Anyone with tattoos knows your ink will only maintain its integrity with some serious aftercare efforts. The healing process of a tattoo is no joke, and it's not something you can slack on. Thankfully, it all centers around one main step: moisturizing.
Whether you're contemplating a first tattoo or have too many to count, you can benefit from a refresher on how often to moisturize new body art. We spoke with tattoo artist Koral Ladna and board-certified dermatologist Elliot Love to suss out all the details. Read on for everything you need to know to help your tattoo heal perfectly.
Meet the Expert
- Koral Ladna is a Mad Rabbit professional team artist.
- Elliot Love, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist, fellowship-trained skin cancer and reconstructive surgeon, and board member for Mad Rabbit Tattoo.
When Should You Moisturize a New Tattoo?
You should start moisturizing your new tattoo right away and not stop for some time. Love says there's an immediate need to keep a new tattoo moisturized: Moisturizing helps to prevent scabbing and promote healing.
"During the healing process, you should moisturize your tattoo three to six times a day," Ladna says. "Keeping your tattoo hydrated during the initial days is especially critical. If your tattoo becomes too dry, the healing may actually take longer, and you may risk losing color saturation."
"Once your tattoo is fully healed after three weeks, any damage to the epidermis will be regenerated and your tattoo will settle into your dermis," Ladna continues. "This natural process of healing also changes the appearance of the tattoo. After your tattoo heals, any time the outer layer of your skin is dry it can make your healed tattoo look less crisp than the day you got it. That’s normal. However, moisturizing your epidermis can give your tattoo a crisper and more fresh look."
What Should You Moisturize a New Tattoo With?
Lotion is the obvious answer, but what it contains makes all the difference. "The best moisturizer is an oil-based emollient, but these can be tedious to use because they can be difficult to spread on the skin," says Love. "And they can leave a greasy feel and appearance to the skin leading to decreased usage." Because of that, you may want to opt for tattoo balms or gels instead. Provided these products say they are specifically formulated for tattoo healing, they're a great choice (and are often more portable, too).
Additionally, there are ingredients in lotion you'll want to avoid. "Products containing ingredients such as fragrance, lanolin, and/or parabens should be avoided because of the risk of irritation or allergic reaction," recommends Love. It's worth noting that those reactions can occur even after a tattoo is healed; Personally, I can't ever wear wool socks (lanolin is derived from wool) because they irritate the lower leg and ankle tattoos I've had for many years.
What Other Aftercare Tips Should I Keep in Mind?
- Don't go overboard: "The most important thing to remember during tattoo aftercare is to always keep a balance in hydration," says Ladna. "Moisturize your tattoo, but don’t overdo it. A thin layer of cream is enough, and it’s better to apply it more frequently in thin layers."
- Keep it clean: Ladna recommends washing a tattoo once or twice a day, in addition to the three to six applications of lotion or other tattoo-healing products.
- No sun, no prolonged water: "Another important aftercare protocol is to stay out of the sun and away from the sauna, jacuzzi, and pools for three weeks," Ladna tells us.
- Think about your immune system: You may not have factored in how getting a tattoo interrupts your body's stasis. However, ensuring you're in solid shape will contribute to your healing abilities. "Keep your immune system strong so that you bounce back, especially after long sessions," advises Ladna. "Take vitamin C before and after your session, eat healthily, drink plenty of water, and get some rest if you can."
- Don't leave Saniderm on too long: Saniderm bandages are considered by many to be a godsend: They eliminate the first few days of mess and care from a tattoo, preventing the initial scabbing process by holding healing plasma next to your new ink. But leaving them on too long can lead to problems. "I typically do not recommend keeping it on for more than four days," says Ladna. "Beyond that, it is important to remove the Saniderm and start traditional aftercare by cleaning and hydrating."
How Often Should I Moisturize My Tattoo After It Has Healed?
In the long term, tattooed skin does not have significantly different moisturizing needs than skin that hasn't been inked. However, moisturizing tattoos is key to keeping them at their best. "New tattoos (within a few days) may have a higher absorption rate due to the epidermal damage allowing for an easier passage," says Love. However, "once healed there is no difference in absorption rates between tattooed skin and not tattooed skin. It should be moisturized based on your needs, at least once daily."
If your tattoo is looking dull or dry, it could benefit from moisturizing. This is a no-brainer if your tattoo is on an area of your body that people tend to massage lotion into daily, such as your arms or legs. But if your art is on a different part of your body that you don't regularly moisturize, it's worth looking closely to see if it's suffering. Incorporating that step into your skincare routine will help keep your ink vibrant and bright.
The Final Takeaway
Moisturizing a new tattoo is a key step in the healing process. You'll want to begin soon after you get the tattoo done and continue three to six times a day for about three weeks. In addition to that, wash the tattoo once or twice a day. Avoid direct sunlight, don't sit in hot tubs, and save that ocean dip for after it's healed. If your artist put on a Saniderm bandage, you'll be able to skip the first few days of care, but don't leave it on for more than four days and begin moisturizing and washing as soon as you remove it. Once healed, daily moisturizing will keep your tattoo looking fresh.