Submerging a new tattoo is a surefire way to cause a healing issue, or worse, an infection. But if you’re a fish-at-heart and you can’t seem to stay away from water, you may be wondering how to protect your new tattoo when swimming. Follow our guide to ensure that you keep you and your tattoo safe.
Table of Contents (clickable)
Post-Tattoo Care and Why You Should Wait To Swim
A fresh tattoo requires optimal conditions to ensure that it heals quickly, infection-free, and that your art looks flawless when all is said and done. Tattoo aftercare requires specific steps along each step of the journey, and it usually takes around a month for a tattoo to fully heal. Steps include:
- Removing the artist’s wrap.
- Cleaning the tattoo thoroughly with antibacterial soap, twice a day at minimum.
- Allowing the tattoo around three days to stop weeping prior to applying lotion products.
- Being aware of your clothes, surroundings, and environmental factors which may disturb the scabbing process.
- Avoiding scratching or pulling at scabs and peeling skin.
For complete aftercare advice, check out our article Tattoo Aftercare Advice - How Do I Care For My Tattoo?
Are Tattoos Water-Friendly?
A tattoo is essentially an open wound, and like all open wounds, submerging a tattoo puts it at risk for a multitude of issues. When you are cleaning a tattoo, water is essential, but shortly after being washed you need to fully dry the tattoo. When you submerge a tattoo, could have a multitude of problems, such as:
- Damage to Your Tattoo - Water disturbs the scab formation process which could actually cause issues to the final healing of your tattoo such as discoloration.
- Skin Irritation - The chemicals that are in pools or the salt in sea water can cause severe irritation to your open wound, and potentially even burns or sores.
- Risk of Infection - The biggest issue with submerging a tattoo that has not yet healed is a risk of infection. Bacteria in water can truly complicate the healing of your wound and could become so severe that you require amputation from the infection.
When Can I Swim?
You should wait until your tattoo has fully healed before going swimming. A fully healed tattoo takes around four weeks, but for some people or for more complicated and larger designs this time may be longer. When it comes to a new tattoo, you should even take precaution when you are showering.
If you’ve lost track of time and you’re wondering how to tell if your tattoo is fully healed, you should no longer have any redness, irritation, scabbing, or peeling skin. Your tattoo may still have a milk scab, but at this point, it is safe to swim with your new tattoo.
If you're out in the sun make sure to wear proper sunscreen for tattoos.
Stay away from swimming pools until your tattoo has fully healed. If the multitude of chemicals doesn’t cause severe irritation to your open wound, the potential for serious bacterial issues could be the cause for concern.
Be Careful in the Sea
Saltwater is extremely irritating to an open wound and severely disturbs the healing process. In addition, the presence of bacteria is common. In one case, a man went swimming in Mexico with a new tattoo and got septic shock from an aggressive bacterial infection. This actually led to his death.
Protect Your Tattoo for Safe Tattoo Swimming
If you’ve given your tattoo around a month to heal but still notice that it’s going through the process quite slowly, there are options available to you to protect your new tattoo when swimming.
If you plan to submerge your tattoo and want to play on the safe side of caution, follow these steps:
- Wash your tattoo carefully and then pat it until it is completely dry.
- Use a waterproof tattoo wrap such as Saniderm, and make sure it is totally sealed when it is applied.
- Avoid staying in the water for an extended period of time, and avoid submerging your tattoo when possible.
- Remove the wrap immediately after you are done.
- Re-wash the tattoo with antibacterial soap and pat dry.
- Apply a small amount of ointment or lotion to your tattoo.
If You Already Went Swimming
If you’re reading this too late and you’ve already been swimming, wash and dry your tattoo and then keep an eye out for any concerning symptoms such as:
- Excessive redness
- Redness that extends beyond the tattoo
- Skin that feels hot to the touch
- Severe swelling or pain
- Blisters or rashes
- Any open sore growth that smells
- Discharge or bleeding from your tattoo
- Fever or chills
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should speak to a medical professional immediately.
Our Final Thoughts
It’s worth waiting for your tattoo to be fully healed before you dive back into the pool again. You don’t want to put you or your art at risk. If you are a beach bum in the summer months, you should consider getting your tattoo in the winter so you won’t be tempted to interrupt your tattoo’s healing process with a swim.