Have you been thinking of getting a tattoo or just got a new one? Or maybe you already have one and you want to read more about how to properly take care of your body art?
I’ve had 4 tattoos now and I’ve learned some good practices that I’d like to share with fellow body ink enthusiasts. Hopefully, these steps can help you heal your fresh tattoo effectively, avoid possible irritations that may happen to a new one, and take care of an existing one so it stays looking great for as long as possible.
Before you go into any of my tips, just remember to listen to what your tattoo artist advises you. That should be your primary basis in taking care of your tattoo. Techniques and processes change over time, and your artist is always the best person who knows how to take care of the new tattoo you had.
How to take care of a new tattoo
Right after your tattoo is done, your artist may cover it with a plastic seal to prevent ink and blood from smudging. He/she will tell you how long to keep the seal on. Normally, you can take a quick shower within the same day that you got your tattoo. But to be very sure, you can ask your artist as well.
Here are the dos and don’ts that I follow when I have a new tattoo and some products that I’ve been using to take care of my tattoo:
1. When I take a shower, I use lukewarm or room-temperature water. And I take a quick one instead of my usual long bath. I personally enjoy long showers, I take my time to scrub my body with a bath sponge. But when I have a fresh tattoo, I make it quick to avoid soaking my new tattoo.
2. Use a shower gel or liquid soap that cleanses but is mild enough for a fresh wound. I use Clinique Liquid Facial Soap on my body tattoos. I’ve used this on small and bigger tattoos, and it never irritated any of them. Other good options would be Cetaphil, Sebamed, and baby cleansing products. I avoid cleansers with strong fragrances during my first few weeks. Some fragrances can be harsh and cause irritation.
When washing, I make a foam on my hand then gently cleanse the tattoo with the foam. Don’t put the soap directly on the tattoo then foam it on the tattoo. This could force you to rub roughly on the wound while forming the foam.
3. During the first 3 days, I only take a shower once a day instead of my usual twice a day. Although, yes, washing keeps the tattoo clean, water exposure increases the risk of bacteria getting into the wound as well. So I just shower once for the day for the first 3 days then I go back to my twice-daily shower routine.
I also normally don’t place my tattoo directly under the shower when my tattoo is still fresh. I use my hand to cup water and let it flow to my tattoo. This is because my shower is flowing directly above my head, not the angled type.
No swimming, no sauna, no long baths, no bathtub for new tattoo.
4. A very important step to follow is to never use your regular bath towel to dry a new tattoo. This is a step that I missed before on my second tattoo that probably caused irritation. Some say to use a separate tower for the tattoo, but that can still pose a risk of accumulating bacteria. For safety, I don’t use my normal towel on a fresh tattoo for at least 4 weeks.
5. Instead of using my bath towel that may have some dirt or bacteria even if I change it regularly, I use disposable serviettes, the type that doesn’t leave fibers behind. I buy this cheap serviette, costs me RM1.00 (USD0.25), and works really great. Remember to pat the serviette gently across your tattoo. Don’t rub.
6. Once I step out of the shower, the first thing I do is sanitize my hands. This is to ensure that my hands are bacteria-free before I apply anything to my tattoo. Don’t worry, this won’t be forever, only until my tattoo has completed its scabbing phase, probably within 2-3 weeks, and only the art is left behind.
I am from The Philippines and I grew up using 70% alcohol to sanitize my hands. We even use it to sanitize our office items like phones, computer keyboards, mouse, and more. That’s how we prevent spreading diseases. Some even use it for massage.
I’m now in Malaysia, but the great thing is I can still get hold of the same alcohol. I buy my stock from Kota Raya, where many Filipino shops are selling Filipino products. Lucky me!
I transfer the alcohol into a small spray bottle to make it easier and more economical to dispense than the usual pouring from the bottle or even a pump.
7. After sanitizing, I allow my hands to completely dry before I can start with the moisturizing step. It’s important to allow the hands to dry completely from the sanitizer because the alcohol content will not be good for a fresh tattoo. It does kill bacteria but it can damage the ink too.
8. Apply the moisturizing lotion to the entire tattoo. Your artist will advise or recommend the moisturizer or lotion that is best to use. He/she might even have it available for sale at her studio. I’m lucky to have access to After Inked Daily Moisturizer, which is great for fresh tattoos.
My first tattoo was in a different studio and my artist did not sell tattoo lotion in the studio. He recommended Rosken Repair for Dry Skin. This was also great. My tattoo healed nicely with no irritation.
Other good options would be Sebamed Moisturizing Body Lotion for Sensitive Skin, around RM35 (USD8.50). You can also try other baby-safe brands like Cetaphil and Aveeno.
9. When applying the lotion, I develop a directional routine for the tattoo, meaning which part I start with first and where I finish. This may sound ridiculous, but I find it helpful especially for my bigger, semi-full arm tattoo. If your tattoo is a small one, it may not matter where you start and finish. When you have a big one, it is easy to miss or overdo a spot, which is what I’m trying to avoid. So on my arm tattoo, I developed a directional routine. I start with the upper arm area, from outer arm to inner arm, then I go to my forearm, from outer to inner as well.
Missing a spot will risk drying up that part of the tattoo, and therefore not heal nicely. Overdoing a spot might irritate it.
10. Don’t forget to moisturize the surrounding skin around the tattoo as well. Part of basic body care includes moisturizing, with or without a tattoo. Don’t just moisturize your tattooed part; make sure your skin is healthy overall.
11. Wear loose cotton clothes or allow the tattoo to ‘breathe’. When I had my first 3 tattoos, I let them heal without covering them under my clothes. This has worked well for me. However, on my fourth tattoo, which was covering almost my entire left arm, I already had a cat and I know I have risks of getting scratched, or worse, bacteria from fur and other stuff. I had to cover up every day.
Before my schedule for the fourth tattoo, I bought long sleeve cotton shirts, some online, some from the mall. Loose shirts are great because it covers you up but still allows your tattoo to breathe inside. Don’t ever wear tight-fitting clothes during the healing phase. The dried-up blood/ink might stick to them and might cause the tattoo to be damaged.
I wear clothes that I won’t mind having ink stains if in case some bleeding occurs.
12. Avoid sun exposure. I’d use an umbrella if I really need to get out and be exposed to the sun. Applying sunscreen during the healing phase is not a good idea yet. The ingredients for sunscreen products are not wound-friendly so I’d rather not apply until the tattoo is fully healed, which will be around 4 weeks or more.
13. Don’t do extensive exercise activities that will result in sweating heavily. I opt for simpler exercises during the healing phase, such as walking or stretching. I know, I know. I don’t like the fact that I can’t go for my usual Muay Thai training. But this is part of the healing process.
14. I stick to a body care routine to take care of my skin and my tattoo. I want my body art to stay beautiful for as long as possible. After all the pain and process (and budget) that I go through for each tattoo, it wouldn’t make sense to just leave it be and not take care of it.
15. When it itches, don’t scratch. It’s a definite no-no to scratch your healing tattoo. I actually didn’t experience itchiness on my first 3 tattoos. But the big one on my arm certainly itched during the 5th to 8th day, when it started to peel and scab.
It may look disgusting when you see this happening to your tattoo. But whatever happens, don’t help the tattoo to peel. Leave it alone and allow it to peel itself naturally.
Remember, a new tattoo is a new wound.
The only difference is that a tattoo is artistic and formed in the design you wanted. But it still is a wound. It needs to be handled with the same extra care you would give any wound. It needs to be free from dirt and bacteria, and it needs time to heal.
Once my tattoo has fully healed, around 3 to 4 weeks (could be longer for some, depending on the size of the tattoo and the person’s skin), there are other steps that I do for my skin.
Now, I can use sunscreen. When I have to go out and be exposed to the sun, I spray Banana Boat Clear Ultra Mist SPF50. You can also use the cream type as this one easily allows you to see where you apply the sunscreen. I still avoid the sun whenever possible, and use an umbrella when I can.
After 3 months, I also use body oil at night on my tattoo. I was advised by a friend before that it helps to maintain the black tone of the tattoo. So I gave it a try and it works! I’ve been doing this now for more than 3 months and it does help to make my tattoo have the black tone more defined. But I only do it at night. During the day, it’s lotion plus sunscreen for my tattoos.
I also exfoliate with a gentle body scrub after 3 months. Just because there’s ink on that area of the skin doesn’t mean that dead skin cells don’t form on that spot. To keep the tattooed skin healthy, I exfoliate once a week.
How long do I wait after my new tattoo before I go back to extensive training?
1 month. Your tattoo artist would be the best to advise how long before you can train. In my case, I add 2 weeks before I train and sweat heavily.
How long do I wait after my new tattoo before I go swimming?
2 months. I don’t want to soak my new tattoo in chlorine water just yet. I normally wait a bit longer.
How long do I wait before I get another one?
I don’t really place a timeline on this, the artist can advise better. If the next tattoo will be on the same location, for example, you want another tattoo on the same left upper arm, the artist might advise giving it a month before adding another one on the same spot.
Some tattoos may need to be split into 2 or more sessions because of the amount of shading needed. When it needs to be split, the artist advises having the next session after 4 weeks, so that the skin has time to recover before the next round on the same location.
Here is my 50% completed fourth tattoo. It covers around 3/4th of my arm. The first session took around 4 hours, and now I am still waiting for the second session to finally complete this. The flower on top, close to my shoulder, is my 3rd tattoo, then I decided to fill up my arm with similar design of flowers.
My first tattoo was on my left ankle
My second one was on my right ankle
The third is on my left upper arm / shoulder
And the fourth one that’s still in progress is on my full left arm. Some shading are not yet completed, and I might add a few more leaves.
Have fun taking care of your tattoos! Cheers to us who enjoy body art and getting inked!