Did you know that getting a tattoo isn’t the end of the road? You need to care for it rather frantically, just to ensure that the area doesn’t swell up or get infected in the first place. But then, standard tattoo aftercare isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, you need to follow a detailed tattoo aftercare regime, depending on the area that just got inked.
Here is a quick stat for you to ponder.
Research figures have revealed that almost 6% of tattoo fanatics experience several infectious complications within a few days after getting tattooed. And that is exactly why tattoo aftercare needs to be an integral part of one’s healing arsenal.
In the subsequent discussions, I shall talk at length about tattoo aftercare, the comprehensive healing process, complications associated with a new tattoo, and a detailed tattoo aftercare routine that might help you through diverse scenarios.
I will also touch upon the day-by-day tattoo aftercare followed by the relevance of products, things to stay away from, signs of infection, signs of healing, and even the common tattoo myths that often derail the healing process.
But first, some detailed insights.
Detailed Understanding of a Tattoo Recovery Process
I feel that you should understand the lifecycle of tattoo aftercare and even the healing process right before getting inked.
First of all, you need to understand that the aftercare regime depends on the tattoo you choose and the region you zero in on. Once inked, the tattooed skin needs to be treated as a bruised zone, which then calls for proper aftercare.
The complete tattoo recovery cycle depends on your choices, level of hydration, skin type, diet, and the products you use. And while this guide is supposed to help, the best insights are always provided by the tattoo artists as they get a first-hand view of your tattooed skin.
Also, you need to understand that tattoo recovery isn’t magical. A large tattoo will still be a bit red and swollen, regardless of the aftercare regime you follow. And while an antibiotic ointment or any healing ointment might help with the infections, itching is always a possibility.
Experts’ Recommended Tattoo Aftercare Kits
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A fresh tattoo or even a retouched one, in some cases, needs to adhere to the tattoo aftercare instructions to the letter, something I shall talk about in the subsequent sections.
However, you must know that the aftercare process is all about covering the tattooed skin at first, using products to keep tending to the area, and shielding it from direct sunlight for as long as possible. And even if you do, it should be after a few weeks and not without a high-end sunscreen.
Tattoo Aftercare Instructions
As seen, the detailed tattoo recovery process depends on a host of primary, secondary, and tertiary factors. It is lengthy. It takes time. But it is certainly worth the wait.
Even though tattoo artists are more suited to guide you through the process, here is a detailed listicle with tattoo aftercare instructions that you need to follow regardless of the tattoo shop or tattoo artist on play:
You should always touch the tattooed skin with clean hands. Any fresh tattoo that you get is often a breeding place for bacterial infections. However, not touching it can help you take good care of the thin layer that needs the most attention. If you still cannot keep your hands off the tattoo, first wash your hands for almost 20 seconds, wipe them with a clean cloth or clean paper towel, and apply an antibiotic ointment once touched.
Wash the Tattoo, Carefully
Yes, you read that right. It is important to gently wash your tattoo to remove the dead skin and even the bacterial buildup. However, you must wash the tattoo with an antibacterial soap to keep infections and itching at bay. And it isn’t enough to just wash the tattoo as you need to periodically clean up the adjacent area as well.
However, keep in mind that you should not wash your tattoo immediately after getting inked. The initial bandage must be kept as it is for hours, and only then should you remove it and properly wash the tattoo with antibacterial soap and lukewarm water.
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Note: The Lukewarm water gets rid of the plasma and residual blood oozing from the tattoo once you remove the bandage.
You should be applying ointment at multiple stages to progressively attend to the tattoo’s aftercare needs. If you want the fresh tattoo to look good forever, it is important to follow an ointment-driven healing process. Ointments, regardless of the one prescribed by the tattoo artist, should be applied periodically.
Top-Rated Ointments for Faster Tattoo Healing
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However, too much ointment isn’t good as it might then clog the pores and cause skin irritation. Only a thin layer needs to be applied to work on the dead skin and keep the skin moisturized for hours at once.
Play the Waiting Game
Despite following every tattoo aftercare instruction to the latter, a new tattoo will still take a lot of time to heal. Patience is, therefore, an important virtue to have if you want the aftercare instructions to work as desired. The tattooed area, regardless of all the ointment you use, will take time to get completely healed.
The irritated skin surface will still take its own time to heal, but you should keep following the tattoo artist’s instructions, apply moisturizer twice a day, wear loose clothes, and make dietary changes to speed up the process.
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Follow what the Tattoo Artists have to Say
Tattoo artists know a lot more about tattoos, tattoo aftercare, and techniques to ensure that the tattoo is healing properly. If tattooing is a medical procedure, tattoo artists are the surgeons. Therefore, you need to listen to what they suggest after every tattooing session. Starting from avoiding tight clothing to using plastic wrap to avoid food that might cause allergies, tattoo professionals are your one-stop guide to a fully healed tattoo.
Stages of Tattoo Healing Process
Now that the basic instructions are out of the way, here are the tattoo aftercare stages based on the tattooing timeline.
Day 0 — Day 6
Your tattoo aftercare regime starts the moment you get a new tattoo or the old one retouched. While a tattoo artist is expected to take care of the initial process, which includes using a plastic wrap to cover the tattooed area, you need to follow other aftercare instructions rather religiously.
You can gently wash the area after 5 hours have elapsed. Once you wash the tattoo, apply a thin layer of ointment. However, every tattoo artist recommends that you leave the layered area uncovered, allowing the skin to breathe and heal properly.
However, that is just Day 0. From day one onwards, you need to follow a strict routine, especially by making it a point to apply moisturizer twice a day. However, if your tattoo packs a lot of lines, colors, and patterns, you might consider a moisturizing routine on Day 0, provided it comes loaded with antibiotics and herbal elements.
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Initially, for like two to three days, you might feel some warmth at and around the new tattoo. Some reddish marks might show up, which are also completely natural. If you let the tattoo heal naturally through the first week, it becomes easier to keep the sheen intact throughout.
But then, the first week is the most crucial as you need to wash your tattoo frequently while washing your hands every time you feel like touching or itching it. Also, by the 7th day, you might end up seeing some scabs around the tattooed area. And you need to worry as tattoo scabbing is natural and means that the tattoo is healing at a brisk pace.
If you intend on following all these tattoo aftercare instructions to the letter, you might just see every form of swelling and redness go away once you enter the 7th day.
Note: The tattooed area itches the most during the first week. However, proper aftercare with warm water, efficient moisturizers, and a scarring-resistant mindset can see you through the uncomfortable phase.
Day 7 — Day 14
Once week two kicks in, your tattoo starts healing quickly, provided the initial tattoo aftercare stuff was taken care of. Getting a tattoo is easy, but you must understand that following a detailed aftercare regime spanning over weeks is the toughest.
By the 8th or even 10th day, the scabs over the tattooed area start flaking off. And this is the time when you need to pair moisturizers aggressively or even coconut oil to ensure that the color or consistency of the tattooed area stays intact.
Day 15 — Day 30
The game turns week three onwards as now the skin is at its sensitive best. Plus, scarring is always a possibility as some flakes can keep getting itchy over time. Tattoo aftercare during week three and beyond, therefore, includes keeping an eye on the infection. If by the 15th day or so, you keep encountering soft scab quality, it might be time to get the area medically reviewed.
If the tattooed area is taking a long time to heal, by the 3rd or 4th week, getting the expert opinion of a dermatologist becomes more than essential. But then, you must know that tattoo heal time depends on the complexity of the design, tattoo machines used, overall tattoo process, and the aftercare routine followed during the initial weeks.
Apart from scabbing, the kick to scratch, or even scarring, week three and week four should be about shielding a new tattoo with the right kind of sunblock. It is important to note that despite following every tattoo aftercare strategy to the letter, ensuring that the tattoo has completely healed over time might require the expert opinion of tattoo artists.
Therefore, you must book frequent visits to the professionals so that the tattoos stay healthy over time.
Should you rely on Products
Yes, you should completely rely on high-end tattoo aftercare products to speed up the healing process of the body. A tattoo aftercare routine, especially for a new tattoo, requires you to put your faith in the likes of coconut oil for moisturizing, fragrance-free moisturizing agents to trap moisture when the skin starts drying up abnormally, other tattoo care products that rely on healing wounds and keeping tattoos safe from bacterial proliferation.
But that’s not everything you need to know about tattoo care products. And here are the pointers that you need to wrap your head around to make the most of the existing ones:
Choose according to Skin Type
Well, a new tattoo more or less makes your skin dry. However, if you have naturally oily skin that can attract dirt, you might want to go easy on the moisturizer. While a moisturizer can layer up the area rather properly, a sensitive skin surface might start getting way too oily on repetitive usage.
If you want something more accommodative, every tattoo artist would recommend coconut oil for a new tattoo, as you can always apply a thin layer of this virtually fragrance-free product.
Choose according to the Body Part
Did you know that taking proper care of your tattoo isn’t often linked to the body part you are getting the tattoo on in the first place? For instance, if you plan on getting ahead tattoo (well, considering you are bald), the tattoo artist needs to provide aftercare instructions as precisely as possible.
A head tattoo needs to be treated as an open wound that must be medically reviewed, regardless of the procedure you are following. Caring for your head tattoo needs expertise as the area is always exposed and is pretty good at expelling fresh ink out.
Also, you need to wash the region carefully and gently pat dry the same with a soft cloth. And yes, the scabs forming on the tattooed skin can be a tad hard to get rid of. As far as products are concerned, you can consider shea butter for the tattoo area, provided it doesn’t contain harsh chemicals.
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Neck tattoos are often as complicated as head tattoos or even more. And while the pain during the tattoo in the first place and even for the first few days can get unreal, they respond best to petroleum-based products without fragrances. Regardless of the product, you use for a neck tattoo, cleaning it with a fragrance-free soap should be the go-to strategy to clean the outer layers of the skin surface once you remove the bandage.
If neck tattoos look complicated, do know that some people even get throat tattoos. Well, that might take a few hours to sink in, right? Throat tattoos are dreaded by even the best tattoo artist around. And while they are quite hard to get right, the pain is often unbearable while getting inked. Also, a fully healed throat tattoo takes a lot more than four weeks.
Also, more than the tattoo quality, throat tattoos, in most cases, need aftercare products to complement the pain. Plus, the dress needs to be perfect. As for a throat tattoo, you need the softest piece of clothing you can get your hands on.
Next, you have stomach tattoos that are anything but gentle. While they are easy to moisturize using high-quality lotions and other tattoo aftercare products, wearing the right piece of clothing is important to keep these tattoos in good shape. Also, if you have a stomach tattoo done, it is essential to take care of your sleeping posture, moisturize more than two times a day, and even go see a doctor on a weekly basis.
The surface of the stomach might take longer to heal. Plus, you would want to scratch your belly more often than you would try to scratch a throat tattoo. This is where a quality moisturizer comes in handy and is often recommended by the tattoo artist handling the tattoo in the first place.
Also, there are lip tattoos to account for, which are nothing but rarities. And most people get lip tattoos only to get the perfect consistency of color and texture. But then, aftercare can be tricky for a lip tattoo as they respond well to a very thin layer of moisturizer of fragrance-free petroleum jelly.
Choose According to the Tattoo Type
Despite tattoo artists showing the way, most tattoo fanatics do not understand the importance of choosing aftercare products according to the type of tattoo. For instance, if you are dealing with pure blacks, your primary concern is to keep a tab on the excess ink oozing out. And while washing the exposed area is still essential, you might want to support it with a herbal moisturizer at least two times a day.
For shades, it is essential to wash the tattoo with warm/moderately hot water to prevent infection. However, the frequency of the wash might vary depending on the extent of the open wound, medically reviewed info, if needed, and obviously the tattoo size.
Bigger tattoos, black or colors bright, require a lot of attention for the first few nights. And while washing the skin surface is still important, you need to go generous with the moisturizer for the first few days. Color tattoos fade quickly and require greater regulation. Therefore, you should always see a doctor if the pain lasts till the fourth day, as the tattoo might need a different form of aftercare.
Things to Avoid During the Tattoo Recovery Process
Yes, your tattoo is recovering, and you should treat this with respect by following all the aftercare tips in the book. But then, I need to talk about the stuff that you should refrain from while the recovery process is nigh.
- Do not go for a swim or soak yourself in a hot tub in an effort to handle tattoo washing like a pro. Your tattoo should be completely dry, and that needs to be one consensus statement that every artist would agree to.
- Do not rub the tattoo with a towel while washing it. Yes, I did mention using a towel before but only if it is made of soft clothing. And even if it’s soft, do not use it for the first night, when the wound is still fresh.
- Do not wear tight clothes, especially for the first few days. Try and treat the tattoo as a wound and allow it to breathe. And yes, do give those bra straps a break in case of a shoulder tattoo.
- Do not overexpose yourself to harsh sunlight as UV rays aren’t very compassionate towards tattoos.
- Do not touch the tattoo, especially to pick, itch, or even scratch. It is normal for the wound to itch, and it is also a sign that it is healing faster. But the important factor here is to avoid getting your hands on the tattoo, and even if you want to, wash your hands before coming in contact.
- Do not consume food items that can cause allergies. You need to know that tattooing sends the immune system of the body into a tizzy for a short while. Therefore, you need to consume leafy veggies, protein-packed products, and other healthy stuff that wouldn’t cause infections.
Tattoo Myths Busted — Here is Everything a Tattoo Artist Needs to Tell You
Now that you know what things to avoid let us bust a few myths that have been bothering most tattoo fanatics.
- Less Water is Fine — No, not by a long shot. If you just got a tattoo, staying hydrated should be your license to get it healed faster. A hydrated body gets healed faster, as per peer-reviewed studies.
- Cover your tattoo at all times — Here is another myth you should allow the tattoo to breathe for it to get healed faster. The only time you should cover it is while going out so that you can avoid the glare. If you are indoors, wear clothes that support air circulation as the skin will then dry up faster.
- You only need a moisturizer for the first couple of days — Not at all. If you plan on getting a tattoo, you must be prepared for the long haul, or else the tattoo will fade out. Apart from washing the tattoo on the first day, you should also follow a normal moisturizing regime. But then, you must wash your hands before applying the same and only after a few hours.
- A lot of cream or lotion is needed — Well, not at all. Applying a thick layer of moisturizer can make the tattoo stick to the clothes. And then you wouldn’t be able to get the tattoo dry at the preferred speeds.
- Any soap or ointment works — You should always opt for a fragrance-free soap or any other product.
How to Identify an Infection
Well, the infection will give itself away. Firstly, an unattended tattoo is a sign for the bacteria to come in with an army. And while a bit of pain and redness is common, you might be looking at an infection if the area keeps swelling with each passing day.
But there here are the more direct signs to look for to understand that the tattoo might be infected:
- Oozing liquid courtesy of bacteria build-up
- Puffy skin surface
- Chills, fever, and other deteriorating health conditions
- Excessive redness
- Continuous oozing of extra ink
If any of the mentioned issues persist for even a day or two, you must be medically reviewed. The worst-case scenario here is to get a small medical procedure done. But then, you can avoid any bacteria build-up if you follow all the aftercare tips for the litter and understand the risks of not taking good care of the tattoo in the first place.
Signs of Tattoo Healing
It is quite easy for you to identify a healing tattoo. Firstly, it is normal for the tattoo to get a bit dull after a week or two. But a dull tattoo doesn’t mean that the colors or true blacks won’t come back again once the tattoo is fully healed.
Also, if the excess ink stops oozing out after the first day, you can expect the tattoo healing to be on the right track. Regardless of at what speed the tattoo is healing, it is important for it to get completely dry.
Tattoo Aftercare — FAQs
How long should I keep my tattoo covered?
Your tattoo should be covered for at least a few hours after getting inked. But after that, washing it with a fragrance-free soap is important to avoid bacteria build-up.
What not to do immediately after getting a tattoo?
You should not touch the tattoo after getting it. And you shouldn’t remove the bandage before the timeframe prescribed by the tattoo artist.
How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?
It normally takes close to 3 to 4 weeks for the skin to heal, provided you make it a ritual to apply a thin layer of moisturizer each day, stay hydrated at all times, follow all the skincare tips, and have used good quality tattoo ink to start with. And if the tattoo takes longer to heal, do consult a doctor and get it medically reviewed.
How to clean a fresh tattoo to perfection?
If you do not want the tattooed skin to form a mess, there are a few washing and cleaning tips to follow. Start with a chemical-free soap, pat the skin dry, and consult the tattoo artist if you face issues.
Yes, getting the tattoo is the easy part. Following a detailed tattoo aftercare regime the one that can get messy with the skin acting up at times. And while you should follow every aftercare strategy religiously, seeing a doctor at times to get the tattoo medically reviewed isn’t such a bad option. Well, it doesn’t hurt to be safe.