Right now, it probably kind of feels like someone you know gets a new tattoo once every two weeks. Not only have tattoos become more accepted in the mainstream, but more people that grew up with tattoos as "normal" have turned 18. Because of the combination, it's become inarguably more popular among young people to casually get a tattoo. Unfortunately, because it's more popular, some people see their friends getting beautiful tattoos and forget it's a commitment that requires some serious aftercare—including protecting it from the sun and keeping it from getting wet. Still, as anyone who has ever had to bandage an injury knows, taking long showers or trying to swim with a dressing on your skin is... annoying. So how can you keep your new tattoo safe? We checked in with experts Dillon Forte and Dr. Jeremy Fenton to find out.
Meet the Expert
Scroll on to learn how to protect your new tattoo while swimming.
How Long Before You Can Swim With a New Tattoo?
The temptation is real when it comes to showing off fresh ink—but proceed with caution. "Any [new] tattoo is essentially a fresh wound, and needs time to heal without being exposed to the elements," Forte tells us. This includes protecting it from bacteria, sun, chemicals, pollution, and water—particularly when it comes to swimming. "Both saltwater and chlorine are harsh on new tattoos, especially if you had a lot of work done," he explains. Translation: You shouldn't swim until your tattoo is fully healed, advises Fenton. "For most people, that is two weeks, but it can be longer depending on the size, location, and how quickly you heal. If after two weeks, the skin does not appear fully healed (any scabbing, crusting, or redness), then I would recommend waiting longer," he says. And while you can try speeding up this process with a product like Wild Rose Ink Balm ($10), patience will be your greatest ally.
Why You Shouldn’t Swim With a New Tattoo
Until your tattoo is fully healed (i.e. when a new layer of protective skin has grown over it), it's vulnerable (read: prone to infection). "Water from a pool, lake, or ocean is not sterile and can risk getting microbes such as bacteria into the skin. In addition, if you allow chemicals (such as chlorine in a pool) or other substances in the water into the healing skin, it could ultimately affect the color and cosmetic result of the tattoo such as increased fading or discoloration," explains Fenton. Forte agrees: "Depending on the skin type, size of the tattoo, and location on the body, the salt and/or chemicals in a pool can do a number on the skin and your incredible new art." That can include irritation, discomfort, infection, and even ink getting pulled from the skin, he comments.
How to Keep Your Tattoo Dry While Swimming
In an ideal world, you'd be able to refrain from swimming for the entire post-tatt healing process (FYI: This could take months). However, in the real world, "If you must swim or you are unsure if it is fully healed after two weeks, the safest thing is to wear a waterproof bandage over it while in the water," says Fenton. "You purchase these at most drugstores over the counter. Apply the bandage to completely cover the tattoo. Immediately after swimming, dry the skin, remove the bandage, and gently wash the area with soap and water. You should then resume your normal wound care after patting it dry," he instructs. Forte adds, "It's advised to keep your fresh tattoo from being submerged. Showers are fine and recommended to keep you and your new work clean, however, remember to dry off the tattoo prior to applying aftercare products i.e. salve, ointment, or Saniderm ($20). Trapped moisture can facilitate negative effects on the healing tattoo," he explains.
The Final Takeaway
Ultimately, if you can hold out from swimming for three full months post-tattoo, you'll be doing yourself and your tatt a great service. Still, it might not always be 100-percent feasible so just do your best. "Most people spend a lot on tattoos, so it’s wise to take care of them and do your homework on self-care," says Forte. "Freshwater is fine to splash or wash off with, but if you can, avoid pools and the ocean as long as you can."