Choosing to get a new tattoo or body piercing is an exciting endeavor, and something to celebrate. We’re all for embracing our individuality, but something we’ve been wondering lately is, can this modification affect our daily workout routine? We try to partake in some form of exercise on a daily basis (to varying degrees of success, admittedly) but have been cautioned against doing so, as it can impact the healing process of any new body modification.
If you're wondering what effects exercise could have on a new tattoo or piercing, you're not alone. We spoke with tattoo and piercing experts to get all the essential info and learn if it’s safe to work up a sweat while a new tattoo or piercing is still in the healing process. While it’s ultimately your decision, and it’s a little different for piercings vs tattoos, the experts tend to agree when it comes to safe and effective healing.
Meet the Expert
- Janeese Brooks is the Head Piercer at Stone and Strand.
- Carmen Figueroa is a tattoo artist at Nice Tattoo Parlor in Brooklyn, NY. She has her M.F.A. Degree in Printmaking and a penchant for fine-line, neotraditional, and surreal imagery work.
Keep scrolling to find out more, and remember, it’s your choice whether you hit the gym, but the facts don’t lie.
Piercing Healing and Exercise
If like us, you’re wondering where the ‘avoid the gym with a new piercing’ stigma comes from, Janeese Brooks, the head piercer at Stone and Strand clears that up for us. “As piercers, we tend to be as cautious as we can when it comes to the wellbeing of our clients. Sometimes it is easier to tell people not to do something, rather than to advise them on how to proceed with care,” she says, “In addition, if a client has a tendency to worry it can be much simpler for them to avoid exercising completely, rather than to have them review a long list of dos and don’ts with their piercer.”
The good news is, as long as you're keeping your piercing clean, it shouldn't be harmed by your workout routine. “Clients don’t need to completely avoid exercise after a new piercing, they just need to exercise with care.” Brooks says. “Depending on what piercing you have and what kind of workout you’re doing you may run the risk of getting snagged or bumped. This is especially important for people who enjoy high-intensity exercises with contact such as boxing and wrestling.”
Though sweat doesn’t irritate a new piercing, it can still introduce germs and bacteria. Remember, a piercing constitutes a wound and it’s healing during this time. While sweat is naturally produced by the body, and is just a sign of your body taking care of itself, “make sure to take a shower after exercising as a clean body tends to be a healthier body.” Brooks says. To emphasize, it’s important that you shower and clean the piercing well after your workout is complete. Brooks’ advice for a new piercing is as follows, “If you’re going to clean it with anything outside of showering regularly; clean it with saline.” she says, “Otherwise don’t twist, turn, or rotate the jewelry and do your best not to sleep on it.” This doesn’t change if you prefer to be at the gym every day, or not, as keeping a new piercing clean is always the best course of action. Also, if you’re sharing equipment with others, disinfect the equipment before and after you use it, so you aren't spreading your germs to others.
When it comes to new piercings and working out, the location of said piercing is the main issue to contend with. For ear and facial piercings, you can exercise immediately, though Brooks advises you to do so with care, and avoid contact sports. Nipple and navel piercings often require extra care, as even gentle workouts like pilates, yoga, and rock climbing can irritate the new piercings.
You may also want to choose exercises that won't result in a repetitive motion, as rubbing the area of the piercing isn’t advised. Brooks says nipple and navel piercings, “need a few months of healing time before resuming the types of workouts that will irritate the piercing area because of the constant stretching and bending that is involved.” Though cardio workouts are okay and are less likely to result in direct rubbing of the piercing area, Brooks recommends this exercise to, “those people with recent nipple and navel piercings who don’t want that break from the gym.” she says.
Think About Your Attire
As for your gym attire, it’s also best if you try to avoid wearing a sports bra consistently while a nipple piercing is healing, though wearing one for “a short time is alright if necessary”. Brooks says nipple piercings, in particular, don’t do well in a sports bra, as “it rests in a way that is equivalent to sleeping on the piercing,” which is never good.
“Cycling might be a better choice than running, because there's no jiggling in the chest area. Unless you have an impeccable sports bra, breast bounce when you're running or doing aerobic forms of exercise is kind of inevitable, and can be very irritating.” Brooks says, “The same is true if your clothing rubs against piercings anywhere on your body. Consider the kind of clothing you wear—if you normally wear yoga pants, it might be time for sweats.”
New Tattoos and Exercise
Ultimately, it's best to skip the gym for a day or two after getting a new tattoo— the most important reason being to avoid bacteria, which can impact the full healing process. Brooklyn tattoo artist Carmen Figueroa breaks it down for us, including why it’s important to follow the artists’ aftercare instructions to the best of your ability.
During the healing period, there may be bleeding or secretion of other fluids, and that can be an entry point for bacteria. “The important thing to keep in mind is that a fresh tattoo is an open wound, therefore it should be treated as such to ensure a good healing,” she says. Because you’re ultimately dealing with a raw wound, it needs to be protected at all costs. Plus, try to keep in mind that body fluids shouldn't be shared with others. You wouldn’t go rubbing your fresh scrape up against someone else, because that’s just asking for an infection.
According to Figueroa, clients should consider the long term effects working out has on a new tattoo and says it’s best to continue, “avoiding any possible complication that may arise from having an open wound that is not properly taken care of.”
Try to follow all of the aftercare instructions directly from your artist in terms of keeping your new piece of body art clean, using a lotion to moisturize, and protecting it from the sun. As far as intensive exercising goes, Figueroa says it’s not recommended because it’s not good to have bacteria sitting on top of an open wound. “Sweat [carries bacteria from your skin] and so does exercise equipment at the gym, so I would say take a few days off the gym and exercising [for] a better healing process,” she says.
Also, if your tattoo is in an area that will be stretched or flexed a lot during exercise, it's smart to put exercise off until the wound is fully healed. For example, say you just got a new calf tattoo and want to go for a run. Running will flex and expand your calf muscles—you can’t avoid that repetitive motion, and if you just got a calf tattoo, this could be stressful on it and impact how it heals.
What to Do if You Can't Avoid a Gym Day
If you must hit the gym, keep your tattoo covered with a gauze bandage and try to choose exercises that won't result in working the muscles close to the tattoo, or flexing a joint that has a new tattoo. Figueroa says her advice is a recommendation, and it’s ultimately up to the client to follow it or not. “Will the tattoo definitely be ruined or infected if a client goes to the gym afterwards? Not necessarily. But the more the aftercare deviates from the recommendations of the artist the lesser the chances of having an easy and successful healing process,” she says.
If you’re still unsure and not willing to skip a gym day, don't be shy about asking your tattoo artist for guidance.
What About Swimming?
It's best to avoid swimming after a piercing or tattoo. Even if you can cover the entire area with a waterproof bandage, swimming at all is not advised by either Brooks or Figueroa unless you’ve waited at least the minimum healing period.
This means six to eight weeks for a simple ear piercing, and up to 6 months for nipple/navel piercings and at least two weeks for a tattoo. Plus, Figueroa says it’s not good to submerge an open wound in water, especially because the chemicals in a pool will irritate a healing tattoo.
So just avoid chlorine, right? Not quite. According to our experts, it’s best to adhere to the recommended healing time for tattoos and piercings before submerging in either chlorine or seawater, with natural bodies of water actually carrying the higher risk of infection. Plus, chlorinated pools are still a source of germs. Although many pools today are foregoing chlorine because of the toxins and are using sea salt instead, salt can still sting and burn a wound. Basically there’s no winning here.
“Anything that is in the water is getting into your piercings, and even in the cleanest of pools chlorine is going to hurt your piercing as well,” Brooks says. “The ocean is a natural bathroom for living things... you don’t want that in your new piercing.”
So what can you do If you just can't stay out of the pool? “If swimming is inevitable, I warn clients that chlorine will hurt their piercings and they will need to shower immediately after to rinse the chemical off the recently pierced area,” Brooks says. Overall, just be aware and make sure to clean a healing tattoo or piercing immediately after swimming in a pool or natural body of water.