Findings from 2019 reveal that three out of every ten Americans have a tattoo on their bodies. That makes nearly 30% of the total American population.
A tattoo is not just a form of expression to flaunt your creativity or sense of freedom. Inking your skin means you put your body through a medical procedure. That’s because the artist injects the ink underneath your skin using needles.
One of the first things any tattoo artist will tell you is that you will have to follow a rigorous skincare regime to get a tattoo. Typically, a tattoo may need at least four to six weeks to heal completely. But if you don’t take the necessary precautions or avoid the instructions of your tattoo artist/studio, you are likely to develop an infection.
The goal of skincare practices after getting a tattoo is to avoid scab formation. For preventing any scabs, make sure to use a protective ointment or a tattoo-friendly moisturizer.
However, that’s not enough. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you protect your inked skin after getting a tattoo.
Skincare Tips to Follow once you Get a Tattoo
Unfortunately, many states don’t require tattoo artists to provide aftercare instructions. Even if your state demands tattoo artists to offer instructions to customers, there are no rules or fixed instructions to provide.
Whenever you expose the skin to external elements such as ink or needs, you make it vulnerable to infections and scarring. The good news is you won’t have to deal with any painful infections or scarring if you take good care of your skin post a tattoo session. Make sure you get a tattoo from a reputable and licensed tattoo artist only. Avoid getting inked from cheap studios and amateur tattoo artists who may use non-sterilized or old tattooing equipment.
You must also ensure to prepare your skin as well as your immune system for a tattoo. Since your immune and lymphatic systems will be working together to heal a fresh tattoo, make sure you hydrate yourself and take it easy for some time.
Skincare after Getting a Tattoo: Short-Term Tips
- Wash your Hands Regularly
If you ask any professional tattoo artist, he will tell you how important it is to use clean hands for touching your inked skin. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before you begin cleaning or moisturizing your tattoo. Use an antibacterial soap for washing your hand thoroughly.
- Remove the Bandage and Clean with Soap
As per the tattoo artist’s instructions, or after two/three hours of getting your tattoo, remove the bandage. After the first couple of hours, the plasma from the original tattoo may surface. That’s the time when you clean your tattoo and allow the skin to breathe.
Again, use antibacterial soap for cleansing the tattoo. Some brands manufacture special soaps and antibacterial liquids for cleaning the tattoo area. Don’t use any type of cloth because it may exfoliate your skin. Remember, a tattoo is a type of wound. Let it sit for at least ten minutes before you proceed to the next step.
- Apply Ointment
Your tattoo studio or artist may recommend a certain product. Otherwise, buy an ointment featuring natural and gentle ingredients after getting approval from your dermatologist. Some people apply too much ointment that clogs the pores and leads to a rash. Any disturbances in the healing process, such as rashes or infections, can lead to serious complications.
Switch to unscented lotions after the tattoo starts healing. Shea body butter and medicated-moisturizers promote good skin healing.
- Let Your Skin Breathe
You have to wash the tattoo at least two to five times during the initial three (or four) days of your tattoo. Follow this routine with a light layer of ointment. However, allowing the skin to breathe is one of the most important aspects of a skincare routine after a tattoo.
Wrapping the tattoo in plastic wrap is quite normal on the first night. That’s because you don’t want the tattoo to stick to your bed. However, make sure the design gets good ventilation. Don’t wear tight-fitted clothes during the initial days, or they will rub against your inked skin. Choose loose cotton fabrics that won’t irritate the skin.
Skincare after Getting a Tattoo: Long-Term Tips
- Avoid Itching on Picking
Regardless of how big or small the tattoo is, the time it takes to heal completely depends on the execution and size of your tattoo. However, the maximum time an average tattoo takes to heal is around six weeks. Individuals who have an immune disorder or a skin condition must get their doctor’s approval before getting a tattoo.
Generally, non-colored tattoos heal faster than colored ones. When the design is large or on the inside of one of your joints, the bending ‘cracks’ the healing tattoo. As a result, scab formation occurs.
Etched tattoos may heal faster because they cause minimal trauma to the skin. The art starts peeling off after three or four days of application. Although you will experience severe itching or irritation, never pick or scratch the design. Since the area is still hypersensitive, you can damage your skin by itching or scratching. Continue applying a gentle moisturizer to keep the skin smooth and soft. Don’t use scented lotions or any kind of perfumes on the design. Avoid shaving until the tattoo heals completely.
- Protect from UV Exposure
A tattoo undergoes several changes. Over time, any tattoo would fade, regardless of the type of ink used. Professional tattoo artists reveal that tattoo ink remains suspended in the dermis, held by a specific kind of white blood cell or macrophage.
Another type of cell that absorbs ink particles is a fibroblast. Together, the fibroblast and the macrophage bind enough ink particles for the tattoo design to stay on your skin. The white cells hang around for decades, but when they die eventually, a new macrophage absorbs these ink molecules.
Consequently, a tattoo becomes a part of your organism. Hence, it sheds and changes just like other areas of your skin. Make sure you protect your actual epidermis from UV exposure or harsh chemicals. Whenever you go out in the sun, don’t forget to wear sunscreen with an SPF of 35.4. If you don’t prevent your tattoo area from prolonged sun exposure, tanning may affect the quality and appearance of your tattoo. Also, try to use a self-tanner when you’re spending an extended period of time out in the sun.
When to Seek Medical Assistance
Although tattoo infections are rare, some people feel raised or hard tissue in the inked area. You should know about the signs that will indicate that you need medical help from a dermatologist or a doctor. If you have prolonged swelling (inflammation that lasts over a week) or feel feverish for unexplained reasons, get in touch with a doctor. Furthermore, if you notice any scabbing or oozing at the tattoo site, seek medical help.
Dos and Don’ts after Getting a Tattoo
- Use clean bedding, towels, and clothes during the healing process
- While you can take a shower, avoid soaking the tattoo design for a minimum of two weeks. That means you can’t swim in a pool or take a long bath in the tub.
- Protect the tattoo from direct exposure to sunlight for at least two weeks. However, the best way to speed up the healing process is to avoid UV exposure for at least six weeks. After this period, you can go out in the sun after wearing an SPF 50 sunblock lotion.
- Avoid wearing any accessories, tight waistbands, or bra straps over a fresh tattoo. If you sweat and scratch or itch, you can disrupt the healing process.
Here’s a recap of the aftercare routine right after you get a tattoo.
- Remove the bandage after two to three hours. You would want to keep your tattoo clean and allow it to breathe frequently. Wash the inked area twice every day (preferably in the morning and night). Use an antibacterial soap and lukewarm water—also, blot-dry or dab the skin.
- Wash your hands and apply a small amount of a safe antibacterial ointment. Use it twice or thrice a day for at least three to four weeks.
- Avoid scratching the tattoo. Don’t swim or soak in a hot tub.
What to Expect After you Get a Tattoo
Don’t forget that a tattoo causes trauma to your skin. According to the size, placement, and daily hygiene practices, you can estimate the recovery time. Since a tattoo is an open wound, most people don’t realize that the design can be vulnerable to infections. Remember to follow the instructions listed above to avoid any complications in the healing process.
In the beginning, you can expect the new tattoo to be irritated, red, and swollen. It would look the same way as any new bruise does. Don’t panic because these are common signs you will notice after getting a tattoo. The initial swelling and redness will take two to three days to subside. However, if the swelling persists longer than a week, you must get medical help.
Typically, your tattoo is likely to heal longer if you have it inked on your foot, wrist, or any sensitive area of the body. Some scabbing is also common because it is a part of the body’s healing process. Avoid picking at it, and the scab will fall off naturally. Clean the area well and use a good-quality moisturizer to nourish the skin. But don’t over-moisturize the tattoo area.
When the final stages of the process come, which is five to ten days after the application, you can expect the skin to peel and flake. Again, do not pick or scratch the skin because it could either remove the ink or damage the design of your tattoo. Gently slap your skin and wear oversized clothing re relieving itching.
Sometimes, you may experience bubbles forming on the skin’s surface during the healing process. While that’s not too common, but once this happens, stop applying any type of ointments. Any moisture trapped in the skin can aggravate scabbing. That’s why drying out your tattoo is crucial for speeding up healing.
Let the tattoo peel off on its own but continue washing and air-drying the area. All scabs should fall off, and the ink should remain if there is no infection or scratching.
Which Tattoo Aftercare Products you Should Buy
That’s another important question that you must ask your tattoo artist or studio. Once you get a tattoo, invest in quality skincare products from reputed brands. Use fragrance-free and antibacterial soaps and gentle moisturizers. Many specially formulated formulas do a great job at cleaning the tattoo area. Ask for cleansers, moisturizers, and ointments that are specifically for tattooed skin.
Brands like Neutrogena, Lubriderm, and Aveeno produce a wide range of skincare products for taking care of your tattooed skin. Avoid using any moisturizers or products that are 100% petroleum-based, for example, Vaseline. Not only will these products moisturize the skin excessively, but they also cause the ink to fade.
Nonetheless, some tattoo artists and studios recommend using Vaseline for applying all over your tattoo design when you step into the shower. Since the Vaseline forms a layer between the design and water, you can protect it from water during the initial days. Don’t forget to ask for your tattoo artist’s opinion to figure out whether you should use Vaseline or not.
Choose an alcohol-free and fragrance-free product. Avoid using any skincare products that contain dyes and additives, or they would dry out your skin.
What are the Potential Side Effects and Complications of Tattoos?
Before you get a tattoo, you should also consider the potential side effects of inking your skin. Although most people don’t experience any painful burning or itching sensation, some may experience complications.
Here are some of the side effects you must know about if you are planning to get a tattoo.
- Allergic reaction
Is your skin too sensitive? If you have super-sensitive skin, make sure you communicate it to your tattoo artist. Many types of tattoo inks can cause an allergic reaction. While there is no defined procedure to help tattoo artists perform a patch test, get your dermatologist’s opinion before inking your skin. Red is the most common color that most people are allergic to, so choose your design wisely.
If you don’t take good care of your tattoo, you can put your skin at risk. When skin becomes infected, it becomes warm, red, and painful. In worst cases, it also leaks pus. This may also happen if your tattoo artists use contaminated needles.
Never settle for cheap or low-quality tattoo services. Since contaminated tattoo equipment can lead to a bloodborne infection, you may end up acquiring tetanus, Hepatitis B, C, or HIV. In rare cases, other infections such as nontuberculous mycobacterial skin infections can also occur.
Picking at the tattoo or using a needle to scratch the skin can lead to scarring. These scars can be permanent, which means you will have to bear these marks for the rest of your life. They will also affect the quality of your tattoo’s design.
How to Maintain your Tattoo
Once your tattoo heals, you move into the maintenance phase. Although you won’t have to follow any specific instructions to maintain the tattoo, you can retain its original quality with some easy maintenance tips. Avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun, using quality skincare lotions, and shaving products are a few easy ways to keep your tattoo as good as new.
Now you know what to do after you get your favorite tattoo design. No matter how big, intricate, or simple your tattoo design is, you can protect your skin by following these skin care instructions after getting a professional tattoo.