Your tattoo artist is done with their finishing touches, the tattoo fixing spray, and has wrapped your new ink up for you. You're sporting the ink you've been itching to get, and the artist's job is done — but your tattoo isn't, and the responsibility is now transferred to you. The TLC you put into your ink over the next two weeks or so will in large part determine what it's gonna look like for the rest of your life, so make sure you've got your aftercare routine down and avoid mistakes that could mess your tattoo up forever. Here's what you need to know.
Warning: Don't Make These Common Mistakes After Getting A New Tattoo!
"Never leave the studio without proper aftercare instructions from your tattoo artist," Belgrade tattooist Voja Djordjevic from BotRich Tattoo in Belgrade, Serbia, emphasizes. "It's on the artist to explain tattoo aftercare routines in detail, but it's up to you to follow them! If you get a pet, for instance, you need to know what to feed them before taking them home, and the same principle applies to tattoos. If you want your tattoo to look as it should, you need to pay close attention to your artist's instructions."
The most common tattoo aftercare mistakes? "First off," Voja says, "listening to people that aren't your tattooist, like other artists or the internet."
To see what he's talking about, I scoured Google for tattoo aftercare instructions and came across numerous different and contradictory sets of instructions, written by everyone from tattoo artists to health site authors and complete laypeople. Wash your tattoo with hot water or cold water, Leave your wraps on for one hour or 24. Put this or that cream on this many times a day, or dry heal your tattoo. If your artist is a professional, they'll take everything from the state of your skin and health to the weather conditions and their own experiences into account when advising you how to care for your new tattoo — and they'll know what they're doing and why. It's for this reason that we won't be offering you a specific set of tattoo aftercare instructions, but Voja does share the most common mistakes people make when it comes to caring for their new ink:
- Letting alcohol anywhere near your tattoo: "Go get drunk right after you get tattooed, and it will open your pores and thin your blood, messing up the healing process. Cleaning your tattoo with alcohol or alcoholic wipes will do something similar, so never put alcohol on an open wound."
- Overdo the cream: "People think cream will make everything better, and slather it on like it's going out of fashion. This prevents your skin from breathing, and can cause a larger wound. Stick to a thin layer of cream and don't put it on more often than your artist says." Use too much, and you risk excessive scabbing, which can cause permanent skin damage as well as the loss of pigment.
- Clean your tattoo (however often your artist recommends): "You should absolutely clean your tattoo before you apply cream — all sorts of things get stuck there, from lymph to bacteria and environmental dirt, including pet hair and things you can't even see. If we wash it off, after of course washing our hands with soap and water first, everything will be OK. In 15 days, you'll have a great tattoo." I personally use a gentle baby soap without any fragrance to clean my fresh tattoos.
I'd also add that you should avoid sleeping on your tattoo, and of course make sure that your bed sheets are fresh and clean. Keep your fresh tattoo out of the sun, don't go swimming or soak in the bath, and avoid the rather natural temptation to touch your newly inked skin — especially with dirty hands, but also just in general. If you've got dogs or cats, keep them away from your tattoo and out of the bedroom, where they may lick your tattoo. Synthetic fabrics will irritate your skin, so choose loose clothing made from natural fibers like cotton.
The Best Creams To Use For Your Tattoo Aftercare
Over the course of my experiences being tattooed, artists have advised me to use anything from petroleum jelly (Vaseline — which doesn't actually let your skin breathe) to creams designed to treat sunburns — but, as Voja says, "the tattoo cream market is really exploding now", and you no longer have to use anything that wasn't specifically designed with the newly tattooed skin in mind. Voja recommends two ointments; Ink Booster and Tattoo Must, a cream you'll find only in specific regions of Europe. He adds that anything made from all-natural ingredients like coconut oil is better than anything too artificial, with chemical preservative agents.
Tattoo Timing: Does The Season You Get Tattooed In Matter?
I personally prefer getting tattooed in spring and fall, when the temperature outside is comfortable and neither heating nor air conditioning dry the skin out during the healing process. By being tattooed in spring or fall, you'll be able to give your skin ample time to breathe without exposing it to the sun too much or needing to wrap up warm clothes. This makes the aftercare process much easier.
Troubleshooting: When Ink Goes Wrong
Signs of infection — which you can almost always avoid by following aftercare instructions carefully — include redness, swelling, pus, and excessive scabbing. Should it happen to you, you're likely better off turning to your tattoo artist for instructions than to a doctor, as they'll keep your tattoo's future in mind alongside your health. If whatever they say isn't working, it is, however, time to seek medical attention. "Your doctor may have to prescribe you an antibiotic or another treatment," Voja shares.
In some cases, he adds, "tattoo artists who don't really know what they're doing may create a bigger wound than necessary, and it may start resembling a burn". Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to help out — and you'll be looking at choosing the right tattoo studio for you the next time you get inked.
Long-Term Tattoo Care
Uninked skin will age better if you use a sun screen, and sun screen is your friend if you've got tattoos you want to keep looking good, too. Moisturizing your skin regularly, including with tattoo-specific products like the aforementioned Ink Booster, will liven up your ink in no time and keep it looking fresh.