The First 48 Hours
The first 48 hours are the most crucial in the healing of a tattoo. Here is what you should do:
Keep it bandaged. Once completed, the tattooist will place a bandage over the tattoo to protect it from dirt and other foreign objects. It also keeps your clothes or anything else from rubbing against your sensitive tattoo. You will want to keep the bandage on for at least two hours. Many tattooists suggest that you keep the bandage on overnight so the tattoo won’t stick to your sheets or pajamas. Some of the ink will seep out of your skin during the first 12 hours and stain whatever you are wearing or sleeping on.
If you shower before going to bed, wash the tattoo and then carefully tape a piece of plastic wrap over the tattoo. Plastic wrap makes a great protective cover for tattoos. Tattoos on some parts of the body, such as a chest, can be hard to keep a bandage on, as it will fall off with your body movements. You can either re-tape the bandage on or just take it off and go to the next step.
Keep it clean. After the bandage has come off, you will need to clean your tattoo. There will be some tattoo color slime that has oozed out of your skin along with a little blood. This is normal. Wash the tattoo gently with soap and water. Most of the time it is just easier to take a shower. Many tattoos are on body parts that make washing in a sink very awkward.
A Trick to Help the Healing Process
There is a great technique that can really help the healing of your tattoo. While you are washing your tattoo, you will notice that it feels like a sunburn, so it will be very sensitive to warm water. Let the warm water run over your fresh tattoo until the tattoo gets used to the temperature of the water. Once the water doesn’t burn, turn up the temperature just a little so it irritates the tattoo again. Repeat this until the temperature of the water is just a little hotter than what you would consider a really hot shower. This process will open the pores in the skin of your tattoo and wash out all of the dirt and excess ink. It will also get rid of a lot of the irritation your skin will have from getting tattooed. You may find that doing this once after you get tattooed will help your tattoo heal faster and better.
After you wash your tattoo for the first time, don’t moisturize it with anything. Let it dry. Then you may want to cover the tattoo with a piece of plastic wrap. It isn’t necessary to do so but it will keep the tattoo from getting irritated by anything that could rub up against it like your clothes or a family pet.
Change the wrap. You will want to change the plastic wrap once or twice throughout the day. That is up to your discretion. Wrap your tattoo with plastic wrap before going to bed on the next night. It again will keep the tattoo from sticking to your sheets.
Moisturize. On the following night, a full 24 hours after you have been tattooed, you will want to wash the tattoo again, just with soap and warm water. After the tattoo has dried, you must moisturize the tattoo with one of the following products before rewrapping it with plastic wrap:
- A&D Ointment
- Bacitracin (Neosporin will work, but due to the many chemicals in it, it may not react well)
- Tattoo Goo or other tattoo-company treatments (these are usually sold in tattoo shops and are great for tattoos but will cost at least double what it costs to buy Bacitracin)
- Bepanthen (found in Europe and works really well)
- Basic perfume-free skin moisturizer (but nothing with aloe or any chemical additives) and topical vitamins (such as vitamin E or D)
The point of moisturizing the tattoo is to keep it from drying out, which will make it hard for your skin to heal. You just want to moisturize the tattoo as if you are moisturizing your hands. You don’t leave globs of moisturizer on your fingers; you rub it in so there is no excess. Too much ointment on your new tattoo will draw the ink out of your skin and the tattoo won’t heal as bright or as dark as it should be. Also, after the excess ointment draws the ink out of your skin, it will dry into a thick scab. If the thick scab is pulled off prematurely, it will leave a blank spot in your tattoo, which will then need a touch-up. So remember to wipe off the excess ointment or it will ruin your tattoo.
You will need to moisturize your tattoo with one of the various products three or four times a day for four or five days. The number of times a day depends on you. If the tattoo feels dry, then moisturize it. Usually the various products like A&D ointment are used until the scabs have flaked off. After that, just use a regular skin moisturizer for at least a week.
What Not to Do
Don’t pick at it. Your tattoo will scab. Usually it will peel like a sunburn and sometimes it won’t peel at all. Do not pick the scabs. Your skin is still healing beneath the scabs. If you pick the scabs off, you can cause scarring, and as we saw before, you can pick holes and ruin your tattoo.
Don’t go swimming. If your tattoo becomes too moist, as in too much ointment or being submerged in water for too long, ink will come out of your skin. Chlorinated water found in pools will react badly with your tattoo. It can cause irritation and then create excess scabbing.
Don’t take it out in direct sunlight. If you work outdoors, wear something that will cover your new tattoo. If the tattoo is on an arm, you can cut the toes off of a clean sock and slide that over your tattoo. The beach is a no-no, as there isn’t usually any cover from the sun and you can’t go swimming with the new tattoo anyway. To be safe, you will want to keep a new tattoo out of the sun for three weeks to a month, and you will still want to put an SPF-45 sunblock on it. It is usually a better idea to get tattooed in the fall or winter so you don’t have to worry about a missed opportunity to go to the beach.
Don’t scratch. As the tattoo is healing, it will begin to itch. If you scratch the tattoo while it is healing, you could rip a scab off prematurely and cause a hole in the tattoo. You could just tear the skin, as it is very thin and more delicate than normal while it is healing. You can slap the tattoo, which will cause some relief. The best way to avoid a very itchy tattoo is to moisturize it properly throughout the healing process.
Don’t work out. Larger tattoos that take up a lot of skin and are near a joint will take longer to heal if the joint gets too much movement while the tattoo is trying to heal. You will feel the irritation. It is best to avoid working out for a few days. If you are in some kind of self-defense class like karate, kung fu, or kickboxing, you may want to avoid getting hit near the area of the tattoo. You also may want to take it easy on the calisthenics. Many construction workers and mechanics will get tattooed on a Friday evening so they have the whole weekend to heal. It’s best to take it easy for a few a days to let your tattoo heal properly.
Proper care of your new ink will ensure that the tattoo will have bright colors and dark blacks, and no scarring.