So, You Have a New Tattoo—When Can You Swim Again?

woman with tattoo showing off her sleeve

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It's become increasingly popular among young people to get casually inked. Still, despite the popularity of tattoos, it's easy to forget that it's a serious commitment that requires some aftercare, including protecting it from the sun and keeping it from getting wet.

However, if you've ever had to bandage an injury, taking long showers or trying to swim with a dressing on your skin can be challenging. So how can you keep your new tattoo safe? We checked in with experts ahead to find out. Scroll on to learn how to protect your new tattoo while swimming.

Meet the Expert

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 Long Before You Can Swim With a New Tattoo?

According to King, you should wait until your tattoo is fully healed before swimming. "This time will vary depending on the body location of the tattoo and size and how diligent the aftercare is," she explains. "Most tattoos heal within two to six weeks, but some may take longer. Wait until all redness, itching, scabbing, and flaking have resolved."

Forte says to think of a new tattoo like a fresh wound that needs time to heal without exposure to the elements. 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. And while you can speed up this process with a healing lotion, patience will be your greatest ally.

How to Cover Your Tattoo While Swimming

In an ideal world, you'd be able to refrain from swimming for the entire post-tattoo healing process (FYI: This could take months). However, in the real world, there are steps you can follow if you end up in the water.

  1. Apply a waterproof bandage to cover your ink while in water. "If it isn't possible to wait until the tattoo is fully healed before swimming, then use a waterproof dressing such as Saniderm and limit the amount of time in the water and with the dressing on as much as possible," King says. 
  2. Keep the tattooed area dry after swimming. "Immediately after swimming, dry the skin, remove the bandage, and gently wash the area with soap and water. You should resume your normal wound care after patting it dry," Fenton instructs.
  3. Practice proper aftercare post-swim. "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, dry off the tattoo before applying aftercare products like salve or ointment. Trapped moisture can negatively affect the healing tattoo," he explains.
  4. Avoid sunscreen. According to King, applying sunscreen should be avoided during the healing phase. "During this time, protect the tattoo from sun exposure with protective clothing or a bandage," King says. "Once the skin has fully healed, use sunscreen daily because UV radiation can lead to tattoo pigment fading. The right sunscreen is the sunscreen you will wear regularly. I prefer non-comedogenic moisturizing formulations with mineral sunscreen ingredients. Moisturizing ingredients like squalane will help to support the skin barrier."

The Final Takeaway

Ultimately, if you can hold out from swimming for three whole months post-tattoo, you'll be doing yourself and your ink a great service. Still, it might not always be 100 percent feasible, so 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."

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