Congratulations on the new tattoo! Stop, drop and put away that old vaseline jar. Here’s what your fresh ink needs to heal beautifully.
Petroleum-based ointments like Vaseline are great for helping to dry out the skin, but they’re not great for tattoo aftercare. here’s why
It is important to know that only anecdotal evidence supports the use of products like Vaseline on healing tattoos.
According to a survey of 32 tattoo artists, most tattoo professionals recommend an aftercare routine of washing with antibacterial soap and applying a petroleum-based ointment or unscented lotion two to three times a day.
A third of the artists surveyed above said they recommend petroleum-based products because that’s what they learned using from other artists or through trial and error.
The American Academy of Dermatology says petroleum-based products can cause ink to fade. Instead, they recommend using water-based moisturizers on new tattoos.
But why? Products like petroleum jelly and super thick ointments can trap moisture and bacteria on a new tattoo, increasing the risk of developing an infection. Water-based lotions are breathable and won’t smother your healing skin.
Tattoo artists and dermatologists generally recommend letting your tattoo “breathe”. So don’t wrap it in a bandage, just wear loose clothing after the initial bandage at the tattoo studio.
Leave the ointment or plastic wrap that your tattoo artist applies on your skin for a few hours or as directed by the artist. We’re not saying to ignore your tattoo artist’s advice for aftercare. They know their stuff and have seen hundreds of tattoos heal.
In fact, in another survey of 90 New York tattoo artists, 56.1% said they had been trained in tattoos and skin conditions. The survey also showed that people with more education provide better written aftercare instructions and have greater confidence in dealing with tattoo-related skin issues.
Your tattoo artist can cover the area with a thick, oily ointment and wrap it in plastic wrap or a bandage. They will tell you when to remove the bandage and gently wash your tattoo (usually a few hours later).
After this initial wrapping, use an unscented water-based lotion to keep the wound from drying out too quickly.
You can always catch a tattoo artist who advises using petroleum jelly while your tattoo is healing. If you’re not comfortable taking the risk, ask if they can recommend a water-based product. In the end, it’s your skin and your calling.
When is it a good idea to use Vaseline on a tattoo? Only after it has fully healed (at least a few months) and the area is extremely dry.
Following these steps will likely result in a beautiful, perfectly healed ink stain:
- Keep it clean, but wash it gently. No rags or scrubs! Pat gently to dry. Imagine you are bathing a newborn baby.
- Avoid clothes that are too tight or that rub against scarred skin.
- Use some kind of breathable moisturizer. Options include products formulated specifically for tattoo healing, fragrance-free moisturizer with water as the first ingredient, like Eucerin, Curel, or Lubriderm, or natural moisturizers like coconut oil, shea butter or cocoa butter.
- Stay out of the sun or keep your tattoo covered with loose clothing while it heals. Be careful with sunscreen to protect your tattoo once it’s fully healed.
- Don’t soak in a bathtub or go swimming with a healing tattoo.
- If you notice an unusual reaction, call a dermatologist.
Despite the long history of using petroleum-based ointments to protect new tattoos, you should probably avoid them because they block airflow and can increase your risk of developing an infection.
Basically, a tattoo needs to be clean, exposed to air, and moisturized to heal properly. If you trust your tattoo artist to permanently mark you for life, trust their experience in recommending a follow-up.
If you want a little more peace of mind from certified medical advice, speak with your dermatologist about tattoo care before your ink appointment.