Forget those urban myths about what happens when you shower after getting a tattoo, because they’re wrong. Really, it won’t wash off. Showering with a new tattoo is totally fine as long as you take a few basic precautions.
If you’ve got new ink, here’s how to deal with shower time.
This depends on the type of covering the artist uses on your tattoo and how long they recommend keeping it on.
If the tat is wrapped in plastic or a piece of regular bandage, you’ll need to wait until it’s off to shower. This can be anywhere from 1 to 24 hours, depending on the location and size of your ink.
If your artist uses a medical-grade, waterproof bandage, like Saniderm, you can shower anytime — as long as you keep the bandage on for the length of time the artist told you to.
It’s fine if your tattoo gets a little wet, but it shouldn’t be submerged in water or left under running water for long periods of time.
Keep time in the shower to a minimum, and be gentle to avoid irritating your newly tattooed skin.
This means skipping the loofah or washcloth — at least over the inked area, anyway. Getting your rub-a-dub on elsewhere is totally fine. In addition to being abrasive on freshly inked skin, loofahs, sponges, and washcloths can harbor bacteria and increase your chance of an infection.
Wash the area gently using only a mild, fragrance-free soap. Products with alcohol and certain chemicals can irritate and dry out the skin. This can lead to scarring and slower healing.
If you have strong water pressure, try not to focus the spray directly on the inked area. Standing under a shower and letting the water run over you or using your clean hands to rinse the tattoo is fine as long as you don’t linger longer than you need to.
Again, harsh touch and products with harsh chemicals are bad. Gentle touch and gentle products are good.
Softly pat the area dry with a clean towel or paper towel, and apply a thin layer of unscented moisturizing ointment, like Aquaphor or A&D ointment, over the area. This helps prevent drying while also adding a protective layer over the skin.
Once your tattoo begins to heal, hydrating and moisturizing your tattoo will take priority over protecting it, and you’ll be able to switch from ointment to lotion instead. Moisturizing helps keep your skin from getting dry and itchy.
When choosing a lotion, you’ll still want to stick to unscented lotion that doesn’t contain alcohol.
Your tattoo is an open wound, and soaking in water could expose it to bacteria and increase the risk of infection. Soaking can also dry out the skin, leading to cracking and making it more susceptible to infection and scarring.
You need to avoid submerging your tattoo in water or keeping it wet for a prolonged period of time.
This means no swimming or sitting in bath tubs, hot tubs, pools, or open water for at least 2 weeks (or as long as your tattoo artist recommends).
Your tattoo artist will tell you how long the healing phase takes and what you should and shouldn’t do during that time.
The outer layer of the skin typically heals within 2–3 weeks, leaving the area looking and feeling like it’s healed.
But don’t get out your bath salts or swimsuit just yet — tattoos go deeper than the top layer of skin. Some can take as long as 6 months to heal.
How long your tattoo takes to fully heal depends on the size of the tattoo, the location, your lifestyle habits, and your aftercare.
The better you are at following the aftercare instructions you’re given, the faster it should heal.
It’s not unusual for tattooed skin to look and feel a little gnarly immediately after your tattoo appointment. Some redness, crusting, and clear oozing are typical in the first couple of days.
After 2 or 3 days, you’ll probably notice some peeling, especially in the shower. This is completely normal. But don’t try to help it along by picking or peeling the skin, or you’ll run the risk of scarring or discoloration.
Bubbling is a possibility if your tattoo stays wet for too long. This is why it’s important to limit how long you spend in the shower and pat your skin completely dry after washing.
Any other changes to your skin could be signs that your tattoo isn’t healing properly, it’s infected, or you’re experiencing an allergic reaction.
See your tattoo artist if you notice any of these red flags:
- prolonged redness
- puffy or swollen skin
- oozing fluid or pus
- severe itchiness or hives
See a a healthcare professional if you develop any signs of infection, including:
- increased or excessive pain
- skin that’s warm to the touch
- increased or severe redness or redness that extends beyond the tattoo
- itchy, red, bumpy rash on and around your tattoo
- open sores on the tattoo
Showering with a new tattoo isn’t only fine; it’s necessary for the sake of good hygiene.
As long as you follow the aftercare instructions your tattoo artist gives you, and you’re careful not to rub or soak your tattoo, showering shouldn’t interfere with the healing process of your new ink.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.