Dry Healing Tattoo – Is it a Good Idea?
The following article looks to determine whether the dry healing method during the tattoo aftercare process remains a suitable option after getting inked.
What is dry healing?
Dry healing is tattoo aftercare that refrains from the use of product, lotion, balm or moisturizer in caring for freshly inked skin.
After you take off the original tattoo shop issued bandage or wrap, all you do during the rest of the healing process is wash the tattooed area with mild antibacterial soap and lukewarm/hot water periodically to cleanse the tattoo.
Why take the dry healing approach?
1. Some tattoo enthusiasts have extremely sensitive skin which reacts poorly to outside influences (and that includes regular soaps). A tattoo dry heal is essentially going the extra step beyond using tinctures of natural ingredient soaps or balms to help clean and protect the tattoo. If you’re not adding anything beyond warm water to your tattoo, then it’s unlike to blow up into an irritated mess of allergies, redness, or lumps, bumps and (further) abrasions
2. Another popular argument is that the cost involved in comprehensive tattoo aftercare is prohibitive. This argument is quite ridiculous. Given you’ve likely invested quite heavily in the inked endeavor to start with, another couple of twenties at the absolute most isn’t too much to pay for keeping your tattoo looking mint for the next twenty years. Not to mention the cost of touch ups or even removal not covered by your poor choice of maintenance.
3. Habits are interesting things. Because my initial two dry heals were underwhelming, this prompted a switch (more on this below) in aftercare behavior. For others, they have had successful dry healing tattoo experiences during past adventures, so there’s no need to change up a winning formula, despite the acceleration in unscented lotion, unscented soap, essential oils, and science and development for tattoo aftercare.
4. The force field effect. Some tattoo collectors don’t want anything to get underneath the skin to reach the tattoo. They see the top layer of skin as a force field that shouldn’t be breached under any circumstances, and swear that their fully healed tattoo is richer, brighter, and better by taking this approach
Dry Healing? You still have to clean your tattoo
A common misconception for those dry healing a new tattoo (at least for the first time) is that you completely leave the tattoo alone, and go about your days as if you didn’t get new ink.
You still need to thoroughly clean your tattoo 2-3 times daily with an anti-microbial soap (if possible go for an unscented soap as well), because if your body art and surrounding skin gets infected then that’s the absolute worst thing for your tattoo, skin, and overall health.
Here’s the simplest way to do clean the tattooed area:
- Wash hands thoroughly
- Apply foam cleanser or soap to newly tattooed area with clean hands
- Gently rub cleanser into tattoo and surrounding area
- Gently wipe off remaining cleanser with a clean paper towel
- Pat dry excess (don’t rub) with a clean towel
A freshly inked tattoo should be cleaned 3 times a day and commence after the original bandage is removed. The cleaning process should last through the entire healing and tattoo care process.
What are the side effects of dry tattoo healing?
The risk is the same for tattoo dry healing as it is for any other method, or even the process of getting a tattoo itself. You’ve created an open wound by injecting pieces of ink underneath your skin, which is risk by definition.
Whatever process of aftercare you’ve chosen can be problematic if the correct steps aren’t taken to ensure skin health.
Side effects of dry healing typically include:
- Itch and Irritation. Look, if you’re taking the dry healing approach your skin is going to itch, no matter the size of your ink investment. At some stages, you will feel that it’s driving you insane.
- Scabbing, flaking, and peeling. During the skin peel part of a tattoo heal, your epidermis, the top layer of your skin, is shedding. Because your tattoo ink is under your dermis, it remains protected from the healing skin of the top layer. The problem here is that you can pick, prod, and poke the tattooed skin, contravening the healing process and causing damage
- Dry skin. If you choose not to use moisturizing lotion, balm or ointment, your skin is likely to tighten up. The skin can crack and affect how your tattoo looks after it heals.
My experiences dry healing tattoos
I used a dry healing approach for my first two tattoos. They were small designs in simple areas, about the size of a badge on my left and right upper arm respectively. I’m naturally a pretty quick healer and am also extremely lazy.
When I got my first tattoo in 2000 dry healing was the care advice that I received from my initial tattoo artist. A big, beefy biker type he did the tatt, wiped it off with a clean towel, slapped on some green soap and cling film then sent me on my way with the admonition to, “not go in the water.”
If you’ve ever been to Canberra, Australia in the middle of winter, it’s easy advice to take on board because it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. I followed his advice to the letter, despite the itching and peeling being almost unbearable at times over the next two and a half weeks.
If I had gotten a larger tattoo at that time I couldn’t have handled it.
My second piece – a rudimentary black ink phoenix – I got laying on the tatami mat floor of the ink slinger’s house in the city of Fujisawa, Japan where I taught English. My tattooist Hiromei was a bit of a lad, whose English didn’t extend much past the collected works of Jackie Chan.
I didn’t bother getting any different advice the second time around either, as my run in with Japanese healthcare had been terrible during my time there, and trying to explain my need for Aquaphor ointment or jojoba oil seemed like a waste of time.
The second dry healed tattoo recovered much like the first, cleanly with just a couple of extremely minor ink dropouts. The process of healing, however, drove me completely to distraction. When you can’t scratch something so annoying that every thought leaves your head for hours at a time, it’s probably a good idea to move on and make tattoo healing a bit easier and calm for both your sensitive skin and mental state.
By the time I got my third tattoo, at Sideshow Tattoo on Venice Beach, California, I had moved away from dry healing and on to babies’ antibacterial nappy rash healing ointment.
Modern Aftercare Approaches
Tattoo aftercare has changed dramatically regarding wet healing practice. The money being pumped into research and development for all levels of tattoo care is astronomical, and has resulted in a wide range of products that help your skin heal strongly, but also purport to limit the potential dimming and damage that can sometimes occur after fresh ink settles into your skin.
Aside from the dedicated wet healing aftercare product choices on the market, there are an infinite range of everyday skin care products that can be used in the application of tattoo healing and wound care.
Below you’ll find some of our articles relating to tattoo aftercare products we recommend for purchase and use in tattoo skin care.
- 9 Best Tattoo Aftercare Products
- 9 Best Tattoo Aftercare Lotions
- 9 Best Soaps for Tattoo Aftercare in 2020
- 9 Best Numbing Creams, Sprays, and Gels
- Coconut Oil and Tattoos – All you Need to Know
Wrap healing is done by keeping your tattoo wrapped in plastic during the entirety of the healing process (you only uncover to cleanse the wound).
The idea is that the plastic helps facilitate healing as it locks in the natural moisture of your skin rather than dissipating as it would during a dry heal.
There’s plenty of similarities between the dry and wrap method – they don’t use moisturizers or product during the tattoo healing process- however personally I’m not sure that covering up your ink with plastic wrap is that great an idea, given the range of other options available for your fresh tattoo.
The wrap healing method can be helpful if you have sensitive skin that you aren’t able to leave alone by picking and scratching.
Cosmetic Tattoo/Microbladed Eyebrows
Microbladed eyebrows are semi-permanent makeup involving the insertion of ink pigment after using a small blade to open up the upper layers of the skin at the eyebrow. It’s essentially an eyebrow tattoo, but with a different needle approach and level of permanence.
Your microblading technician will usually recommend that clients do their best to keep their new eyebrow tattoo dry for about a week after the procedure, before commencing with wet/moist aftercare. For some people, this means they may as well endure the entire process with a dry heal.
Listen to Your Tattoo Artist
Listen to the advice of your tattoo artist when it comes to different approaches to tattoo aftercare. These days it almost falls under their duty of care to give you a better understanding of taking care of freshly tattooed skin.
They want to see you come back to get a new awesome tattoo design, not clean up after the first piece of body art was poorly cared for.
Experienced tattoo professionals have seen all types of clients, with all different skin types, and can offer you extremely valuable aftercare advice that will help you immediately and for the lifetime of your tattoo.
Tips for a good dry healing process
Here are some other simple tips that can help you during the dry healing process to lower the risk of tattoo infection.
- During a dry heal process taking an everyday antihistamine tablet can help lower the irritation threshold when the itching at its worst
- Clean your tattoo regularly with mild soap and pat dry with a clean paper towel or soft cloth. Once the bandages are removed, keep the tattoo area uncovered
- Avoid sunlight
- Avoid soaking in water – no baths, pools, surfing, or shark tanks
- Don’t pick your scabs and flakes or rub and scratch your skin
- Try to wear cotton clothing on the tattooed area, it’s better for you skin and allows it to remain cool and calm
- Stay hydrated and make sensible choices (going on a bender doesn’t help your tattooed skin stay fresh)
- Keep clean hands and general hygiene
Tattoo dry healing is still an acceptable method of aftercare. While it is no longer the method that I choose – or the method scientifically most likely to succeed – a dry heal can be effective for a range of different people provided that they follow the instructions, do their research, and fully commit to the process.
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