Congratulations on your new tattoo! Your tattooist has given you a piece of art that you can treasure for a lifetime — If you take good care of your new tattoo, that is. Proper tattoo aftercare will help lock in color and ensure your tattoo stays bold and beautiful for years to come.
What should you do — and not do — to ensure your tattoo continues to look its best? Follow these simple, day-by-day, week-by-week aftercare tips for a tattoo that heals safely and boldly.
The First 24 Hours
Before sending you home, your tattoo artist will likely cover your tattoo with a protective covering like a Dri-loc Pad or Tatu-Derm. Leave the bandage on for the time period specified by your tattoo artist (usually a minimum of 2–5 hours, sometimes overnight). If you're experiencing excessive bleeding, you can ask your tattoo artist if it would be okay for you to change the bandage after a couple hours. If s/he agrees, ask for an extra Tatu-Derm sheet or Dri-loc Pad to take home with you.
If your bandage becomes excessively saturated with blood and you do not have an extra sheet of Tatu-Derm or a Dri-loc Pad, you can use fresh gauze to gently cover your tattoo if it's still bleeding. If you remove your saturated bandage and find that your tattoo is no longer bleeding, you can move onto the next step: Gently cleaning your tattoo.
Gently Wash Your Tattoo
After you remove the bandage, gently wash your tattoo with cold water and anti-bacterial soap. Do NOT use a washcloth or anything other than your fingers to wash your tattoo. Be as gentle as possible. Your tattoo is a fresh wound; you don't want to irritate it and cause it to start bleeding again.
If you're still bleeding excessively after gently washing your tattoo, call your tattoo artist and ask him or her if you should re-bandage it. It's typically best to just let the skin breathe at this point, but you should follow your artist's advice if you experience any problems after washing your tattoo.
Apply an Appropriate Tattoo Aftercare Balm
Be very careful about what you apply to your skin during the initial healing phase. Avoid alcohol, because it can dry out your skin. Vaseline can clog your pores and make it hard for your skin to breathe and heal, so that's a no-no, too. The best thing you can apply is a tattoo aftercare balm like Tattoo Goo or Recovery Tattoo Salve. Apply a thin layer 3–4 times per day for the first few days to a week, then switch to a tattoo aftercare lotion like Tattoo Goo Lotion, After Inked, or Recovery Tattoo Lotion. The important thing is to keep your tattooed skin hydrated. Every time your skin starts to dry out, apply another thin layer of lotion.
- Tattoo Goo is a popular aftercare product that helps to promote a healthy healing process. Learn more about Tattoo Goo using our Tattoo Goo FAQs page.
- Don't over-apply Tattoo Goo or any tattoo aftercare ointment. You don't want to clog your pores and prevent your healing skin from breathing.
- If you have sensitive skin and cannot tolerate Tattoo Goo balm, use Tattoo Goo Lotion from the start instead. Aquaphor is another tried and true tattoo aftercare remedy. Bear in mind that Aquaphor is an ointment, so it may be too thick for sensitive skin.
- Recovery Aftercare, one of our favorite aftercare brands, offers a wealth of tattoo aftercare products such as Tattoo Lotion, Smelly Gelly, Tattoo Salve, and Tattoo Soap.
- The Recovery Tattoo Aftercare Kit offers everything you need for each stage of the healing process as well as high-quality cleansers to use in between applications.
- If you're interested in exploring other tattoo aftercare options, like Redemption Tattoo Aftercare or Hustle Butter, visit our Tattoo Aftercare section.
The First 2 Weeks After Getting a Tattoo
During the first week after getting a new tattoo, your healing skin will be itchy, dry, and flaky. That's why it's so important to:
- Clean your tattooed skin regularly.
- Keep up with your balm applications for the first few days.
- Continue moisturizing with a tattoo aftercare lotion on an ongoing basis.
Creams will soothe your skin and reduce the itchiness. Resist the urge to scratch! Don't pick at your tattoo if your skin starts flaking (which is normal, so don't worry!) If the itchiness is driving you crazy, check out our Tattoo Aftercare section for products like Tattoo Salve, Tattoo Lotion, Smelly Gelly, and Hustle Butter, which work as moisturizers to soothe and assuage irritated skin. If you're really desperate to soothe the itchiness, apply a little Zensa Topical Anesthetic Cream or Recovery Numb Cream in combination with your tattoo aftercare lotion of choice. These products contain 5% lidocaine. Lidocaine is a mild numbing agent (also found in Solarcaine, from your local pharmacy, often found alongside the Aloe Vera-based gels used to soothe sunburns).
During the first couple weeks, while your healing skin is at its most sensitive, it's also important to stay out of the sun. You should also wear loose, soft clothing that won't further irritate your skin, and stay away from germ-infested areas like hot tubs, saunas and even swimming pools. If for some reason you absolutely have to be submersed in water during the first two weeks, cover your tattoo with Tatu-Derm. It's a waterproof antibacterial barrier that will protect your healing skin.
After a Few Weeks...
Within 3–4 weeks, and sometimes sooner, your tattoo will stop scabbing and peeling, but your skin will likely stay sensitive for a while yet. The longer you protect your tattoo, the better chance you have of locking in color and ensuring that your tattoo will keep looking like new for years to come. Avoid sunlight for as long as possible, and continue applying lotion regularly, for up to a year or longer. You could stop the regular applications sooner, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice. You invested time and money in getting your tattoo; taking care of it as well as you can afterwards will make that investment worthwhile.
When you do first expose your tattoo to sunlight, make sure you apply a good sunscreen to it, like Tattoo Goo's SPF 30 Renew Lotion.
Don't Get Touchy About Touch-ups
Some areas of the body don't hold ink as well as others. Fingers are a great example. There just aren't enough layers of tissue for the ink to penetrate. Plus, when a design goes around a finger, the friction of your fingers rubbing together can cause skin to slough off and take ink with it. Don't be surprised or upset if you have to go back for a touch-up or two before your tattoo looks exactly the way you want it to look, especially if your new tattoo is around a finger, toe or other high-friction area.
Additional Tattoo Aftercare Resources
For more information about tattoo aftercare, check out these resources: