Newly inked? It's only natural to want to show off your new tattoo to the world. Your friends and Instagram followers are waiting—we get it. But, if your ink is located somewhere you typically shave, you'll need to be patient in order to let it heal properly first. After all, no one wants red bumps and irritation over freshly-inked skin.
Not sure what should happen to your tattoo afterward or how to handle the healing process? We've got you covered. Ahead, experts share everything you need to know about the post-tattoo experience and when it's safe to shave.
Meet the Expert
- Morgan Rabach, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and cofounder of LM Medical PLLC, a dermatology and facial plastic surgery practice.
- Shaughnessy Otsuji is a restorative tattoo artist and owner of Studio Sashiko.
Keep reading for more information on how to shave after a tattoo.
Should You Shave Before a Tattoo?
While you should shave before getting a tattoo, the tattoo artist may still shave the area again as part of the pre-tattoo prep to make sure that the tiny hairs will not get in the way of the ink.
"Hair can harbor bacteria and should be removed gently to avoid any razor burn or irritation before tattooing," says Otsuji.
“If you have sensitive skin or shaving irritates your skin, you can shave a few days prior to your tattoo to let your skin calm down," adds Rabach.
How Long Do Tattoos Take to Heal?
According to Rabach, it usually takes the skin two to three weeks to fully heal after getting a tattoo. Tattoos generally go through several different stages of healing. Immediately afterward, your skin might look raw and feel tender to the touch, though this should only last a day or so depending on how large your ink is and where it's placed. For instance, a tiny tattoo on your arm might feel fine after a few hours, while a large piece in a sensitive spot like your ribs could take days to feel normal again.
"After about two weeks, you can resume your regular lifestyle although your skin may still be naturally exfoliating and regenerating for up to six weeks," says Otsuji. "Your artist will have the area bandaged post-tattoo and instruct you how to keep it clean and dry throughout the healing process."
It is important to avoid sweating, swimming, and sun exposure for the two-week healing period, says Otsuji, as during this time there may be some light scabbing or peeling. However, a healing cream or mild moisturizer can be used sparingly as needed. She recommends Zensa Healing Cream ($75), for its soothing and hydrating properties thanks to shea butter and cucumber extract as well as sunflower seed oil to preserve your tattoo's color.
During the middle stage, your tattoo will likely look very dark as it hasn't peeled yet and should be safe to touch and shower with, so long as you're not completely submerging it underwater. The last stage is the peeling stage, which tends to occur anywhere from three or four days to a week after you got your ink. Once it scabs over and sheds, your skin will regenerate itself and produce a new protective layer over your tattoo.
When Can You Shave After a Tattoo?
When you get a tattoo, the area will be completely shaved before it's done, so you're starting off with smooth skin. However, after a couple of days when stubble comes in, the urge to shave can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, if you go for it too soon, shaving will be about as rough on your tattoo as a weed whacker. This is because the wound is still fresh, and if you have any scabbing or raised areas, you run the risk of damaging the art by running a razor across it.
Both Rabach and Otsuji agree to wait at least two weeks (four on the safe side) to shave after getting a tattoo.
"Once the skin is fully closed and any scabs that were present are gone is a good sign,” says Rabach. "Avoid scented shave gels and exfoliating cleansers when shaving over a tattooed area. I recommend shaving cream, warm water and soap, and anything gentle to reduce irritation."
Otsuji cautions that while the skin may look healed on the surface sooner than two weeks, it may still be quite sensitive and delicate or still in the peeling phase. "You don't want to risk damaging the healing tattoo or causing excess irritation to the area," she says.
How Can You Tell If It's Safe?
Not sure if your tattoo has healed completely? Try this simple skin test to see if it's safe to shave again:
Close your eyes and run the tips of your fingers across and around your tattoo. If there are any bumps, raised areas, or hard scabs, then you know your skin is not back to normal. The area should feel exactly the same as the skin around it. If you can tell by touching it where your tattoo begins and ends, or feel any skin irregularities, then you need to wait a little longer.
Are There Any Exceptions?
While rare, sometimes a tattoo can remain slightly raised for as long as a few months. In this case, if the tattoo is completely healed otherwise, with no open sores or scabs, an electric razor is your best option.
“If you are worried about how sensitive the skin feels you can always use an electric razor or a chemical hair removal, which can be less traumatizing to the skin than the blade of a razor,” says Rabach.
What's more: If you choose to use a blade razor, exercise extreme caution as your tattoo is so close to being successfully healed at this point, so the last thing you want to do is open it up.
Once the tattoo is fully healed, you can resume the use of any regular shaving products. Otsuji recommends hair removal products that are moisturizing as a good option to keep your tattoos looking vibrant longer.
"A gentle moisturizer is a great thing to add to your daily routine once your tattoo has healed. I recommend avoiding any products that contain anti-aging ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C, or other chemical exfoliants as these can cause fading to the tattoo," she says. "Self-tanners can be used once healed, but it's important to note that they tint the skin, which may cause the tattoo to appear a bit softer."
Similar to using gentle and unscented products to shave with, Rabach recommends the same for moisturizing and adds that Vaseline and Aquaphor are also helpful for healing skin.
The Final Takeaway
There is always a chance of irritation when a routine is interrupted, however, preparing the area by gently exfoliating and moisturizing a few days before getting a tattoo might minimize any ingrown hairs, irritation, or dry skin.
"If the skin in the area is healthy and the hair is removed properly, it should not compromise the tattoo healing process. Although, if any knicks or ingrown hairs occur from shaving, these issues can cause excess irritation and scabbing, which can lead to premature fallout or fading of the ink."