There’s a lot of old wives tales and myths out there when it comes to new tattoo care. Even reputable tattoo artists still dish out advice that’s well, outdated. Remember, tattoos last a lifetime, one mistake can haunt you for years to come.
I’m glad you’ve found this guide; it’s going to save you some serious aggravation with your new ink.
To help you get on the right track, I’ve gone through countless scientific research journals and studies for you.
Now, there’s a lot to understand when it comes to properly taking care of your new tattoo.
However, don’t worry, I’ve put together some of the best tips and rules that should you know before ever stepping a single foot into the tattoo parlor.
1. Wash everything before you leave for the tattoo shop. That means your bed sheets, pillows, towels and any clothing you plan to wear for the length of the healing process. If you had a microscope to examine all the bacteria lurking around your home you’d be amazed and well, disgusted too!
Before you doze off for the night put a clean towel on your bed and sleep on that. You’ll help prevent an fresh ink from staining your sheets, plus know you are sleeping on totally clean area at night. Every morning swap out your towel for a clean one, it’s simple.
2. Never pick at your scabs, regardless of how small they are or even how tempting it may be. Even the slightest picking action will leave you will a light spot that requires further touch ups. Not to mention, open bloody wounds make for a prime spot for bacteria growth too. Don’t do it!
3. The sun is your worst enemy after getting a new tattoo, avoid it at all costs. Even if you apply sunscreen, you still can’t catch rays safely, it just doesn’t work like that. While your skin is healing it will be ultra sensitive to sunlight; keep it protected at all times.
4. Eat something immediately after you leave the shop. A cookie, a candy bar, anything. After oozing out all the plasma and sitting for hours your blood sugar levels are going to drop dramatically. When this happens your response to pain will be intensified! That’s assuming you don’t experience vertigo or simply pass out first. A small snack can go a long way to relive pain afterwards.
5. It can take at least six weeks for your new tattoo to heal, give it plenty of time. Many men want to rush the process but it doesn’t work like that. Remember, a tattoo is a lifelong piece of artwork that is going to be on your body forever! Treat it good for the first six weeks and it will look good for life.
6. Remove the bandage within 24 hours max. Ideally you should aim for 8 hours. In general, the longer the better with four to five hours being the absolute minimum.
7. Wash with hot water. There’s a saying, the hotter the better, and it’s absolutely true for tattoos. It feels awful and soothing at the same time, but it’s critically important. Remember, you’re trying to loosen up all that gunk covering your new tattoo. There’s a lot of dried lymph and coagulated blood on there!
8. Scrub with your fingertips, never a wash cloth, sponge or towel. You can be rough with your fingertips and yet still be gentle on the skin. However with the last three items, it’s way too easy to be overly aggressive on your sensitive skin. Remember, fingertips not fingernails, we’re not digging here!
9. Antibacterial soap isn’t magic! Many tattoo shops still recommend antibacterial soap like it’s worth its weight in gold. Truth is, it’s not. Studies have proven they are actually ineffective at cutting back on bacteria. The only reason why I still recommend them, is because most are free of fragrance, lotions and other gunk. Again, not because they kill bacteria.
10. You can’t close your pores with cold water. Another myth that’s somehow still popular among certain tattoo artists. Now, it’s true hot water will loosen up all the grime your pores, however the key word here is loosen, not open. The same is true for cold water, it won’t close them.
11. Your tattoo artist isn’t always right about after care. When it comes to sanitation and infection prevention, it’s their job to know how to use things like an Autoclave and Statim, plus read a spores test, etc. However, there are no set regulations for proper after care. Each tattoo artists follows their own belief and opinions. As much as I hate to say it, some continually go off old wives tales and myths that have been proven wrong over and over again.
If your tattoo artist told you that jumping off a bridge would healer your tattoo faster would you do it? Obviously not. However, it’s the smaller things that seem alright to us at first, but in reality can be more harmful in the long run. Remember, evaluate your options first, be smart, do your research!
12. Don’t re-apply your bandage after removing it. The main goal of the bandage is to not only protect, but also collect the oozing plasma, blood and gunk after getting tattooed. After washing for the time first, you won’t need to re-apply your bandage.
13. Most, if not all tattoos will end up lightening up once they are fully healed. Don’t worry, relax this is completely normal. Remember, you have this huge flesh wound on your skin, within time new layers of the skin are going to grow back over it.
14. Always apply sunscreen after you’re fully healed. Aim for SPF 50 or higher, or make life easier and look for the sunscreens that are specifically made for tattoos. The sun over time, will end up fading both color and black ink in your new tattoo. If you’ve ever seen a couch that has sat in front of the window for years, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
15. No pools, no saunas, no extremely long showers for the first three weeks, minimum. Remember, a quick shower to freshen up is fine, however, a long shower is not. Anything more than 10 minutes in the shower and you’re going to have a bad time. Know that even if a pool is chlorinated, it’s still not okay to swim in!
16. Wash your hands first before washing your tattoo! It’s so easy to forget, yet it’s a super important step to take. Spend a day walking around in public and your hands will be covered in all sorts of nasty bacteria. The last thing you want to do is rub that into your skin wound. So scrub your hands, knuckles and palm clean! Remember, it’s easily to get distracted when showing family and friends your new ink, you must do so with clean hands. Not doing so is literally the number one way to cause infections!
17. Peeling is completely normal. It will feel like a bad sunburn of sorts. Lotion will become your best friend during this time. The worst thing you can do is peel it, the best thing you can do is keep it well moisturized.
18. For tight and tense skin towards the end of the healing process, use cocoa butter. When lotion won’t work, sometimes this can be quite the magical cure.
19. Don’t let your wound breath, it’s one of the biggest myths out there. When you do that all you’re doing is delaying your healing process and slowing down cellular activity. You’re inviting bacteria, increasing your chances of infection and letting scabs block the skin.
20. Do keep your new tattoo wound moist at all times. Ever wonder why doctors treat burn victims with dressing? It’s simple really, the moisturize allows healing cells to move across the wound and close it shut! Plus, it helps keep outside contamination where it belongs, out not in.
21. Lotion won’t clog your pores. Another myth that has been going around is that lotion will close your pores and cause you to break out in acne. That’s just not entirely true. In reality, the only time that will happen is if you over apply lotion. I’m talking about the people who slather lotion in super excessive amounts. Don’t do that, use a tiny layer of lotion.
22. Moisture will not pull out ink, unless you over do it. Again, just like lotion, there’s nothing to worry about here. The only true way to pull out ink is by excessively over moisturizing; I’m talking about soaking your new tattoo and literally drowning it. Things like going for a swim in the pool, bathing in the shower for an hour, etc are surefire ways to pull out ink.
23. All bodies hold different amounts of ink, and it’s natural for some of it to fallout of your skin. Don’t get frustrated by blotchy spots even if you have literally followed every single proper healing step. Remember, everyone has a different body, this is natural. Don’t panic; understand this is what touch ups are for.
24. You can hit the gym with a new tattoo, however it’s a bit risky if you’re not careful. Ensure your new wound is covered and well-protected first before heading out to pump iron. Know that gyms are excellent breeding grounds for all sorts of bacteria and germs, many of which can easily be contracted. It’s a public place with a bunch of sweaty people touching everything after all. Even if you do yoga, the mats can be loaded with gunk.
Understand, that if you just got a new tattoo sleeve on your arm, it’s not wise to go lift free weights right away. You wouldn’t go running 5 miles with a new foot tattoo would you? That’s crazy.
25. Wash your hands before sleeping. You’ll find yourself touching your new tattoo through the night without even realizing it. Ever wake up in the middle of the nighttime to scratch an itch, but can’t really remember doing so in the morning? It happens.
26. Your tattoo will ooze clear plasma during your first nights rest. When you wake up, your new tattoo might be stuck to your sheets or clothing, relax it’s normal. Sometimes it will stain things too, be aware of that.
27. Avoid tight clothing that rubs up against your new tattoo. Friction won’t just irritate your skin and make it even more itchy, it will also chip away at scabs and peeling flakes. For leg tattoos, shorts are great choice however skinny jeans are not in your best interest.
28. Don’t panic when you over apply lotion. Gently blot with a paper towel to remove any extra lotion off your skin.
29. When ointment or lotion burns or feels extremely unpleasant, immediately stop using it. Hop back in the shower and wash it off with soap right away. Negative interactions can happen, remember we’re all different. Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned off any ointment or lotion, try it again with a new product. This time check the ingredients to determine what’s causing the problem.
30. Gently rub lotion in, don’t just slap it on and call it a day. Understand that it takes time for lotion to penetrate deep enough into the skin. You want to ensure that it remains on your skin and doesn’t just smear off when you put on clothing or sit down on the couch.
31. Certain tattoos on your body will be harder to heal, like new foot and wrist tattoos. Think about all the times your feet touch the carpet, rug, shoes, etc. That’s a lot of bacterial contact and rubbing action. Or how about how many times your wrist hits your laptop keyboard, door knobs, etc. All of these moments make it harder to keep your new tattoo clean; it takes careful attention.
32. Throw your shoes in the washing machine if you’re getting a foot tattoo. Or simply head out to the store and buy a new pair of shoes to wear just for your healing process. Remember, you’ll want to walk around with shoes that are loose to the fit and not super tight. The same thing goes for your socks, lose but also smooth and completely free of fuzz on the inside.
33. If you work in construction, hospitals, etc cover your new tattoo with a sterile non-stick bandage during the work day. When you simply can’t rest at home, and your workplace needs you there, you’ll have to do ensure your new tattoo doesn’t come in contact with anything. For example, bacteria, dust and dirt, etc.
34. Bees wax in certain lotions and slaves will not clog your pores. Another myth is see often is this one, however let’s allow science to answer this. The truth is, it has a lower comedogenic rating, two on a scale of five, which means your chances of this happening a low. It doesn’t mean it’s entirely impossible, but again it’s not even common to begin with.
I’m mentioning this because in reality it has tremendous healing, antiseptic and emollient properties. There’s no valid reason to totally discredit it based on myths and assumptions. What generally happens is people with overly oil skin will use it and notice a leftover residue. It’s totally natural; if you don’t prefer it switch to something else, it’s simple.
35. Petrolatum jelly does not drain color from your tattoo. Writing this makes me truly realize how many myths there are out there, but no worries, I’ll bust them all for you. When it comes to petrolatum jelly, there’s not even a single scientific study that links it to color drainage.
Look at A+D, Aquaphor, Vaseline and other ointments, most of them have it. Yet, countless tattoo artists swear those products are still golden and praise them highly. Remember, these products don’t penetrate the skin as easily or deeply. For them to even reach ink deposits and do damage is quite farfetched.
35. Ointment can be easily over applied and when you do that, you create problems. It’s just like the lotion, again don’t over apply it. Ever wonder why your tattoo artists suggests patting with a paper towel after applying it? There’s your answer, to remove the excess. The key here is to achieve a light veil of protection for your new tattoo.
36. Scratching causes permanent pigmentation loss, please don’t do that. If you are super itchy reach for that bottle of lotion and use it sparingly.
37. Eat well and understand a healthy diet can have a big impact your bodies healing process. Remember, your skin is your bodies largest organ; don’t nourish it by munching down on junk food and take out. What you eat during the healing stages matters.
38. Colors of your new tattoo will peel off, don’t worry this is normal. It goes back to the Epidermis tips I mentioned above. All that’s happening is your epidermis is exfoliating and any extra pigment gets carried away.
Ink in the Epidermis works like this: It regenerates and forms a new layer of skin. When that happens, you might notice some ink vanishing while the majority remaining in the dermis. Usually this takes a little over a week to really notice. Don’t worry, this is normal. Sometimes your genetics an immune system response can play a role too.
39. Call a doctor, don’t just ignore abnormal symptoms that worry you. Things like excessive swelling, headaches and fever, or excessive bleeding and oozing can often be more serious than first thought. Play it safe when possible. Remember, even allergic reactions can happen too.
40. Unbearable itchiness can be cured with hydrocortisone cream, but please only refer to this as a last resort. It will seriously eliminate any itch, but it’s important to know how to properly use it. It’s not something you want to apply on a daily basis for a long period of time, as it can cause irreversible damage to the skin. Use it sparingly and very occasionally.
41. Shiny and waxy is what you’ll notice in your skin tone after your new tattoo has peeled has finished.
42. Sun exposure and especially tanning, will destroy vividness in colors like yellow, pink, white and orange the worst. Though, in reality you’ll end up fading every color, including black if you get too exposure.
43. The time to heal varies significantly based on your genetics and body type, the size of the artwork piece, your attention to proper care, etc.
44. 2 to 4 weeks is generally all it takes for your skin to start returning back to its normal state. It’s still technically healing, but at this point it most of your wound has been healed. You’ll still want to continue to care for your new tattoo though.
45. Neosportin is a no-no. Not because it’s harmful to your new ink, but because it can possibly be harmful to you. There are numerous stories of toxic reactions taking place after applying it. You just never know how you’ll react to it, and should it be a fatal reaction, it’s just not a good situation to be in. Suddenly you’re in the hospital surrounded by yet another problem, tons of bacteria!
46. Wash, dry, ointment. Live by the words, sing them if you must. For the first three days after you remove your bandage, every couple of hours, complete those steps religiously.
47. Lotion two to three times per day is needed after three days have passed. Put down the ointment, because it’s time to start moisturizing for the next 25 days.
48-50+ If you’re looking for more tips and advice just consult the definitive tattoo after care guide here. From A to Z I’ve covered it all so you know exactly what to expect and what to do when it comes to proper ink care.