Now that you have your fresh new tattoo, you need to take good care of it. From this point on, your artist is not responsible for any infection or problems you might have with your tattoo that results from improper care—it's all on you. And safety aside, a really beautiful tattoo can turn into a disaster if you don't follow proper aftercare guidelines. Now that we have your attention, here are a few things to do (or not) to make the most of your investment in that beautiful body art.
Leave That Bandage Alone
Open wounds are breeding grounds for bacteria and infection—and, as pretty as your new tattoo is, it's a wound. Your artist took care to cover it up to keep airborne bacteria from invading it. Leave the bandage on for a minimum of two hours. The excitement of having a new tattoo will make you want to remove the bandage so you can show your friends, but you must resist the temptation.
The only exception to this rule is if your artist covered your tattoo with some kind of plastic. This will prevent air from reaching your skin and may be extremely detrimental to a tattoo, so you should remove it immediately. You're better off not having any covering than to be suffocating your new tattoo with plastic wrap. Better yet, ask your artist to use bandaging rather than plastic in the first place.
Wash and Treat
After you remove the bandage, you should wash your tattoo. Use lukewarm water and mild, liquid antibacterial or antimicrobial soap to gently remove any ointment, blood, and plasma and to completely clean the area. Provon Antimicrobial Lotion Soap is a good choice; it's a mild moisturizing cleanser specifically made for piercing and tattoo care. Never use a washcloth; it's too abrasive. Your hand is your best tool.
If your tattoo feels slimy and slippery, you have probably been oozing plasma. Try to gently remove as much of this as possible; scabs may form if it is allowed to dry on the skin's surface.
Then, pat—don't rub—the area firmly with a clean towel or paper towel to get it completely dry. Follow with a very light application of A&D, Bacitracin, or a similar antibacterial ointment—but not Neosporin. This is a wonderful product for cuts and scrapes, but not for tattoos. Many people have allergic reactions to Neosporin, which can cause little red bumps. When the bumps go away, so does the ink, and you can end up with a polka-dotted tattoo.
If you prefer, you also can use a specialty product such as Tattoo Goo Aftercare Salve. It's petroleum-free and made with herbs and oils meant to soothe and heal your new tattoo.
After that, continue to keep your tattoo clean. After some time has passed, you can use a dye- and fragrance-free lotion when needed instead of ointment to keep the skin soft.
Bathing, Showering, Hot Tubs, and Swimming
Getting your tattoo wet is OK, but soaking it is not. Yes, you can (and should!) shower with a new tattoo, as long as you don't completely soak it. Avoid swimming—whether in a pool, lake, or the ocean—and submerging your tattoo in a bath or hot tub for two to three weeks, though; this may cause serious damage. If you get soap or shampoo on your tattoo, just remove it quickly with water. No shaving, either.
Scabbing and Peeling
After a few days, you'll notice some peeling and possibly a little scabbing. Excessive scabbing could indicate a poorly done tattoo, but a little is normal, and there's no need to panic. Apply warm, moist compresses to the scabs for about five minutes two or three times a day to soften the scabs, and they will eventually come off on their own. (Do not apply ointment or lotion to a softened scab; wait for it to dry.)
Your tattoo will start to itch as it heals, just like a sunburn. It might peel more, too. Whatever you do, don't pick or scratch! If the skin itches, slap it. Your tattoo is almost healed. Why ruin it?
Protection From the Sun
After your tattoo is healed, you should always protect it from the sun's ultraviolet rays. These can fade and damage a brilliant tattoo very fast. Make it a habit to protect your tattoo with a minimum 30SPF sunblock anytime you plan to be outside for any length of time. This will go a long way in keeping your tattoo vibrant for many years.
Burkemper NM. Contact dermatitis, patch testing, and allergen avoidance. Mo Med. 2015;112(4):296-300.