So, you’re here, which means you either just got a new tattoo or are about to. No matter which it is, the topic of tattoo aftercare is crucial. We know there is a lot of information out there about what you should do to ensure your ink heals properly and stays bright.
Unfortunately, most of that info doesn’t match up with each other, or it goes against what your artist told you to do. It is frustrating when you don’t know who or what to believe, and it can lead to major issues with your ink.
Right now, in the U.S., there are only seven states in which tattoo artists are required by law to provide their clients with aftercare instructions from 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.
How Do I Prepare for a 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 ready for your artist.
When preparing for your appointment, eat a meal and drink plenty of water. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. You should also avoid alcohol, aspirin, ibuprofen, and caffeine – these substances can interfere with your ability to handle a tattoo. Tattoo artists legally aren’t allowed to tattoo an intoxicated person.
Bring a snack and a sports drink for longer sessions to keep yourself fueled and hydrated. Getting tattooed is a major stressor on the body, regardless of your experience in the tattoo chair. Having a snack and a healthy drink on hand will ensure you keep your blood sugar up and retain the energy you need to navigate the process safely.
To ensure your skin is ready for your tattoo, exfoliate and moisturize the morning of your appointment and stay out of the sun. Trust us — you don’t want to receive a tattoo on sunburned skin! Do yourself a favor and avoid those UV rays for at least a few days before your tattoo appointment and ensure you don’t arrive with a burn on the area.
Finally, avoid heavy workouts for a couple of days before your appointment. Workouts can make your muscles sore and tense, which don’t mix well with needles and certain tattoo placements.
Preparing for an appointment is just as important as the during and aftercare instructions. Taking measures to ensure you stay hydrated, eat, and are well rested will help give your ink the best chances for an excellent outcome.
Flip that coin over; knowing what not to do before a tattoo keeps you safe and healthy, and most importantly, you will better prepare your body for its new art.
How Do I Care for a New Tattoo?
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 completely. Luckily, proper tattoo care is not difficult, but it is necessary.
The size and intricacy of your tattoo will determine how long its healing process will take.
- Bigger tattoos will always take longer to heal because they cause more stress to your skin.
- Smaller tattoos don’t usually take quite as long, but that doesn’t mean the healing process isn’t as important!
- Solid patches of ink also take longer to heal.
It can take up to three months for your tattoo to heal fully. But, with the right care and products, your tattoo will be bright and vibrant sooner and stay in perfect condition longer.
There’s a process for tattoo healing – a systematic approach some of the most stellar and knowledgeable tattoo artists share with their clients to keep the tattoo vibrant and bright.
Keep the Tattoo Covered
Your tattoo artist will clean the tattooed area and then send you home with a bandage over your fresh tattoo. For the first few hours, three at a minimum, wear the bandage initially put on your tattoo. They’ve probably given you some aftercare tips as well – line their tips up with our suggestions, and as long as they don’t stray too far, you’re in good hands.
If your artist used a Tegaderm or Saniderm, you could generally wait up to three to four days before removing the bandage (generally, about a day for Tegaderm, about four days max for Saniderm). Always ask your artist for specific instructions and consider writing them down on paper or on your phone to reference them in the future.
From the moment your tattoo is applied, the healing process begins. Within the first 24 hours, you’ll notice a range of possible changes. You may see strange-looking fluid oozing from the bandage or tattoo – this is your blood plasma and some extra tattoo ink. Your skin will also usually be red and sore. It might feel slightly warm to the touch. These are all good, normal reactions.
It’s worth noting that some people barely have reactions, too. Some people won’t stay red, and their ink will seem to heal right up. That’s okay, too, and after your first session or two, you should have a pretty good idea of how you specifically react.
When you remove your bandage, please wash and thoroughly clean your hands with antibacterial soap, and dry them before you take it off. Unless explicitly instructed by your tattoo artist, there’s no need to wrap your fresh ink again once the bandage comes off. Instead, simply move on to the washing and moisturizing phase and let nature (and Mad Rabbit aftercare products) work their magic in the healing process.
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 the skin or rub it dry. Remember to wash your tattoo with a light touch when first removing your wrap or bandage. The area will be sensitive, even if you’re a quick healer and experience minimal discomfort.
There’s a reason to use lukewarm water when washing. If the water is too hot, you may cause further irritation, while ice-cold water may cause the skin to retract and slow the healing. Stick with unscented antibacterial soap and avoid harsher formulations or soap bars with exfoliating properties.
When in doubt, go easy on your tattoo and treat it like you would a cut or scrape on the skin. For the first few days, you may see some continued oozing from the affected area, combined with some ink particles and other odds and ends. Washing and drying every few hours will help your cause, provided you don’t let your tattoo dry out too much!
Do not use a washcloth to dry your tattoo, as they can harbor bacteria. Instead, gently pat the area dry with a clean paper towel.
Remember to wash your tattoo gently and keep applying that Soothing Gel after each wash to keep everything calm and hydrated. When you wash, you might notice a little bit of ink running into the sink, but this is just excess ink that’s come up through your skin.
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, and bleeding. Use a moisture-sealing product two to three times daily (every eight to 10 hours) until the scabs have fully healed.
Avoid using products with petroleum jelly in the ingredients list. These products can damage your newly acquired ink and disrupt the natural healing process. Tattoo lotions or creams containing harsh perfumes and chemicals can also cause damage to the skin and affect the healing process.
We recommend our specially-made tattoo aftercare product, the Mad Rabbit Soothing Tattoo Gel. We’ve included naturally hydrating ingredients to give that freshly inked and healing skin exactly what it’s craving.
Don’t overdo the moisturizer either, or your tattoo won’t be able to breathe! Applying a thin layer of our Soothing Gel after each wash is typically enough to keep it hydrated (but able to breathe) for at least several hours. This gel is formulated for maximum moisturization while still allowing the skin to heal naturally and air dry. New ink thrives when you follow a regular schedule and stick with a few proven ingredients.
You can also reach for our Balm Stick for extra dry areas that need some love. Just be sure to wipe off the end of the stick to prevent any cross-contamination (and don’t use it on new tattoos!).
When your tattoo is clean and hydrated, you’re set. Let it hang loose. Do not re-bandage.
Re-bandaging can cause the open wound to stay too wet and increase the risk of infection. The only time you’ll need to bandage is for short-term protection, like if you are going somewhere particularly dirty or expect friction to threaten your tattoo.
For the first few nights, sleep with your new tattoo carefully, keeping it out from under you and the blankets if you can. This will also prevent your sheets from soaking up dyes from your tattoo's excess ink and protect the wound from germs and abrasion. Tossing and turning may be unavoidable in some cases, so you may want to plan ahead with an extra set of sheets or a few paper towels set out on the bedding.
Once your tattoo heals up after a few weeks, you can switch from the Soothing Gel to our Replenishing Body Lotion, and for extra good measure and a boost in the appearance of boldness and vibrancy, add a balm. You can use the Mad Rabbit Tattoo Balm forever to keep your tattoo looking fresh for years to come.
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 absorb into the skin and can break the pigment in your tattoo. For more information, check out our article about how to protect tattoos from the sun.
Keep your tattoo out of direct sunlight for the first two to four weeks. Your fresh wound makes your skin extra sensitive to UV rays, so no tanning!
Too much sun exposure can not only impede the healing process for your tattoo but can also cause harm to the inner layers of your skin. While a few minutes in the sun won’t ruin your ink, it’s best to play it safe and avoid the sun altogether for the first month or so.
If you must be outside for long periods, wear clothing that covers the new tattoo. Stay in the shade and wear loose-fitting clothing to enjoy some time outdoors while your ink continues healing.
When your tattoo is fully healed, be sure to apply sunblock regularly to limit the impact of the sun’s rays on the skin. 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. UV rays are the number one reason for tattoo fading (besides age), so protect your body art with sunblock!
Avoid 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, which could cause more trauma to the area.
You should wait 48 hours before doing light physical activity. Any damage to your tattoo while its healing can affect its appearance and health. It takes four to six weeks for healing, so work out with extreme caution if you choose to do so and understand the risks.
While you may be tempted to jump back into weight training or yoga as soon as possible, we suggest using light exercises during this time. Walking or cycling will keep the blood flowing and maintain the mental benefits of working out. Remember to hit the showers ASAP after finishing your workout and perform your cleaning and moisturizing routine to avoid any issues.
It will only be a few weeks until you heal up and can go all-out in the gym, so don’t compromise your ink in the gym. You’ll have plenty of time to pursue your fitness goals once your tattoo is fully healed.
No Tight Clothing
Much like workout clothes, tight 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.
As your ink heals, use loose-fitting clothing with lightweight and breathable fabrics to maximize the healing process. Go up a size or two, or opt for oversized versions of your favorite garments to let the area breathe and heal correctly.
We recommend dedicating a few pieces of clothing to the tattoo healing phase since the ink may make its way into the fabric. You can keep these clothes on hand for future tattoo sessions so you don’t ruin more expensive or sentimental items in your wardrobe.
Ask any veteran tattoo collector, and they’ll tell you about their go-to tattoo clothing that has been through the wringer over the years!
Leave Your Scabs Alone
As we said, scabbing on your tattoo is crucial to healing. Much like any other cut or scrape, a tattoo is a wound that your body will naturally try to heal on its own. And just like those other open wounds, it can pull out the ink and leave a scar when you pull off or pick at a scab prematurely. Scars over top of ink usually don’t mix well.
Focus on the result. When your tattoo begins to dry out, your first instinct may be to itch it. Don’t. Use your moisturizer, and focus on something else to take your mind off it. Remember that the longer you let the scabs sit, the better your final result will be. It will be a test of willpower and patience, but you’ll be happier with the outcome over the long run by dealing with some minor short-term discomfort.
After a week or so, these scabs will turn to flakes and peel away from the skin, even during moisturization and washing. As long as you don’t actively pick these pieces off the skin, your tattoo will continue to heal, looking better than ever. In the last stages of healing, most big flakes will be gone, and the scabs should be going away. You might still see some dead skin, but it should eventually clear up too.
Speaking of fully healed – it will typically take three to four months for the lower layers of the skin to completely heal. By the end of your third month, the tattoo should look as bright and vivid as you and the artist intended – if you don’t pick at your scars.
Don’t Go Swimming (But Don’t Forget To Shower)
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 plastic wrap, but it will never be fully protected. Take the safe route and avoid the temptation to fully submerge your tattoo in water. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to splish and splash once your ink is healed up entirely. 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.
A regular shower regimen keeps bacteria out of your fresh tattoo. If they get into your tattoo, bacteria can cause itchiness and even damage it. You don’t want to end up with a patchy tattoo, right? That’s what we thought. Save the baths for later when your tattoo is healed up, and stick with brief and efficient showers for now.
After your tattoo heals, make sure to exfoliate regularly to remove dead skin cell buildup and keep your tattoo beautiful and vibrant.
Use Lukewarm or Warm Water
Avoid using hot water when showering or cleaning your tattoo because it can loosen the scabs and pull them off before they have healed. Instead, opt for lukewarm or warm water.
Depending on the placement of the tattoo, you may be able to clean it in the sink with your preferred soap and a paper towel. For larger tattoos in hard-to-reach places, you may need to jump in the shower for a rinse a few times per day. While this may not be the most convenient scenario, it’s all about setting yourself up for a great result long term.
Avoid Drinking Alcohol for a Few Days
Just as you shouldn’t drink booze before your tattoo appointment, it is the same for the days after. Alcohol, while it might help with the pain, will thin your blood which can lead to excess bleeding and further damage.
Once you 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.
Small body hairs may start to sprout on the newly inked areas, especially on the legs or forearms. That’s normal, and it will not impede the healing phase. Resist the urge to shave until the area is fully healed so that you preserve your ink to the best of your ability.
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 get a new tattoo. Ensure your partner knows to avoid touching your tattoo, especially with unwashed hands.
Try having them help you apply your soothing gel for a few days to stay physically connected.
Water is the key 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 tattoo? Drink water. Please.
This is also a good occasion to enjoy some healthy food and take some skin-healthy supplements like collagen or coconut oil. A mix of healthy fats and proteins will help your skin bounce back quickly and heal up to perfection.
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 routine with clean products.
What Are the Signs of an Infected Tattoo?
While proper tattoo aftercare should help you avoid complications, including infection, it can still happen. If your tattoo is infected, you need to see a doctor immediately to get medication – this will help you with your overall health and the state of your tattoo.
Here is a list of symptoms to watch out for:
- A rash or hot raised skin on and around the tattoo
- Swelling (this is normal to an extent but if it worsens over time or isn’t helped by ice, consult your doctor)
- Increased pain (pain is normal, but if it gets worse and worse without relief, it could be an infection
- Chills and sweats
- Pus or discharge coming from the wound
You should see a doctor if these symptoms last more than a week. While swelling and discomfort are normal, they should be considered abnormal if they worsen or persist for a long period.
It’s also important to note that it is normal for your tattoo to ooze blood and ink for the first couple of days. You might have an infection if your tattoo is still red and swollen. Go back to your artist or see your healthcare provider.
Take Care of Your New Tattoo the RIGHT Way
We know how much information is 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 worry about the right way to heal your tattoo.