Caring for a new tattoo seems simple enough on paper. You keep the area clean with soap and water and moisturize the area while avoiding stress and sun exposure.
But when it comes to hydrating your tattoo, what is the role of lotions? It’s not always clear when to apply lotion in the tattoo healing process, and your tattoo artist might offer vague instructions that confuse you.
The short answer is that lotion is key to successfully healing a tattoo, and you need to pick the right products and stick to a consistent schedule. However, things get trickier regarding timing, quantity, and technique you need for safe and effective lotion use.
In this article, we’re demystifying how to use lotion for tattoo healing and beyond. We’ll explain when and why you should use lotion to support the healing process and also offer some tips for long-term tattoo care with lotion and other products.
Enough second-guessing — it’s time to use lotion the right way to help your tattoo look its very best.
Healing Timeline — When To Start Using Lotion
To understand the role of lotion in tattoo aftercare and when to start, it’s worth walking through the tattoo healing timeline as a refresher. Let’s look at the first month of tattoo healing and see when you should start using lotion.
First 24 Hours
Immediately after getting your new ink, the area will be highly sensitive and show signs of irritation. Your artist will probably cover the area with plastic wrap or a bandage to protect it and advise that you remove the wrapping within a few hours.
When you remove your bandage, you might be tempted to apply lotion immediately. Don’t do this! Instead, clean the affected area with lukewarm water and a gentle, fragrance-free soap. Keeping the skin clean is priority number one here, so lay off the lotion before your first cleaning session.
When you first clean the tattoo, you’ll see bits of ink and blood wash away into the sink or shower. That’s perfectly normal. Once you’ve pat the area dry with a paper towel, you can get a clear look at your fresh tattoo before taking the next steps.
At this point, it’s too early to use a traditional moisturizer on your ink since the healing process has only just begun. Instead, opt for a soothing gel designed specifically for new tattoos, which will keep the area hydrated and able to breathe.
Avoid petroleum-based products, which limit oxygen exposure and can trap bacteria in the area.
The First and Second Weeks
After a few days, your tattoo will begin to heal up as scabs start to form. The skin around the area might feel “tight” as new skin forms beneath the surface, and you’ll get the urge to itch. Just continue washing the area as usual and following the aftercare protocol.
It will take some serious willpower to avoid itching the area, so apply a thin layer of soothing gel to relieve the sensation with a cooling effect. Don’t reach for the moisturizer quite yet — there’s still a way to go before the area is ready to be saturated with thicker lotion.
While your tattoo might not look great with all those scabs and flakes, these are signs that the healing process is going great. Keep up your aftercare routine and continue to support the area with your trusted soothing gel.
The Third and Fourth Weeks
By week three, your tattoo is rounding the corner in the healing process, and a brand new layer of healthy skin should emerge from beneath the scabs. Those scabs should come off naturally if you’re keeping up with routine washing and gel application.
Since the surface wound has healed at this point, it’s time to change gears and start to use a more traditional tattoo lotion. Our Daily Tattoo Lotion is the ideal moisturizer to use as your skin enters this next phase of healing. It allows the area to breathe, but the formula is slightly richer to lock in hydration and support the skin with replenishing ingredients.
Remember, this type of lotion is only for tattoos that have already healed for at least two weeks. The good news is that you can use this hydrating lotion for the long term to keep your ink looking fresh, bright, and vibrant!
Lotion Application: The Dos and Don’ts
Here’s the key takeaway on using tattoo lotion during the healing phase: timing matters. Only use a lightweight hydrating gel to support your new ink in the first two weeks until the area is healed over with new skin.
From there, you can safely switch to a hydrating lotion that will support the later stages of healing and offer long-term maintenance benefits. With these points in mind, you'll want to remember some other dos and don’ts when using gels, lotions, balms, and other topical tattoo products.
Do: Be Consistent With Application
It’s easy to fall into an “as-needed” approach with tattoo lotion, especially if your skin is feeling good and healing well. Still, even if everything looks and feels good, you need to be consistent with your schedule and aim to apply the soothing gel twice daily during the first healing phase.
Treat it like brushing your teeth or showering — you need to do it, even if you don’t feel like it.
Don’t: Go Overboard
Tattoo soothing gels and hydrating lotions are formulated so that a little goes a long way. You don’t need more than a few drops at a time for a palm-sized tattoo, so avoid saturating the area more than necessary.
Remember that your skin needs to breathe during the healing stage, so too much product can do more harm than good, even if the formula is breathable. Dial back the amount you use, and you’ll see better results than coating the area with thick layers of lotion or gel.
Do: Keep the Area Clean
Soothing gels and moisturizing lotions are great for hydrating and supporting your ink, but you still need to clean the area frequently. Try cleaning the tattoo with soap and water before applying a light layer of gel or moisturizer — never in reverse.
Gels and lotions work best when the area is clean and slightly dry, allowing the skin to fully absorb the ingredients without sliding off the surface. Master the art of pat-drying with paper towels or air-drying before you apply gel, lotion, or anything else. This will support the natural healing process and ensure the maximum effectiveness of your favorite products.
Don’t: Mess With Scabs
Scabs on your tattoo are a sign that the healing process is in full swing, even if you’re diligent with gel or lotion application. Don’t be alarmed if those scabs cling to the skin for longer than expected — that means the pigments are fully embedded and will last longer.
This also points to the importance of gentle and careful application when using gels and lotions of any kind. You don’t want to disrupt or dislodge scabs, which can result in scarring or an incomplete final tattoo. Instead, practice techniques like dabbing or patting the area rather than wiping or rubbing.
It may feel awkward at first, but this cautious approach to using lotion will pay off when your tattoo heals to perfection.
Do: Maintain Your Routine Long Term
Your tattoo will look glorious after a month or so of proper care, but that doesn’t mean you can stop maintaining your ink. Adopt the habit of continually using lotion and caring for your tattoo in the months and years to come.
This is a good practice for tattoo care and skincare in general, and you’ll notice your ink retains its color and shape for longer. It only takes a few seconds per day to care for your ink long-term, so why not take advantage of this good habit?
Tattoo Lotion Done Right: Heal and Maintain Your Artwork
Tattoo lotions, gels, and balms are some of your greatest allies in healing and maintaining your ink. The key is knowing the differences between these products and when to use them.
You're already in great shape if you use tattoo soothing gel for the first two weeks, followed by a hydrating lotion for the final healing stages and beyond. From there, just be sure to use an SPF sunscreen for your ink when you’re in the sun, and maintain a balanced lifestyle that supports overall skin health and longevity.
Using tattoo lotions and gels shouldn’t be hard, so we made it easy! Check out our full collection of Mad Rabbit products to support your tattoo journey at every stage.