7 Rules to Protect Your New Tattoo, According to Experts


Tattoo aftercare plays a significant role in determining how well your ink heals and lasts. Once you leave your appointment, its important to stick to a strict set of rules (from avoiding water to using proper sun protection) to prevent infection, irritation, and ink fading. To help you easily navigate your aftercare journey, we called on a board-certified dermatologist and tattoo artist for their expertise. Ahead, they share the seven biggest tattoo aftercare rules.

Leave Your Bandage Alone

Open wounds are breeding grounds for infection—and, as pretty as your new tattoo is, its a wound. Thats why your artist will immediately cover it to keep airborne bacteria and water from touching it. The type of covering your artist will apply can vary, ranging from plastic wrap to skin-like bandages, so the amount of time youll need to leave it on can vary.

"Generally, youll want to leave the initial wrap on for about an hour before removing it to change the wrap," Smith explains. "Personally, Ive been recommending the new Mad Rabbit Tattoo Repair patches, which can be left on for up to eight hours a day and used three or four days in a row. However, if youre using a medical grade adhesive, that can stay on for up to three days before having to change it."

Adhere to a Gentle Cleansing Routine

Smith recommends waiting at least 24 hours before getting your tattoo wet. Once this grace period is over, use your hand to apply lukewarm water and mild, liquid antibacterial or antimicrobial soap to the area. This will help to gently remove any ointment, blood, and plasma.

Then, pat—dont rub—the area firmly with a clean towel or paper towel to get it completely dry. Follow with a very light application of A&D, Bacitracin, or a similar antibacterial ointment—but not Neosporin. This is a wonderful product for cuts and scrapes but not for tattoos. Many people have allergic reactions to Neosporin, which can cause little red bumps.1When the bumps go away, so does the ink, and you can end up with a polka-dotted tattoo.

If you prefer, you also can use a specialty product such as Tattoo Goo Aftercare Salve ($8). Its petroleum-free and made with herbs and oils to soothe and heal your new tattoo. After that, continue to keep your tattoo clean. After some time has passed, you can use a dye- and fragrance-free lotion when needed instead of ointment to keep the skin soft.

Be Careful While Showering

Yes, you can (and should!) shower with a new tattoo, but there are a few things to remember. "Use lukewarm water and do not directly soak the tattoo for too long," Smith notes. "You should also avoid scrubbing your tattoo or using harsh soaps as that can irritate healing skin."

And while you may be tempted to take a bath, refrain from doing so. "You dont want to fully submerge your skin in a bath until its fully healed," Dr. Mikailov says.

Avoid Swimming Pools, Hot Tubs, and the Ocean

Avoid swimming—whether in a pool, lake, or the ocean—and submerging your tattoo in a bath or hot tub for two to three weeks, as doing so may cause serious damage. "With hot tubs, pools, or the ocean, its important to wait until the tattoo is completely healed," Dr. Mikailov points out. "This is different for each person and each tattoo, but usually, it ranges from three to five weeks. You want to minimize any potential to irritate the skin as its healing, and you also want to avoid introducing any microbes that can potentially cause an infection."

Gently Handle Peeling and Scabbing Areas

After a few days, youll notice some peeling and possibly a little scabbing. Excessive scabbing could indicate a poorly done tattoo, but a little is normal, and theres no need to panic. Smith says the best thing you can do is to avoid picking at the peeling skin or scabs. "Doing that can mess up the healing and even remove some of the ink," she says. "Instead, be gentle and moisturize the tattooed area with a fragrance-free, gentle lotion to soothe any dryness and help your skin heal."

Dr. Mikailov recommends Skintensives Bruise and Scar Cream ($28) because it "has a very nourishing base and contains arnica extract to reduce swelling and inflammation, coconut oil, and vitamin E, all of which help heal the skin."

Protect Your Ink From the Sun

You should always protect a new tattoo from the suns ultraviolet rays. "UV damage can have a huge impact on new tattoos, as UVA rays, in particular, break down tattoo ink," Dr. Mikailov says. "For a brand new tattoo that has not fully healed, best case scenario, sunburns may prolong the healing time. If you develop a blistering sunburn, however, the tattoo lines can blur, and the ink can change colors. If you are out in the sun with a new tattoo, cover it up with UPF clothing and hats [since you cant wear SPF on brand-new tattoos]."

Once your tattoo is healed, you should apply sunscreen to the area daily. "Fully healed tattoos should be completely protected from the sun as UV damage can cause the ink to fade faster," Dr. Mikailov adds.

Avoid Too Much Exercise

Smith says you may want to avoid excessive physical activity while your tattoo is healing. "Strenuous activities that make you sweat a lot or cause friction on the tattoo can hinder the healing process," she notes. "So take it easy for a little while and give your tattoo the time it needs to heal properly."

The Final Takeaway

Tattoo aftercare is a multi-step process. Immediately following your appointment, youll want to regularly change your wrap and keep the area as clean and dry as possible (i.e., avoid submerging it in the shower and steer clear of swimming pools). As days pass, you can use light balms and ointments on the area to ensure it heals well. Youll also want to wear UPF clothing to protect your tattoo from UV damage. Our experts agree that following these tips precisely will ensure your ink remains in pristine condition.

Tattoo Aftercare: The Complete Guide, According to Dermatologists

Article Sources

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Burkemper NM. Contact dermatitis, patch testing, and allergen avoidance. Mo Med. 2015;112(4):296-300.


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