Proper tattoo aftercare can reduce your risk of scarring or infection. Discover how long to keep your tattoo covered, ways to keep it from fading or drying out, and why you may want to avoid petroleum jelly.
Along with going to a licensed and reputable tattoo artist, you must take care of your new tattoo at home.
Figuring out how to care for your tattoo can be tricky, though. Many states don’t require their tattoo artists to provide aftercare instructions. The states that do require aftercare instructions often let the artist decide which information to provide.
Keep reading for a day-by-day guide to help you care for your tattoo, tips on which products to use, and more.
How quickly you heal depends on the size of your tattoo and how intricate it is. Bigger tattoos will stay red and swollen longer because they cause more trauma to your skin.
You’ll come home from the tattoo studio with a dressing over your tattoo. Your artist should tell you how long to wait before removing the dressing.
Plastic wrap and gauze can usually be removed within a few hours. Medical-grade adhesive, known as “second skin,” is designed to last several days. Common brands include:
You’ll probably notice fluid oozing from the tattoo. This is blood, plasma, and some extra ink. Your skin will also be red and sore. It might feel slightly warm to the touch.
When it’s time to remove the dressing, wash your hands thoroughly before gently peeling back the wrap.
Use warm water and fragrance-free soap to cleanse the area. Rinse well before lightly patting the skin dry. Wait a few minutes before applying whatever ointment or lotion your artist recommends.
By now, your tattoo will have a duller, cloudier appearance. This happens as your skin heals. Scabs may start to form.
If you’ve already removed your dressing, continue to wash your tattoo once or twice a day. You might notice some ink running into the sink. This is just excess ink that’s come up through your skin.
Allow the skin to dry before applying whatever ointment or lotion your artist recommends.
“Second skin” is typically removed during this time. Some artists recommend running the area under water while you peel back the adhesive layer. Make sure your hands are clean before getting started.
You might find it helpful to pull to the side lightly, allowing the adhesive to stretch until it lifts from the skin slowly. Cleanse the area and allow the skin to dry before applying whatever ointment or lotion your artist recommends.
Any redness should start to fade. You might notice some light scabbing over the tattoo.
The scabs shouldn’t be as thick as the scabs you get when you cut yourself, but they may be raised. Don’t pick at the scabs — this can cause scarring.
Keep washing your tattoo once or twice a day, and apply ointment or lotion as needed.
By now, any scabs have hardened and will begin to flake off.
Don’t pick at them or try to pull them off. Let them come off naturally. Otherwise, you could pull out the ink and leave scars.
At this point, your skin may feel very itchy. Gently rub on a fragrance-free and alcohol-free moisturizer several times daily to relieve the itch.
If your tattoo is still red and swollen at this point, you might have an infection. Go back to your tattoo artist or consult with a healthcare professional.
In this last stage of healing, most of the big flakes will be gone, and the scabs should be going away. You might still see some dead skin, but it should eventually clear up, too.
The tattooed area might still look dry and dull. Keep moisturizing until the skin looks hydrated again.
By the second or third week, the outer layers of skin should’ve healed. It may take 3–4 months for the lower layers to heal completely.
By the end of your third month, the tattoo should look as bright and vivid as the artist intended.
Tips for long-term tattoo aftercare
Once your tattoo has healed, you move into maintenance mode. Although you don’t have to worry about infection after the first 3–4 months, there are things you can do to prevent the ink from degrading.
Always use a mild, fragrance-free soap or a specially formulated tattoo cleanser to clean the area.
Many tattoo artists recommend using Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Baby Unscented Pure-Castile Soap or the Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar. Dial Gold Antibacterial Soap isn’t fragrance-free, but some artists recommend it.
Although it’s safe to continue using Aquaphor or Dr. Bronner’s, you can typically switch to lotion after the first week.
Just ensure it’s free of fragrances, ethyl alcohol, and other additives, such as colored dye, that could dry out your skin.
Do not use 100% petroleum
It’s best to avoid products that are 100% petroleum, like original Vaseline, during the initial healing process.
The more petroleum the product has, the thicker the product is on your skin. This can trap moisture and prevent much-needed air flow to your new tattoo.
Petroleum-based products that do not contain ingredients that help the wound breathe can also cause the ink to fade.
Can you “dry heal” a tattoo?
“Dry healing” is exactly what it sounds like — allowing the tattoo to heal without applying moisturizer or lotion during your aftercare routine.
Although the practice can help reduce the risk of skin irritation or allergic reaction, the lack of moisture leaves you vulnerable to itching.
There isn’t any research to suggest that dry healing may be more or less beneficial than traditional tattoo aftercare. Always consult with your artist before trying an unproven product or method.
For the first few days after your tattoo, your skin may be red, itchy, and sore. You may notice excess ink, along with blood and fluid, leaking from your skin. This is natural and to be expected.
But if your symptoms persist or worsen over time, it could indicate an underlying complication. Consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
A tattoo that isn’t properly cared for can get infected. Infected skin will be red, warm, and painful. The wound may also leak pus.
If the equipment or ink your artist used was contaminated, you could contract a bloodborne infection, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tetanus, or HIV. Nontuberculous mycobacterial skin infections
If you’re sensitive to the ink your artist used, you may develop a red, itchy skin reaction at the site. According to a
Damage from the needle or from picking at the tattoo can cause your body to produce scar tissue. Scars can be permanent.
When should you start aftercare for a new tattoo?
Aftercare starts as soon as your tattoo is done. Your artist should apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment over the tattoo and then cover the area in a bandage or plastic wrap.
Your artist should provide you with aftercare instructions, including how long to keep the dressing on, when to cleanse the tattoo, and what products to you.
How long should you keep your tattoo covered after your appointment?
Keep the dressing on for as long as your artist recommends. Depending on the dressing, this may be a few hours to a few days.
The dressing prevents bacteria from getting into your skin and protects the tattoo from rubbing onto your clothes and getting irritated. It also helps absorb any fluid or excess ink that leaks from the tattoo.
What is proper aftercare for a new tattoo?
Wash your hands thoroughly before you remove the covering. Then, gently wash the tattoo with warm water and fragrance-free soap. Pat your skin dry with a soft cloth.
Apply a small amount of fragrance-free and alcohol-free moisturizer to the tattoo. You can keep the covering off at this point to let your skin breathe.
Keep this routine up for the first couple of weeks, and keep the tattoo out of the sun until it’s fully healed. Consider wearing loose, sun-protective clothing whenever you go outside or staying in the shade to minimize exposure.
What should you avoid after getting a new tattoo?
Do your best to avoid scratching or picking at the tattoo. Gently patting the area can help soothe itching.
If the tattoo is in an area that’s typically covered, avoid wearing tight clothes whenever possible. Tight clothes can rub against the skin and cause irritation, potentially affecting the healing process.
Avoid bathtubs, hot tubs, pools, and other scenarios where your tattoo may be immersed in water. While sunblock is an essential part of your tattoo’s overall aftercare, it’s best to avoid this until after the tattoo has fully healed.
Can you use Aquaphor on a new tattoo?
Yes, it’s generally safe to use a thin layer of Aquaphor on healing and healed tattoos. Unlike Vaseline’s original formula, Aquaphor isn’t made up of pure petroleum jelly. This makes the ointment more spreadable and breathable, allowing air to promote healing.
A tattoo is more than just a piece of art and a way to assert your personal style. It’s a medical procedure, too, because the artist uses a needle to insert the ink underneath your skin.