Caring for a new tattoo begins the moment you step out of the artist’s chair and it continues years into the ink’s lifespan. Optimizing the healing during aftercare and protecting your tattoo to ensure its longevity is the best way to preserve your art piece.
You won’t find a more thorough aftercare guide than this, so read on for tips and tricks for every stage of your tattoo.
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Aftercare for a New Tattoo
- 2 Initial Aftercare: The Most Important Stage
- 3 How to Care for a Tattoo on the First Day
- 4 Our Final Thoughts
If you want to ensure you’re using the best products on your ink, have a look at our Best Tattoo Aftercare Products - Our Favorites Reviewed article.
Aftercare for a New Tattoo
When you get a new tattoo, your body’s immune system goes into hyperdrive in an attempt to not only mend the wound done to your skin, but also to push out all the foreign particles inserted within it.
Aftercare for a new tattoo is simplified with a highly skilled artist who is able to insert the ink into your dermis with minimal damage that causes less of a body response and leads to quicker healing.
Before we dive into step-by-step aftercare instructions for each stage of your tattoo, here are a few tips you should keep note of.
- Never touch your tattoo without washing your hands first.
- Keep the wrap on your tattoo for as long as your artist advises. If they haven’t instructed you, do not leave it on for more than six hours.
- Do not submerge your new tattoo in water for up to one month.
- When drying your tattoo, always pat it dry (do not rub) with a fresh towel or paper towel which leaves no product remnants.
- When using lotion, it should be completely absorbed by your skin and you should not see any white. If you see a white layer, rub excess lotion off your tattoo.
- Keep your hands off your tattoo except to wash it. Never pick or peel at your tattoo.
- Avoid sun exposure at all costs. If it cannot be avoided, wear clothing that covers your tattoo for the first month and be sure to apply sunscreen.
- Cleaning should be done two to three times a day in the first month of healing, and done at least once a day afterwards.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing in the first month of healing your tattoo.
- Continue taking care of your tattoo even after it is healed to extend its longevity and prevent fading.
Initial Aftercare: The Most Important Stage
A brand new tattoo is essentially an open wound, and the moment your artist puts needle-to-skin, your body begins it’s healing process. Your tattoo is most vulnerable during these moments, which makes the first day of aftercare so important.
At the Studio - Cleaning and Wrapping
When your artist has finished the last round on your ink, they will wipe it clean with an antiseptic cleanser. They will allow you to take a photo prior to giving it another wipe down, while covering it with ointment before they wrap it.
If your skin is more sensitive than normal consider using a tattoo numbing cream.
They will either wrap your tattoo with medical grade bandaging or saran wrap, protecting your tattoo completely during its weakest and most vulnerable stage. Each artist has their own preferred bandage, and no bandage is better than the next. These wraps are made to keep bacteria out while keeping moisture in, when your sensitive tattoo needs it the very most.
Your skin will likely be very raw, red, swollen, and painful at this time. Do not pick at or remove the bandage after it is wrapped.
How to Care for a Tattoo on the First Day
Remove the Bandage
Your artist may give you instructions on how long you should keep the bandage on your tattoo, as different wrapping methods have different wrapping time and efficiency. If they have not given you instructions on when it should be removed, we recommend leaving it on for four to six hours prior to removing your bandage.
You must not remove your bandage without washing your hands first. Once you’ve done so, you may slowly and gently peel back the bandage from your tattoo. Do not be alarmed if pieces of skin, blood, or ink get removed with it, though in most cases, it should not stick at all to your new tattoo or take anything with it.
If you do notice that some pieces of the bandage are stuck to the tattoo, it is safe to use lukewarm water to help encourage the release of the bandage from your skin.
Initial Clean: Instructions for Your First Wash
This first wash may be the most awkward and most uncomfortable of all of them. Your tattoo goes through a process called weeping where it pushes out excess blood, ink, and plasma from your tattoo. Mixed with the ointment of your artist, this makes for a very sticky mess. Your skin will also be highly sensitive at this time.
Follow these key steps to make sure your first wash is your best wash.
- Wash your hands again with lukewarm or cool water and antibacterial soap, the same soap you will use for your tattoo. Here is our list of The 6 Best Antibacterial Soaps For Your New Tattoo.
- Cup the water with your hands and bring it to your tattoo. It is not recommended that you submerge or put the stream of water directly on your tattoo.
- Using the antibacterial soap, scrub your tattoo gently but thoroughly, in an up and down motion (not circular), being sure to remove any excess goo that is on your skin. You do not want any plasma to stay on your tattoo as this may negatively influence scabbing.
- Using your cupped hands, bring water to your tattoo to rinse it clean from the soap. Repeat the scrubbing step as many times as necessary to remove all remnants on your tattoo.
- Pat your tattoo dry with a brand new towel or paper towel which leaves no paper remnants. Do not rub your tattoo dry.
- Repeat this process morning and night, and after any exposure to dirt or grime.
While it may be painful to wash your tattoo at this moment, you just need to bite the bullet and do it. Avoiding a thorough wash could put your tattoo at risk for infection.
If you see ink sticking to the towel or paper when you dry it, this is completely normal. Your tattoo may continue to “leak” ink over the next few days.
When scrubbing your tattoo, you must be meticulous but not rough. You don’t want to tear away any important aspects that are central to the healing of your tattoo.
When your tattoo is completely dry, at this stage you can apply an ointment if you wish, but only in a very thin layer. It is not a necessary part of first day care, but it may help with inflammation and pain. Under no circumstances should a numbing cream ever be applied to a new tattoo, as this may cause severe burning or distortion of your tattoo.
The Rest of Day One
Your tattoo will likely be at its most sore stage during the first day, and you may notice that you feel exceptionally cold which is just an immune response to the injury. The best thing to do during the first day of your tattoo is to have a bit of rest and relaxation, and to stay hydrated with lots of water.
We also recommend that you avoid smoking as this affects circulation and could negatively influence the healing of your tattoo. Alcohol and caffeine should also be avoided. In addition, for the first month of healing, you should avoid tight fitting clothing.
The most challenging aspect of this day may be when it comes to getting ready to sleep on your new tattoo. Here are some quick tips:
- Use a spare clean sheet you don’t mind ruining.
- Don’t sleep directly on your tattoo.
- Don’t rip off the stuck sheet from your tattoo when you wake up.
- Don’t let pets in the bedroom.
- Get a full eight hours of sleep.
- Elevate your tattoo, if you are able.
- Keep tattoo wipes nearby.
- Keep your room cool.
You can follow our complete guide on How To Sleep With A New Tattoo.
Days 2-3: Continued Soreness and Rawness
During the first three days, your tattoo will continue its weeping process, which means your immune system is still pushing the foreign particles out of your body and cleansing the wound as much as possible. As such, your tattooed area will continue to feel sore and possibly look swollen or red during day two and three.
If your tattoo is raised or your skin looks bruised, this is also a common symptom of day two or three. You must continue your rigorous cleansing regimen on these days, using only ointment if necessary.
Some people may have allergic reactions to tattoo ink, and this sometimes becomes evident during this stage. If small pimples emerge underneath your tattoo, simply keep an eye on how they progress and if you are at all concerned, speak to your artist. Red ink is the most common cause of allergic reactions.
Days 4-6: Let the Scabbing Commence
After your tattoo has stopped weeping, it will begin to get dry and therefore start its scabbing process. After day three, it is safe to add moisturizer to your aftercare regimen. Here are a few important tips to keep in mind:
- Do not oversaturate your tattoo; you should only apply a thin layer of lotion or cream.
- Do not use moisturizers with parabens, fragrances, or added chemicals and dyes.
- Do a patch test for the moisturizer on the inside of your elbow, 48 hours ahead of applying it to your tattoo.
- Moisturizer should only ever be added to a clean tattoo, otherwise you risk trapping dirt and bacteria in the wound.
The scabs that may begin to form at this stage are likely light and crusty, and your tattoo may look dull in color. Do not pick or pull or peel away at these scabs. They are essential to the healing of your tattoo, and removing them could pull away ink or cause scarring. Do not be tempted to over-moisturize them, either, as this could lead to scab bubbling.
Days 7-14: Things are About to Start Getting a Little Itchy…
After scabbing comes the torturous stage of itching. The problem with an itchy tattoo is that you must absolutely, under no circumstances, scratch it! If you have followed a careful aftercare regimen up until this point, you may have scabs and peeling skin with very minimal itchiness. Otherwise, here are some ways you can treat an itchy tattoo without compromising your ink:
- Apply a moisturizing lotion
- Gently pat or tap the area instead of scratching it
- Take a short and cool shower
- Try and distract yourself
- Cool the tattooed area
- Wear loose clothing
- Avoid fragrances or dyes
You can read our entire Tattoo Itch Guide: How To Stop And Prevent Tattoo Itching for more tips and tricks.
It’s at this stage that your tattoo will likely look the most unsightly and be the most irritating. If you are planning to go out with your tattoo exposed, a small dab of moisturizer will help it look more appealing for a few hours.
Pieces of your skin and your scab will come off naturally, and you may notice it stuck to bed sheets, your hands after washing, or your towels. This is perfectly normal, just continue your aftercare regimen as usual.
At this stage, very rarely is your tattoo still red, sore, or swollen. If you notice these symptoms, it may be helpful to talk to your artist for advice. You could be having a reaction to aftercare products, or your tattoo could be facing an infection.
Days 15-30: Nearly There
Depending on the size, placement, and intensity of your new tattoo, as you move into week three of your healing journey, your tattoo will begin to look as it should, with very minimal scabs or peeling skin. The thicker scabs may have been replaced with a milk scab. Milk scabs are the thin, final layer of healing over your tattoo that may make it look faded or dull. This will eventually fade away at around week four.
You should continue your strict aftercare regimen until the end of the month, after which you can reduce your washing and moisturizing to once a day.
You can also begin to use tattoo sunscreen at this stage, which is highly recommended for extra protection and to help your tattoo age well. For more information, check out our article Can I Put Sunscreen On My New Tattoo? - Sunblock Safety Tips For Fresh Ink.
After One Month
At this point, you should have made it to the end of your healing journey and your tattoo should be ready to be shown off to the world.
After one month:
- You can swim or take a bath again. A tattoo should never be submerged before one month of healing as it opens you up to risk of infection or disturbing the scabbing process.
- You can begin to use sunscreen regularly in place of moisturizer to protect your tattoo.
- You can begin to use coverup on your tattoo or wear tight clothing again.
- You can work out safely with no concerns. Have a look at our article Can I Work Out With A New Tattoo? - Tattoo Safety Guide.
At this point, you should also have a close look at any patchy spots or dull color in your tattoo and speak to your artist about whether or not you need a touch-up. The skin might still be sensitive, so you may want to wait until around month two or three before going under the needle again.
If you notice anything abnormal or issues are still persisting after one month, it’s crucial that you speak to a medical professional about your concerns. It is not worth the risk to sit idly by and hope for everything to go back to normal; you not only compromise the integrity of your art but also your health.
Our Final Thoughts
Aftercare and general preservation of skin health should continue even after your tattoo is done healing, as this is a lifelong investment and you want to preserve your work of art. By following our careful aftercare steps, you set your tattoo up for optimal healing, and you increase its longevity.