What to do and what to avoid after getting a new tattoo? How to take care of it in its early stages? How long does it take to heal? How to make the healing and aftercare process as easy as possible, and what to expect in days, weeks and months after getting your new tattoo? Can you swim, take showers, go to the pool or gym? What signs of infections are there and what to do if your tattoo gets infected? Knowing what to expect and caring for your tattoo will make your artwork last a lifetime. Aftercare can make all the difference between beautiful ink and disaster.
- 3 most important things to know about tattoo healing & aftercare
- Tattoo healing stages
- Stage 1 (Days 1-6)
- Stage 2 (Days 7-14)
- Stage 3 (Days 15-30)
- What is second skin film
- Aftercare with second skin film
- Healing process tips
- When to see a doctor – complications
Three most important things to know about healing & aftercare
Keep your tattoo clean, moisturized and protected.
Clean. Your tattoo is an open wound that risks infection if left untreated. Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your tattoo or applying lotion, make sure your bedsheets and towels are clean, and that curious pets are not tempted to taste test your new ink.
Moisturize. Moisturizing your tattoo is important to prevent the forming of scabs and an important part of aftercare. After cleaning the skin, apply a non-scented, gentle lotion or ointment.
Protect. Protect your tattoo from any damage. Abrasions, cuts, scratching, excessive water exposure, sun and UV rays, sweat and excessive heat are all your tattoo’s enemies.
Tattoo healing stages
Stage One (Days 1-6)
Oozing, swelling and redness that gets better gradually over each day. Scabbing begins to form over the area.
The tattoo will feel very sore for a few days, especially if it is a larger piece. The feeling is comparable to medium to severe sunburn. You might be feeling run down or sluggish overall, like mild flu. Your body and immune system are working hard to repair the trauma, so take it easy. Towards the end of this stage, you will start seeing scabs starting to form. If the redness, warmth, oozing and swelling at the tattoo site and general discomfort don’t go down in a week and instead increase watch for the signs of infection or allergy and see your doctor.
Exercise. Don’t abuse physical exercise for at least a few days after your tattoo session. Your immune system will probably be slightly weakened and overdoing it can delay healing. Weights and cardio can cause your skin to rub against clothing which may lead to rashes and sores. Excessive sweating is also irritating to freshly tattooed skin. During healing, avoid exposure to other people’s bacteria in public spaces like gyms.
Skin movement. Try to avoid excessive movement of the skin or even rubbing it on itself. Places like the wrist, inner elbow and neck are constantly on the move, meaning that when a tattooed area tries to scab over and grow new skin, these areas are constantly being broken down again due to the skin twisting, stretching and pulling. So if you have a tattoo in one of those tricky spots, It might be hard to achieve, especially at the joints, but try to limit your movement by using the non-dominant hand.
Stage Two (Days 7-14)
Itching and flaking begin, and this continues until all layers of dead skin and scabs have fallen off.
The initial healing of the tattoo will take up to two weeks. During this time, you can expect the tattoo to start peeling or flaking, in a similar way to sunburn. Some colored skin may come away as the tattoo peels, this is entirely normal. The amount of peeling and flaking will depend on the amount of trauma: some tattoos peel heavily, while others will have flaking that is barely noticeable. At this stage, you need to continue washing and moisturizing at least twice a day. Make sure your skin is completely dry before applying your lotion. You don’t want extra moisture trapped between your skin and the lotion. Don’t overapply the lotion either, just enough to make the skin slightly shiny.
Peeling and itching. You absolutely need to resist the urge to peel off the flakes. Let them fall off on their own, the majority will be coming off during washing. The scabs that are not ready to peel are still connected to deeper layers of skin, and pulling them off prematurely may leave pits and colorless spots on your tattoo. As it is healing the tattoo may become dry and itchy. Scratching your tattoo may ruin the artwork, so resist doing it. You can gently tap the skin to relieve an itch or do another round of washing and moisturizing.
After the skin peels, your tattoo will look glassy and feel tight. This tightness is due to the skin being drier than normal as it heals. Moisturizer can help with that.
Stage Three (Days 15-30)
Most of the scabs should have fallen off by this stage, the skin looks healed but may look slightly cloudy for a few weeks.
The top layers of skin heal the fastest because it’s the most important part to seal up and regenerate in order to block infection-causing bacteria from entering the wound. Deeper layers of skin are still repairing and will be doing that for up to 4 months, so continue to care for your tattoo. If you need a second sitting on this tattoo, you need to wait at least a month, and likely more (ask your artist!) before getting tattooed over the same area. Doing so over the skin that hasn’t healed completely is much more painful and will cause excessive bleeding and trauma.
What is second skin film
Your artist may use traditional dressings that need to be removed in a few hours, or they can use thin transparent sticky film generally known as second skin. It is widely used in the medical field as a burn dressing since it adheres well to any area of the body, moves with it and protects the traumatized area from dirt, bacteria, and irritation. It is oxygen permeable which is necessary for healing. It is also perfect for tattoos because a tattoo essentially is an area of superficial skin trauma. A number of brands such as Viewguard, Saniderm, Hypafix, Tegaderm or others manufacture second skin-type products. A small percentage of people may develop a skin reaction/redness to the adhesive used in certain brands of second skin. If your skin normally is not prone to irritation you are probably safe to use second skin.
Aftercare with second skin film
1. Let the second skin stay on your tattoo for 8-24 hours depending on how much the tattoo weeps. You can leave it on for up to 3 days if your skin is not showing signs of irritation. You can shower and do everything you normally do. Keep your showers short, and don’t soak in baths/hot tubs for a long time.
2. The easiest way to remove it is under a warm shower. You can then wash it straight away with mild antibacterial soap (Dial, Provon, Dove, Neutrogena). To dry the tattoo gently blot it (no rubbing!) with a clean towel.
3. Continue washing and moisturizing your tattoo at minimum twice a day until it is fully healed. This can take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on the size and location of the tattoo. You can use fragrance-free moisturizer, such as Eucerin, Lubriderm, Curel or Jergens (avoid lotions that are scented, colored, with alcohol among the first ingredients, or glitter). Remember only to apply a light layer of lotion, as over-moisturizing can negatively affect the tattoo.
Healing process tips
Keep your tattoo clean.
Wash and moisturize twice a day after your bandage comes off. However, long showers or baths must be avoided for 2 weeks. Prolonged soaking can and will loosen scabs if any have formed or will soak through the soft tissue turning it into a soggy mess and cause your ink to flow down the drain. This includes swimming in the ocean or a pool, hot tubs, and saunas. Short showers are best, under ten minutes if possible. Do not soak in hot water, pools, hot tubs, sea or ocean until your tattoo is fully healed. This may wash out the pigment, also water may contain harsh chemicals, dirt or bacteria and damage your tattoo.
Excessive picking and bothering of the healing area can halt the healing process and, in turn, cause long-lasting scarring.
Wear loose clothing
that doesn’t tighten around the tattoo and irritate it. if the fabric got stuck to the tattoo that leaked plasma out, don’t pull. Soak the area in warm water and gently peel the fabric.
Minimize sun exposure.
Your tattoo will be very sensitive to light in its early healing stages. Cover your tattoo when going out. Remember, the sun is BAD for your tattoo! Wait until it is fully healed (3-4 weeks) to go back in the sun. Never put sunblock on a tattoo that is still healing.
Drink plenty of water to keep the body hydrated and ensure your skin retains its elasticity throughout healing. Your skin is only as healthy as you are, so help it out.
Support your immune system,
especially if your tattoo was a large piece. Your tattoo is a surface wound. Healing is going to be at its fastest when you’re mentally and physically well-rested and properly nourished. Eat your fruit and greens, and/or supplement with a multivitamin.
After it is healed,
always put a high SPF sunblock on your tattoo when you are in the sun. This will keep the tattoo much nicer over a long period of time. The colors will stay brighter, and the lines won’t grow so much unless you are going for that weathered sailor look. UV light breaks down tattoo pigments at different rates, and black ink that is comprised of different colors like black, grey, blue, brown, green may fade into those colors. Tanning also may change the color of your tattoo; pigment particles sit under two layers of your skin like under tinted glass, and that tint affects the color underneath. For smaller tattoos, a good trick is to carry an SPF chapstick with you and apply it before sun exposure.
Go to see a doctor if you are experiencing complications
Infection/allergic reactions are possible. See the doctor ASAP if you experience signs of infection like but not limited to the following:
Oozing. A small amount of blood and plasma right after the tattoo is done is ok, however yellow, brown or green-tinted discharge is not.
Tenderness and pain. Your new ink will be a tad sore, it’s a flesh wound after all. That’s quite normal. If you start to feel deep pain or intense sunburn-like surface pain that stings beyond your comfort level, go to the doctor.
Excessive itching. Tattoo being itchy, especially at the peeling stage is normal, but it is not if itching persists at an uncomfortable level.
Red streaks. A minor redness for a short period is normal. However, red streaks can indicate an infection that’s spreading around.