How to care for a tattoo when it’s healing is a debate that can turn the best of tattoo-artist friends against each other faster than you can say ‘bepanthen’.
The following guide has been put together using experience (both personal and professional) and research, and we highly advise against taking the advice of anyone but an industry professional.
Directly After It’s Finished
Depending on the size of the tattoo, your artist will wrap it in either cling film or a bandage. Bigger, more awkward tattoos will be wrapped in cling film.
If your tattoo has been wrapped in cling film, make sure you remove it within 1 hour or so, as it can be a breeding ground for bacteria while you’re leaking ink, plasma and some blood. However, if you have a bandage wrap, you should leave that on for a bit longer – up to 6 hours. Once you’ve taken off the wrap, jump into the shower to wash the blood, plasma and excess ink off. Use lukewarm water, and don’t run the water directly on the tattoo, but use your hand to splash it over and fingertips to run some unscented soap onto it, ensuring all of the blood and plasma has been removed – this will lower the risks of a scab forming, which can lead to a blotched result.
Pat the excess water off with paper towel (unless you want your towel to have ink all over it!) and then let it dry naturally. Don’t apply a new bandage or cling film once it’s dry, but apply a liberal amount of aftercare ointment. There are so many out there, but we recommend A+D nappy rash ointment simply because we’ve had the best success with it.
We suggest washing your tattoo twice a day using the method described above. The first few days are the most important, so stay vigilant. Sleeping can prove a bit difficult, but just keep in mind that whenever possible, make sure your artwork is exposed and allowed to breathe as much as possible, and use some older (but clean) sheets, as you will most likely find some stains in the morning.
After a few days, your tattoo will start to flake. This is important; DO NOT PULL OF THE FLAKES! Let them fall off on their own. If you pull them off yourself, it could make your tattoo blotchy. At this stage, you can stop using the A+D ointment, too, unless your skin feels dry. This stage is very well-known to cause itching, but obviously this is detrimental to the process. If you find yourself on the brink of insanity due to the urge to scratch, you can wash your hands in cold water and rest it on the area. That should alleviate the issue.
Once all of the flakes have fallen off on their own, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s fully healed. From the time you get the tattoo, it will take about six weeks until it’s completely healed.
1. Don’t soak your new piece in water until completely healed. That means no baths, pools, oceans, or anything for six weeks. Only showers!
2. Keep your tattoo out of the sun as much as humanly possible. While this is imperative in the healing process, this also applies forever after. Use high SPF unless you want UV rays to fade it.
3. Wear loose-fitting clothing while it’s healing. Clothing that’s constantly rubbing on a healing tattoo will lead to a badly-healed tattoo.