Getting a new tattoo can evoke strong, positive emotions—especially for lovers of ink. This excitement is even enough to make first-timers look past the pain level as well as the lengthy healing process. But, like most things, tattoo care has to be done consistently and effectively.
Although a tattoo (done in a safe and sterile environment) should not pose a health risk, there are still various factors that may cause it to heal for an exceptionally long time or become inflamed. Sounds scary, right?
That’s why, in order to avoid any complications and speed up the healing process, it’s worth learning the basic principles of caring for a fresh tattoo. Let’s help you out there.
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General tattoo care
The healing process of a fresh tattoo is rather straightforward. It can take anywhere from a week to 6 months. In that time, you’ll likely go through the motions of redness, itching and peeling. Additionally, after your session with your tattoo artist, your tattoo might “ooze” a little bit with ink remnants or blood. But don’t be alarmed—this response is normal, although it may not look or sound appealing. But remember, a tattoo is an open wound on the skin.
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Speaking of tattoos being an open wound, it’s important to remember that it takes time to heal, just like any other injury. So, knowing the right way to care for a wound is crucial to the entire tattoo care process. So though it might not be the most obvious step, take particularly good care of personal hygiene—it can be all too easy to get a bacterial infection.
Caring for a fresh tattoo
Generally, a new tattoo should be handled like the fresh wound it is, so proper aftercare includes avoiding intense exercise, visits to the sauna and tanning salon, and excessive exposure to the sun. During this period of time, remember that almost any demanding physical activity could cause injury.
Right after your tattoo, for the next 24 hours, refrain from drinking alcohol. This is because alcohol dilates the blood vessels, and may cause leakage or deformation of the ink.
During the first few days, it’s important to remember hygiene and protection. This means keeping your hands (and the hands of others) off your tattoo. It’s particularly easy to get an infection in public places, so keep your tattoo away from generally accessible items, like public transit seats.
Also, for up 2 to 3 weeks after, it’s not recommended to take a long, hot bath. While showers don’t pose risk, soaking in a bathtub, pool, or jacuzzi may damage the tattoo and extend the healing process.
During the healing process, don’t scratch or pick it, no matter how tempting that may be. Itching, though common, is annoying, but wait it out. Scratching the tattoo will only make the itching last longer, as healing will be extended. It can also lead to infection and distortion.
Protecting the tattoo
After finishing your session, the tattoo artist will, essentially, protect their work. This is done by wrapping the tattooed area in a clear foil, isolating the wound from external bacteria and contamination.
Some artists use specialized tattoo films for this, but it’s common for artists to use ordinary cling wrap. Cling foil doesn’t stick to the wound or absorb any oozing, so changing the dressing is easy and painless—which is why the use of gauze and plasters is avoided.
When it comes to tattoo care, it’s necessary to remove the wrap and clean the wound. This can be done with mild liquid antibacterial soap. Make sure it the simplest ingredient list possible—as in—you know exactly what’s in it. This will protect you from possible infections.
Using only your hands, clean the skin. Scrubbing the wound with a sponge will irritate and possibly deform your new ink.Then, dry the tattoo thoroughly with paper towels. Be sure to not rub the towel over your tattoo. Instead, gently press the towel to it and let it absorb any water or secretions.
Depending on your tattoo artist’s instructions, re-covering the tattoo might not be necessary. It’s advisable to let your get some air, but if covering it is a necessity, use hygienic foil or liners. These can be found at the drugstore, but you can always ask your artist what they use to be on the safe side.
Keeping the skin hydrated
After removing the first wrap, it’s imperative that you coat the tattoo with an ointment that supports wound healing. Ointment prevents the tattoo from drying out and also creates a protective barrier around it. Tattoo artists usually recommend using Aquaphor or A+D, since both formulas moisturize the skin and accelerate healing.
In the first few days, regularly clean your tattoo and apply ointment. The frequency of this will depend on an individual basis, and the state of your tattoo. Usually, during the first week, expect to do so 3 to 5 times a day.
Additionally, don’t use any other formula that a tattoo artist wouldn’t recommend. You might have petroleum jelly or hand lotion laying around, but remember about the high risk of infections. Proper ointments are a necessity when it comes to tattoo care.
Tattoos and the sun
Within a couple weeks or months, the tattoo will be properly healed. It’s likely the only tattoo care you’ll be doing is applying a moisturizing cream. Note that when your inked skin is healed, it may still be quite delicate. Don’t worry though, it’ll be 100% again within 3 months.
This is usually when the tattoo begins to fade, which is completely natural. However, in order to protect it from excessive fading, avoid tanning the tattooed area. Also, be sure to use sunscreen with a strong UV filter (preferably SPF 50 or higher).
What to do if the tattoo doesn’t heal?
If several days have passed, oozing hasn’t stopped, and the skin is red and swollen or abscessed, it is likely inflammation caused by a bacterial infection. If this is the case with your tattoo, contact your physician or a dermatologist who will prescribe an antibiotic ointment.