Getting a new tattoo is an exciting experience, but it’s important to know how to take care of it properly in order to ensure that it heals correctly and looks great for years to come. There are two methods to healing your tattoo. The older more common way is the lotion method and the other newer method is a transparent film that adheres to the fresh tattoo and surrounding skin.
In the lotion method you'll have an absorbent pad either taped to the skin or wrapped in self adherent wrap.
1. Remove your bandage after 3 to 12 hours. If your tattoo is large, highly saturated or weeping, I recommend leaving your bandage on overnight to prevent sticking to clothing and sheets. Wash the fluid and topical residue off your tattoo with warm water and mild soap like Dove or Ivory. Avoid soap with additives like dyes or perfumes. Use your hand, not a washcloth, loofah or scrub brush. Air dry or gently pat dry your tattoo with a paper towel. There is no need to rebandage.
2. Apply a thin layer of fragrance free plain hand lotion like Herbacin Kamille Hand Cream, Glysomed Fragrance Free, or Dormer211 Lotion. I recommend these three for their silicone content, though Lubriderm Unscented or Aquaphor will suffice. Apply lotion 2-3 times a day. Lotions should be used very sparingly and should absorb within a few moments. If there is lotion sitting on your tattoo, you have applied too much and can gently blot to excess with a paper towel.
3. Continue washing your tattoo twice a day until it is healed. Showering is OK, just keep them short and not overly hot and steamy.
4. In 2-3 days, your tattoo will begin to flake or scab. It may also be itchy. If you’re itching, use a light layer of moisturizer to reduce irritation. You can also GENTLY slap the skin which can calm the itching. DO NOT SCRATCH OR PICK at your new tattoo. This could pull out the pigment. Let the flakes and scabs fall away naturally. Do not submerge your tattoo in pools, baths, hot tubs, or other bodies of water.
5. Most people's tattoos have a barrier of new skin protecting their tattoo after 2-4 weeks. After this period you can resume exercising and submerging it in water. The tattoo is still healing inside for a little while longer. This can take 6-12 weeks. Layers of skin will gradually heal and the design will become integrated into the skin. You may see changes in colour and the tattoo may look a little dull for a while as it settles in and the natural skin regeneration continues over the tattoo. The true depth of color will shine through as soon as the design has fully healed and the skin surface has settled. The true color may not be reached till week 12, so give it time. Rapid skin exfoliation also means that the skin may look dry and flakey as the dead skin comes off. Use a layer of moisturizer to protect the freshly growing skin which will help with the dryness.
It is important to avoid using the WRONG tattoo ointments. In some cases, this can result in damage to the tattoo as they are just not the right product for the situation. Here are the things to avoid putting on a fresh tattoo.
Sudocrem – this is not designed for tattoo healing and will not allow the tattoo to breathe. Don’t use this on a tattoo
Vaseline – Vaseline is not breathable and is not conducive to healing a tattoo.
Cocoa butter – This is great to use on a tattoo once it has initially healed after 2 weeks or so. However it is not recommended for use at the beginning of the healing time.
Any ointment or salve in an open pot or tub – please make sure you use ointment in a tube or sealed container and buy a new tube. Don’t use an old previously opened and contaminated item.
Transparent Film Method
In the transparent film method, a clear barrier will seal to your skin like a sticker, which you'll leave on for 4-5 days.
The film is a sterile, breathable, waterproof, germ-proof barrier to cover your new tattoo. It will protect your tattoo from contamination and will also protect your clothes and sheets from excess ink, blood and fluid that are the normal by-products of healing a tattoo. Brand names are Tegaderm, Saniderm or Tattooderm. These dressings make life so much easier and do seem to help the tattoo to heal faster and better.
You may find the film has lymphatic fluid and tattoo ink under it by the next morning. This is normal and just part of your bodies healing process.
If your tattoo is bleeding, or pushing out a lot of fluids before you leave the tattoo studio, you may be provided with a second bandage (you can also get a replacement in the first aid section of a pharmacy). The next morning, if the film is bulging with excessive fluid like a big blister, you'll need to remove and replace the film. Leave the replacement film on for 3-4 days. DO NOT replace it after 24 hours of the original application.
If the skin near the edges of the film turns red, your skin may be too sensitive or allergic to the adhesive. Remove the film immediately and continue healing with the lotion method.
You can shower normally while healing, but please still abstain from swimming or submerging your tattoo in water.
To remove the film, I suggest you do it in the shower with warm water. Carefully lift the edges from the skin. Pull straight up slowly. Continue lifting until all edges are free from the skin. Wash your tattoo with warm water and mild soap like Dove or Ivory. Avoid soap with additives like dyes or perfumes. Use your hand, not a washcloth, loofah or scrub brush. Air dry or gently pat dry with a paper towel. Your skin may begin to flake over the next few days. Do not pick at it, let the flakes fall off naturally. You can use a fragrance free lotion on your tattoo for the next week or two.
Most people's tattoos have a barrier of new skin protecting their tattoo after 2-4 weeks. After this period you can resume exercising and submerging it in water. The tattoo is still healing inside for a little while longer. This can take 6-12 weeks. Layers of skin will gradually heal and the design will become integrated into the skin. You may see changes in colour and the tattoo may look a little dull for a while as it settles in and the natural skin regeneration continues over the tattoo. The true depth of color will shine through as soon as the design has fully healed and the skin surface has settled. The true color may not be reached till week 12, so give it time. Rapid skin exfoliation also means that the skin may look dry and flakey as the dead skin comes off. Use a layer of moisturizer to protect the freshly growing skin which will help with the dryness.
8 Mistakes that can damage a brand new tattoo
1 – Swimming or saunas – especially wild swimming in lakes, rivers, and the sea.
You shouldn’t go in any bodies of water for at least three weeks as there is a high risk of infection in a healing tattoo. Rivers, lakes and the sea may contain sewage that can get in your open tattoo. You also need to avoid swimming pools as the chlorine in the water can fade the fresh pigment. You also need to avoid saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms which can contain bacteria.
2 – Soaking in the bath
This can be tempting but it’s a big no. Soaking will soften the tattoo and make it more susceptible to damage and infection.
If you want to have a relaxing soak wait until your tattoo is healed.
3 – Sunbathing
Exposing a new tattoo to the sun will damage it as the freshly tattooed skin is healing and delicate. It will fade the colours quicker than if you kept it covered and out of the sun. Sun exposure is definitely to be avoided in the first few weeks.
Once the tattoo has healed use a high factor sun block on it to keep it looking good.
4 – Sleeping in a dirty bed
Your bedding should be clean as there is a chance of bacteria getting on the tattoo and causing an infection. Bed sheets, duvets, pillows, and towels should all be clean. Wear clean night clothes but be aware that the ink from the tattoo can seep out overnight onto your sheets and clothes, so don't use your finest linens.
5 – Letting people touch your tattoo
People are fascinated by new tattoos and always seem to want to touch them! It’s up to you to stop them. People’s hands are grubby and filled with all sorts of bacteria that could cause an infection in the tattoo. They may also accidentally rip off scabs or pull at the skin which will damage the tattoo.
6 – Overdoing cream or messing with it too much
Tattoos need to be kept moist but not over-moisturized. Too much cream can actually delay the healing process and extend tattoo healing time as it prevents oxygen from reaching the area and can make the tattoo softer and more susceptible to damage. Tattoos do heal on their own. Don’t get paranoid and mess with your tattoo too much, leave it alone as much as possible to heal!
7- Excessive sweating or exercising too soon after your appointment
Perspiration can entrap excess moisture in the area of a tattoo. This build-up of moisture will become a breeding ground for harmful microorganisms and promote bacterial growth. Sweat must be washed away as soon as possible to avoid a bacterial infection. Excessive sweating with a new tattoo can disintegrate the ink before the skin has had time to trap it. Vigorous movement can crack scabs, tear freshly bonding skin, cause swelling, irritation, discomfort and pain. Rubbing a fresh wound on unclean gym equipment will cause an infection. This type of damage will prolong the healing process and keep you out of the gym for much longer than necessary. In general, it’s best to hold off on exercise for at least two weeks. If you just can’t help yourself and must work out after the tattoo, find low-impact activities such as yoga and light workouts until it is fully healed. This way you can still work out while giving your new tattoo time to heal.
8- Wearing the wrong kind of clothes.
Only wear clean clothes over your fresh tattoo. Wear loose clothes that are not likely to rub on it until it’s fully healed. This can cause scabbing or increase your chances of infection. Smooth material like nylon or cotton are a good choice during the first two weeks after getting inked. Nothing with tiny fibers like fleece or wool that can stick to your tattoo and cause infection. You also want to avoid wearing any clothing that contains zippers or buttons.
What does an infected tattoo look like?
Incorrect aftercare is the most common reason for an infection. It’s important to know what to look out for if your new ink gets infected. That way you can get treatment straight away to prevent serious repercussions.
Signs of infection are:
Tattoo starting to go red a few days after your appointment
Starting to feel sore
Pain that hasn’t subsided a few days after the appointment
A feeling of warmth in the tattoo
Spots, blisters or blotches around the design
Any signs of pus in the tattoo
Swelling and inflammation
Weeping of fluid
A bad smell
Fever. This is serious. Get to a doctor NOW!
See your doctor if you think you need medical attention. They will be able to give you an antibiotic to stop the infection in its tracks. Don't delay going to a doctor if you are unsure. An infection can be extremely serious if left untreated.
Importantly, infections are rare. Most ink heals just fine.
What if you need a touch-up?
If your tattoo isn’t healing quite right and you think it needs a touch-up, wait until it is completely healed. This can take up to 12 weeks. Trying to fix a tattoo that isn’t healed yet will just make it worse and could cause an infection or damage the tattoo further. Be patient, it’ll be worth the wait!
Just get in contact with me and explain what has happened. Touch-ups are a normal part of getting a tattoo and I want your work to look its best. Unless it's on your hands or feet, touch-ups are free (within one year) and I'm happy to do it, unless it is clear that the unsatisfactory healing is from negligent aftercare. In that case, regular rates apply.