the area from splashing water.

It has also been noted that petroleum jelly can be helpful on scarred tattoos or the skin surrounding the tattoo if it is unusually dry.

Just apply a thin layer. Applying too thick a layer will not allow your skin to breathe.

After about 2 days, you can switch to a regular moisturizer. Some products that you can buy online include:

Whatever you choose, make sure it is fragrance and alcohol free. Also, make sure that it doesn’t contain any additives, such as colored dyes, which could dry out your skin.

When properly maintained, your tattoo can look as bright as any of these inspirational breast cancer tattoos.

Polynesians, like Samoans, have long used coconut oil on their tattoos. They apply it after the tattoo is finished or when it heals. One supposed advantage is that it makes the design shine.

Some websites Claim this coconut oil keeps the skin under your tattoo moist and protects against infection. Yet the evidence is anecdotal, and there is no scientific proof that it works.

Consult your doctor before putting coconut oil or any other untested product on your tattoo.

For the first few days after your tattoo, your skin may be red, itchy, and sore. You may notice excess ink, as well as blood and fluids, coming out of your skin. It’s normal.

If you start to experience symptoms of any of the following complications, see your doctor:


A tattoo that is not cared for properly can become infected. The infected skin will be red, hot, and painful. It may also leak pus.

If the equipment or ink used by your artist were contaminated, you could contract a blood-borne infection, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tetanus, or HIV.

Other infections, such as non-tuberculous mycobacterial skin infections, have also been reported through tattoos.

Allergic reaction

If you are sensitive to the ink used by your artist, you may develop a red, itchy skin reaction at the site. According to a Study 2019, red dyes are the most likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Research shows that red dyes, as well as blue and black dyes, are also more likely to cause non-allergic skin reactions such as photosensitivity.


Damage from the needle or picking the tattoo can cause your body to produce scar tissue. Scars can be permanent.

Once your tattoo has healed, you go into maintenance mode. While you don’t have to take care of it after 3 or 4 months, there are things you can do to keep the ink from breaking down.


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