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Tattoo Aftercare: A Dermatologists Guide On Proper Tattoo Care

Reviewed by Dr. Elliot Love, DO

So, you’re here, which means you either just got a new tattoo or you’re about to. No matter which it is, the topic of tattoo aftercare is an important one. We know there is a lot of information out there about what you should be doing to make sure your ink heals properly and stays looking crisp. 

Unfortunately, most of that info doesn’t match up with each other, or it goes against what your artist told you to do. When you don’t know who or what to believe, not only is it completely frustrating but it can also lead to some major issues with your ink. 

In fact, right now in the U.S, there are only 7 states in which tattoo artists are required by law to provide their clients with aftercare instructions that are provided by the public health department (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and North Dakota). That’s not to say all artists don’t give proper advice, but it can be confusing. 

If this sounds like you, then we have felt your pain and you’re in the right place. We are sick of the confusion and misinformation - that’s why we created this guide for you and had it reviewed by a practicing dermatologist with a passion for tattoos!

Trust us - THIS is everything you need to know about caring for your tattoos.

Before Your Tattoo Appointment

Tattoos are thrilling whether it’s your first or the 50th. Preparing for your appointment is just as significant for the outcome as caring for your tattoo after. These pre-appointment cues will help ensure you are prepped and ready for your artist.

Preparing for an appointment is just as important as the during and the aftercare instructions. Taking measures to make sure you stay hydrated, eat, and are well rested will help you give your ink the best chances for an excellent outcome. 

Flip that coin over; knowing what not to do before a tattoo will keep you safe, healthy, and most importantly, you will better prepare your body for its new art. 

After Your Tattoo Appointment 

It’s easy to ruin or fade your new tattoo if you do not care for it properly. Even worse, your tattoo could become infected or you may have to get it touched up frequently or even fully re-done. Luckily, proper tattoo care is not difficult, but it is necessary. It can take up to 3 months for your tattoo to be fully healed. But, with the right care and products - your tattoo will be bright and vibrant sooner and stay in perfect condition longer. 

Here’s What to Do to Care for Your New Tattoo

There’s a process for tattoo healing - a systematic approach some of the most stellar and knowledgeable tattoo artists share with their clients in order to keep the tattoo vibrant and bright. 

Keep the Tattoo Covered

For the first few hours, 3 at a minimum, wear the bandage that was initially put on your tattoo. When you do remove your bandage please wash your hands and dry them before you take it off.

Wash Your Tattoo

Once the bandages come off, use fragrance free, antibacterial soap to wash the area with lukewarm water and pat it dry. Do not scrub that skin or rub it dry. 

Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize and Continue to Moisturize

After cleaning your tattoo, using a moisturizer is a crucial step in tattoo aftercare. Keeping the area moist will protect it from cracking, drying out, and bleeding. Use a moisture sealing product 2-3 times per day (every 8-10 hours) until the scabs have fully healed. 

Avoid using products like Vaseline or Aquaphor, anything that includes petroleum jelly in the ingredients list. These products can actually damage your newly acquired ink. Tattoo lotions or creams containing harsh perfumes and chemicals can also cause damage to the skin and affect the healing process. 

Our tattoo gel was created for that reason exactly. Not only does it moisturize your skin but it also maximizes regeneration for a smoother healing time. 

Do Not Expose Your Skin to the Sun 

Your new tattoo is fragile, especially in its healing stages. Exposure to direct sunlight can cause fading because UV rays actually absorb into the skin and result in the breaking of the pigment in your tattoo. For more information, check out our article about how to protect tattoos from the sun.

If you must be outside for long periods of time, wear clothing that covers the new tattoo. Using sunscreen will also be important to preserving the integrity of the ink. Mad Rabbit offers a tattoo sunscreen with SPF 30 with natural, skin protecting ingredients. 

Do Not Do Any Strenuous Activity or Workouts 

New tattoos are open wounds that can be vulnerable to infection and other damage. Working out can expose the area to bacteria from sweat and gym equipment. You could also overstretch the healing skin and tear scabs with various exercises. Gym and workout clothes could cause rubbing and chaffing to the skin that could cause more trauma to the area. 

You should wait 48 hours before doing light physical activity. It should also be mentioned that any damage to your tattoo while its healing can affect its appearance and health. It takes 4-6 weeks for this healing to be done so workout with extreme caution if you choose to do so and understand the risks. 

No Tight Clothing 

Tight clothes, much like workout clothes, can rub against your skin or cause chaffing. This can pull off scabs, stick to lotion or gels, and cause more pain or discomfort. Scabs are important for healing and wearing breathable clothes will help keep them intact.

Leave Your Scabs Alone

Like we said, scabbing on your tattoo is crucial to the healing of it. Much like any other cut or scrape, a tattoo is a wound in which your body will naturally try to heal on its own. And just like those other open wounds, when you pull off or pick at a scab prematurely, it can leave a scar. Scars over top of ink usually don’t mix well. 

Focus on the end result. When your tattoo begins to dry out, your first instinct may be to itch it. Don’t. Use your moisturizer, and try to focus on something else to take your mind off it. 

Don’t Go Swimming (But Don’t Forget to Shower Still)

Pools, hot tubs, lakes, etc. All great ways to relax and have fun, all ways in which you can catch an infection from bacteria in the water. Not only can an infection damage the look of your new tattoo, but it can also cause much bigger health problems. You can try to “waterproof” your tattoo with coverings and wraps but it will never be fully protected. 

Waiting until your scabs have fully healed is the only way to ensure your safety and health. However, showering is not as optional. Keeping your skin clean is one of the best things you can do for a healing tattoo. 

Use Lukewarm or Cold Water

When showering or cleaning your tattoo, avoid using hot water because it can loosen the scabs and pull them off before they have healed. 

Avoid Drinking Alcohol for a Few Days

Just as you shouldn’t drink booze before your tattoo appointment, it is the same for the few days after as well. Alcohol, while it might help with the pain, will thin your blood which can lead to excess bleeding and further damage. 

Once you start to see and feel scabs start to form, you can enjoy a drink or two again!

Don’t Shave After Your Tattoo

Of course you can shave other parts of your body that haven’t been inked, but running a razor or blade over a new tattoo can cause a lot of damage. It can cut the skin or peel away scabs and damage the fresh ink. This includes using products like Nair because it uses harsh chemicals to remove hair which is another no no. 

Warn Your Partner When Being Intimate

Nobody is telling you not to enjoy alone time with your partner, BUT excessive skin-to-skin contact can spread bacteria, cause chaffing, and be painful when you just got a new tattoo. Make sure your partner knows to avoid touching your tattoo, especially with unwashed hands. 

Try having them help you apply your tattoo soothing gel for a few days to stay physically connected. 

If Anything… Stay Hydrated

Water is the key when it comes to your body’s natural skin barrier. It helps keep your skin clear and elastic. It helps with scarring and healing as well. If nothing else, you need it to stay alive so what’s an extra glass or two after your tat? Drink water. Please. 

These are some key DOS and DON’TS that we find most important. However, if your tattoo does become infected after you get it done- we recommend you see a doctor and figure out what’s happening. Listen to your tattoo artist and keep a good tattoo aftercare regimen with clean products. 

Signs of Infection from a Tattoo (When to See a Doctor)

While proper tattoo aftercare should help you avoid any complications, including infection, it can still happen. If your tattoo is infected, it is important for you to see a doctor right away to get medication - this will help you with your overall health but also with the state of your tattoo. 

Here is a list of symptoms to watch out for:

  • A rash or red, raised skin on and around the tattoo
  • Swelling (this is normal to an extend but if it worsens over time or isn’t helped by ice, consult your doctor)
  • Fever
  • Increased pain (pain is normal too but if it gets worse and worse without relief, it could be an infection 
  • Chills and sweats
  • Pus or discharge coming from the wound 

If any of these symptoms last more than a week, you should be checked out by a doctor. While swelling and discomfort are normal, if they worsen or persist for a long period, that is when it should be considered abnormal. 

It’s also important to note that it is normal for your tattoo to bleed - both blood and/or ink for the first couple of days. If that persists, you should see a doctor.

Take Care of Your New Tattoo the RIGHT Way 

We know how much information is out on the internet and in the shops and how easy it is to question the best way to care for your tattoo. We’ve been there, and the best way we can help you is to give you the aftercare instructions approved by a dermatologist. Use these tips after your next tattoo and never have to worry about what the right way to heal your tattoo is. 


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