After getting a new piece of ink, the tattoo process isn’t over; you have to care for your fresh tat over the following weeks. This time period is when the skin heals from the trauma created from the tattoo, and taking good care of your new piece during this time is essential for your tattoo to heal and look as perfect as it did right after it was inked.
One majorly important step during this process is applying a moisturizer of some kind to keep your healing skin supple. Coconut oil is an option often recommended by tattoo artists and dermatologists, but many people are hesitant due to it being used for other purposes (inside and out), and the fact you’d be putting the oil directly onto your skin. So, is it actually safe to put on your skin? We spoke to dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian and tattoo artists Rosa Perr and Harper Rose to find out.
Coconut oil, also known as lauric acid, is derived from coconuts. The lauric acid found in coconut oil can have antimicrobial properties, which can help kill bacteria on the skin and reduce inflammation. It is also known to help remove makeup, exfoliate the skin, and lock in moisture.
Keep reading to find out what they have to say about the safety of putting coconut oil on tattoos.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Rachel Nazarian is a New York-based board certified dermatologist and a member of the Byrdie Beauty & Wellness Board.
- Rosa Perr is a tattoo artist in Brooklyn, New York and is the owner of licensed tattoo shop Bluestone Babe.
- Harper Rose is a handpoked tattoo artist from Melbourne, Australia working out of a private studio.
Is Coconut Oil Safe for Your Tattoo?
There’s no confusion when it comes to the safety of coconut oil: it’s definitely okay to put on your tattoo.
"Coconut oil contains a high level of fatty acids that are useful for creating a moisturizing barrier in the skin. In addition, coconut oil has shown anti-inflammatory benefits that can calm irritated, damaged skin, much like recently-tattooed skin," says Nazarian. "Often skin that has recently been tattooed can be mildly sore, even occasionally itchy as it heals. Coconut oil decreasing inflammation, potentially making the healing process more comfortable."
"Coconut oil is what I recommend my clients use on their tattoos during the healing process,” says Perr. Rose agrees, and says she recommends it specifically because it’s more than safe for your tattoo—it’s actually quite helpful. “It has high levels of lauric acid in it which is found to be an effective protector against bacterial growth, so it can help to protect the tattoo against infection,” adds Rose. “It also reduces redness and inflammation and is rich in collagen, which helps to heal the tattoo well and quickly.”
It’s true; coconut oil offers many health benefits that aid in the healing process of a tattoo. For example, coconut oil is made up of a number of nutrients that are natural antiseptics, meaning they can help keep the skin safe from microbial infections—a big potential risk with tattoos. It can also help fight off lipid-coated viruses, thanks to its fatty amino acid content, and is said to be anti-fungal. And because it lacks the potentially irritating ingredients that manufactured tattoo products have, the risk of allergy is quite low. It’s helpful for older tattoos, too, as it won’t fade the ink, so you can be sure your tattoo will look vibrant and fresh for a long time to come.
What Are the Benefits of Using Coconut Oil on Tattoos?
Pure coconut oil is a completely natural product, meaning it contains no irritants like fragrances or chemicals. All-natural ingredients mean that you won’t have to worry about your tattoo reacting to it negatively; instead, you can rest assured knowing that it’s base-line a healthy and good choice for your skin. “As long as you buy the pure coconut oil, you know that no other ingredients have been added [that] may irritate or affect the healing of the tattoo,” says Rose.
However, Nazarian notes that it is important to make sure you aren't allergic to coconut oil itself. "The greatest risk of applying coconut oil to a tattoo is continued sensitization if you have an underlying allergy," she says. "People who are allergic to the ingredients will inflame the skin more, disrupting pigment in their tattoo and potentially decreasing color or triggering migration of tattoo pigment under the skin."
It Locks in Moisture
Tattoos tend to dry out fairly quickly during the healing process, so it’s important to use a product that is heavily moisturizing and long-lasting. Coconut oil is one such product, as its fatty acid components help you retain the moisture content of the skin. That’s helpful, as dry tattoos can lead to itching of flaking, which can affect how the tattoo heals and ruin the overall design. If you do happen to itch, though, coconut oil is a gentle exfoliator for any scabs.
However, it is possible to mess with your tattoo if you apply too much coconut oil since it’s, well, oily. During the healing process especially, be sure to watch how much you’re applying and how often you’re applying it. “Less is more with applying anything after a tattoo,” says Perr. “You want to let it breathe, so a thin layer is all you need.”
For older, already-healed tattoos, it’s a bit more difficult to affect your ink by applying too much coconut oil. Instead, the moisturizing properties of the product will help your skin look healthier and make any colors in your tattoo (including black) really pop. Plus, keeping your tattoo properly moisturized even after it’s healed will help your tattoo look good through the years, even despite potential trauma to the skin.
"The benefits of applying this particular oil to an older tattoo are strictly for improving skin hydration," says Nazarian. "Coconut oil can creates a fatty layer locking in moisture and decreasing rate of evaporation of moisture from skin into the environment," says Nazarian. "Well hydrated skin reflects the pigment in the tattoo for effectively, allowing it to better showcase details of the artwork."
“If you keep your skin moisturized even after your tattoo has healed, it’ll age better,” adds Rose. “It’s important to carry on looking after your tattoo even years after you’ve gotten it done.”
It's Healthy for Your Skin
As well as being good for your tattoo, coconut oil has a lot of benefits for your actual skin. For example, coconut oil lacks the petroleum jelly that topical antibiotics or straight-up Vaseline has. Typically, petroleum jelly sticks to your skin and suffocates it, but coconut oil is fairly easy to rinse off and won’t leave a film.
“I find that it’s incredibly comfortable on the skin and doesn’t linger or become sticky like other creams,” says Rose. “Plus, it smells great!”
Another way that coconut oil helps your skin is in the actual healing process. While your skin is attempting to recover from the skin wound inflicted by getting a tattoo, it will become slightly swollen. Coconut oil is a great option for combatting this reaction, thanks to anti-inflammatory ingredients like vitamins C, E, and L-arginine, as well as lauric acid. Vitamin K, specifically, tends to help trigger the natural blood clotting process in wounds. While consuming coconut oil tends to be the best way to achieve this property, direct skin application will still help to promote a quicker and healthier healing process.
The Final Takeaway
Because of its moisturizing properties and vitamins that are good for your skin, coconut oil is ultimately more than safe to apply to your tattoo. It’s a natural, inexpensive way to heal your tattoo and keep it looking healthy and vibrant for years to come.