How to Care for a Tattoo

Three Parts:First 24 to 48 HoursFirst Two to Three WeeksLong Term Care

The right tattoo can be a perfect means of self-expression, but if you don't care for it right, the ink may fade or your skin may be permanently damaged. Proper care is especially important during the first few weeks. Even after this period ends, there are still a few things you should keep up on to ensure the longevity of your tattoo. If you recently got a new tattoo, here's what you need to know about caring for it in the short term and long term.

Part 1
First 24 to 48 Hours

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    Leave the bandage on for 2 to 24 hours. Any reputable tattoo artist will cover your tattoo with some form of bandage immediately after finishing it. There are varying opinions about how long this bandage should be left on, though.
    • Ask the tattoo artist responsible for your new ink for his or her recommendation.
    • A thick, absorbent, non-stick dressing can usually be left on overnight, or for as long as 24 hours. These bandages are more breathable than other types and do not become saturated by sweat. As such, they protect your wounded skin while providing enough airflow to help the skin heal.[1]
    • Thin gauze and plastic wrap should only be left on for a few hours. The gauze will become too saturated, while the plastic wrap will not let your skin breathe. Leave these bandages on for the first couple of hours to begin the healing process, then remove them to continue the process.
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    Thoroughly wash your hands before removing the bandage. Unwrap the bandage carefully to prevent yourself from accidentally ripping or damaging the sensitive skin beneath as it tries to heal.
    • Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water before beginning.
    • The bandage may stick as you remove it, especially if you left it on for more than two hours. If this happens, gently wet it by splashing a little water over the gauze. Moistening the gauze should make it easier to peel it away.
    • Allow the tattooed skin to breathe for a few minutes before continuing.
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    Gently wash the tattoo with your fingers. Use cool to warm water and a mild soap to wash the tattooed skin. Rinse the soapy residue away with cool to warm water.
    • Avoid extreme temperatures. Room-temperature water is ideal, but it can be a little cooler or a little warmer.
    • Only use mild soap on your tattoo. An unscented soap without dyes or harsh chemicals is ideal.
    • Do not use a washcloth, loofah, or sponge to wash the tattoo. These materials are too abrasive and may damage the skin.
    • Make sure that all traces of blood are wiped away. If you allow dried blood to stick to your skin, you will encourage the formation of scabs.
    • Do not let any soapy residue remain on the tattooed skin after washing it.
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    Pat dry with paper towels. Gently pat the wet skin with a clean, soft paper towel until it feels dry to the touch.
    • Alternatively, you could allow the skin to air dry for about 10 minutes.
    • Do not scrub or wipe the skin as you dry it, since this could cause bleeding or irritation.
    • Do not dry the area with a cloth towel. Cloth towels are more likely to contain bacteria than clean paper towels are.
    • Avoid abrasive paper towels. Use the softest paper towel possible. You could try a tissue or toilet paper, instead, but be aware that these products may stick to the skin, thereby causing additional problems.
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    Apply lotion or ointment. Wipe a thin layer of ointment over dry tattooed skin using clean fingers or a clean paper towel. Blot away excess with a clean paper towel.
    • You should only apply enough lotion or ointment to just barely cover the tattoo. The skin should not look greasy or soggy.
    • Massage the ointment or lotion into your skin until it disappears. Do not leave a coating over the tattoo.
    • Ointments generally last longer and are better at preventing the skin from drying out, but a lotion will suffice if you do not have an ointment to use.
    • Do not use products containing aloe vera, alcohol, or cortisone.
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    Do not re-bandage the tattoo. Even if your skin feels raw or sensitive, you should not apply a new bandage or wrapping to your skin. From this point on, the tattooed skin must be exposed to the air in order to heal properly.

Part 2
First Two to Three Weeks

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    Wash your tattoo daily. For the first two weeks, at least, you should wash the tattooed skin with warm water and mild soap twice a day.
    • Wash the tattoo after waking up and before going to bed.
    • Follow the same steps you followed during the first washing. Make sure that your hands are clean, and gently scrub the area using only your fingers. Pat dry with a clean paper towel.
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    Apply lotion or ointment several times each day. You should apply a thin layer of ointment or lotion four to six times each day in order to keep the skin moist and reduce itching.
    • As with washing, you should follow the same guidelines for moisturizing as you followed for the first day. Only apply a small amount and gently rub it into your skin until it disappears.
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    Wear loose clothes. If your tattoo is in a location that would usually be covered by clothing, make sure that any clothes you do wear over the tattooed area are very loose.
    • Tight clothes can brush against the new tattoo, causing the skin beneath it to become inflamed. This can be painful and can also cause infection.
    • Clothing that rubs against the tattoo can also cause the fresh ink to fade more.
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    Do not expose the tattoo to sunlight. Wear clothing or other loose coverings over the tattoo for the first few weeks to prevent the new ink from being exposed to the sun.
    • The damaged skin may dry out even more, causing excessive scabbing and flaking. The tattoo itself is also more likely to fade when exposed to the sun for more than a few minutes.
    • Avoid the use of sunscreen during the first few weeks. Sunscreen is helpful later on, but it tends to be too greasy in these early stages and may cause the skin to become too moist or soggy.
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    Do not soak the tattoo. Avoid long baths or showers for the first several weeks. Completely stay away from swimming.
    • A prolonged soak can cause soft skin tissue to become soggy. The ink may also run or fade.
    • Keep your showers to 10 minutes or less if possible.
    • Avoid swimming pools, the ocean, hot tubs, and saunas. Water with chlorine in it is especially bad for your tattoo.
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    Expect flaking and scabbing. Your skin will form a protective layer over the tattoo as it heals. As a result, flaking and mild scabbing are both standard and helpful.
    • A thick, hard scab may form if you do not keep the area moist or make the area too moist. The scab may even crack a little as you move. The ink sits within the scab, though, gradually healing into the skin as a result.
    • If you keep the skin perfectly moist, a thinner membrane will form over the area. This layer will peel off like a sunburn peels. You may even see a few flakes that are colored by the tattoo.
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    Do not scratch or pick at the tattoo. No matter how much the skin itches, you must not scratch it while the tattooed area heals.
    • Picking at scabs can cause them to break open and become infected. You may also peel away some of the ink.
    • Similarly, scratching at flaking skin can cause you to peel away too much of the color.
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    Watch for signs of infection. Infections are rare if you manage to care for the area properly, but since the skin is wounded, they can occur. If you suspect that the area is infected, talk to a doctor.
    • Signs of infection include puss or a strong, unpleasant odor coming from the skin.
    • Some infections are also accompanied by fevers.
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    Drink plenty of water. You should aim to drink an 8-oz (250-ml) glass of water six to eight times a day.
    • Overall hydration is essential. When your body is hydrated, the skin is more elastic. As a result, the damaged skin around the tattoo can heal faster and more completely.

Part 3
Long Term Care

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    Apply sunscreen daily. Sun will always remain an enemy of your tattoo, but after the first month or so, you can and should apply sunscreen to the area every time you plan to go outside.[2]
    • Ultraviolet light causes tattoo ink to fade.
    • The sunscreen you use should offer broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. It should also be SPF 30 or higher, and have a water-resistant formula.
    • Apply the sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside, if possible, so that it has enough time to work its way into the skin.
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    Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds and sunlamps also use ultraviolet light to tan the skin, so they should be avoided.
    • The UV light can fade your tattoo. The high-intensity of light in a tanning bed can also affect the ink and cause a painful reaction.
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    Keep sweat off your tattoo. This is especially important if you have a job that causes you to sweat or if you work out frequently.[3]
    • Wear clothes designed to wick away moisture.
    • Change clothes immediately after working up a sweat. If this is not possible, then you should at least periodically wipe the sweat off your tattoo.
    • Sweat can cause the color to fade faster.
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    Watch for rashes. Rashes can occur even in later stages of a tattoo's lifespan.
    • Rashes usually occur after prolonged exposure to the sun.
    • Rashes can also occur if you use a new skin care or skin cosmetic product that contains a chemical, dye, or other element your skin is not accustomed to.
    • Immediately stop the behavior you suspect might be causing the rash. If this does not cause the rash to go away, consult your doctor.
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    Apply lotions and creams as needed. A strong ointment may no longer be necessary after the first month or so, but you should continue to keep the skin moisturized with a water-based lotion or cream on a daily basis.
    • Avoid petroleum-based products. Petroleum jelly can actually cause tattoo ink to fade.
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    Be mindful of changes to the tattooed skin. Allergies and skin cancer can occur in tattooed skin, especially if low-quality ink was used.
    • Pay close attention to small bumps or a single large bump. You should also have any moles checked out by a dermatologist.

Things You'll Need

  • Mild antibacterial soap
  • Water
  • Clean paper towels
  • Ointment, lotion, or moisturizing cream
  • Loose clothing
  • Sunscreen

Article Info

Categories: Tattoos and Piercing