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Tattoos deserve to be shown off, but before you can flash your new ink around, you have to diligently care for your tat to ensure proper healing. One of the most important steps in the aftercare process is choosing a lotion that will keep your fresh design moisturized, free of infection, and without irritation, according to tattoo artists. Because a tattoo is technically a wound, tattoo lotions are incredibly important to not only keeping your ink looking good but to aiding in the healing process as well.
Finding your perfect lotion isn’t as easy as it sounds, however, and it's not as easy as asking for help; everyone has their own favorite products. “I think what lotion you use depends a lot on climate and skin type. Also how much you apply is important too,” says Olive, the tattoo artist behind Oregon-based Damn Zippy. “I prefer not to rep a certain brand because everyone is different and I want my clients to use what works for them, which might not necessarily be what works for me.”
Though it can be hard to choose from the array of lotions available, go in knowing what you want (vegan? water-based? budget or splurge?) and what will work best for your skin and new tattoo. “I generally recommend that the person uses whatever they find most comfortable,” says hand-poke artist Harper of Melbourne’s Pocaharper. “After all, they have to wear it on their skin every day.”
Read on for the best tattoo lotions available now.
Best Overall: Aquaphor Healing Ointment
Aquaphor's Healing Ointment is of the most widely used tattoo aftercare treatments, and you’ll find a lot of artists quick to recommend the old stand-by. Because the petrolatum-powered formula has occlusive properties, it creates a semi-permeable layer on top of the skin which allows moisture to be kept in and everything else to be kept out. By holding in the skin’s natural moisture, it helps keep your tattoo fresh and promotes healing.
Best Drugstore: Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion
Aveeno may be a name you are used to hearing, and there’s a reason for that: It works. All of Aveeno’s products feature colloidal oatmeal, which moisturizes and calms inflammation while creating a protective barrier on top of your skin, meaning it's great for both soothing and protecting your healing ink. This lotion is also free of parabens and fragrance, so it won't irritate a fresh tattoo. Plus, it comes with a super affordable price tag, making it a must after any and every tattoo.
Best Splurge: Billy Jealousy Tattoo Lotion
Although Billy Jealousy’s Tattoo Lotion is a bit on the pricier side, it’s packed with skin-soothing elements like shea butter, sunflower seed oil, jojoba oil, green tea leaf extract, and more. One thing to note is that this lotion does feature lavender and rosemary oils for fragrance, and most artists will tell you to stay away from lotions with fragrances. However, Billy Jealousy’s fragrance comes from essential oils, so it gets an okay from me! This lotion will keep your tattoos looking fresh and clean.
Best Vegan: Hustle Butter Deluxe Luxury Tattoo Care & Maintenance Cream
Another option that Harper suggests is Hustle Butter, a vegan alternative to traditional tattoo lotions. “It is all-natural and great for the skin, although not as accessible or cheap as the other two options,” says Harper. The product smells amazing and comes in a variety of sizes for everything from small line art to the heavy blackwork. Hustle Butter moisturizes and seals the ink to keep it looking new and feeling soft even after it’s healed.
Best Gentle: Stories & Ink Tattoo Care Aftercare Cream
The last thing you want to apply to a fresh tat is something harsh, and this aftercare cream from Stories & Ink is extra gentle. Not only is it fragrance-free, paraben-free, and hypoallergenic, but it contains a soothing, fatty acid-rich blend of panthenol, bisabolol, and vitamin E meant to help calm inflammation and deeply moisturize the skin. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s also vegan and cruelty-free.
Best Soothing: Mad Rabbit Repair Soothing Gel
If you’ve been tattooed before, then you know that your skin doesn’t necessarily feel the greatest post-tattoo session. That’s why you’ll love this soothing, cooling gel from Mad Rabbit to gently calm and heal your freshly inked (err, punctured) skin. It contains aloe vera, a known skin soother that’s rich in antioxidants and stimulates cell regeneration, as well as reparative vitamin C and argan oil.
Best Water-Based: H2Ocean Aquatat Moisturizer
H2Ocean Aquatat is a water-based and petroleum-free lotion that promises to create a protective skin barrier that is perfect for all skin types, including sensitive. It’s fragrance-free and anti-inflammatory, and reviews say it helps accelerate your ink’s healing period. Aquatat won’t stick to your skin, but it will leave your tat looking almost as pretty as new.
Best Color-Enhancing: Tattoo Goo Balm
Having been on the market for ten years, Tattoo Goo lotion is another well-known aftercare product recommended by many artists. Rich in Panthenol (Vitamin B5), it promises to keep your ink moisturized, prevent scabbing, and speed up healing—all without clogging up your pores. Also nice? Tattoo Goo is also meant to help make colors more vivid and is dermatologist tested for your assurance.
Best Natural: After Inked Tattoo Moisturizer and Aftercare Lotion
After Inked is enriched with grape seed oil to provide an extremely moisturizing effect on your new tats. It’s a daily skin product that won’t stick to your clothes and that will naturally help your ink—both new and old—look healthier and better than ever. If you’re looking for a natural aftercare product, After Inked is non-petroleum based, paraben-free, fragrance-free, vegan, cruelty-free, and gluten-free, so you can be certain it fits your needs and still works wonders on your tattoos.
Best Oil: Nutiva Virgin Coconut Oil
If you want to be certain your lotion choice is completely all-natural, consider reaching for pure coconut oil. Although it has a seemingly infinite number of uses, it’s also the perfect product for tattoo aftercare due to its reputation for treating wounds and other skin irritants. If you decide to go with coconut oil, make sure you use a clean utensil (or wear gloves) when applying to avoid exposing your ink to any potentially harmful bacteria.
Best Stick: People Of Substance Art Preservation Stick
This convenient tattoo healing stick is great for healing fresh tattoos and preserving your older ones. Packed with nutrient-rich grape seed, sweet almond, and argan oils, the ultra lightweight formula promises to help soothe and heal the skin while enhancing your tattoo’s lines and color. Pop it in your bag to apply it on the go, just make sure you clean any healing tattoos first.
Best Multitasker: Dr. Rogers RESTORE Healing Balm - Winter Stone
Consider this healing balm the ultimate multitasker. It can be used to heal and soothe dry skin and lips, eczema rashes, and burns and scrapes, and also makes a great quick fix for taming flyaways and unruly eyebrows. It’s also especially nice for healing a fresh tat. The simple formula contains only castor oil and glycerin meant to help draw moisture to the skin while repairing damage, and doesn’t contain any unnecessary fillers or fragrance. It’s no wonder this one is backed by celebrity tattoo artist Winter Stone.
When it comes to the very best products for healing tattoos, we’re giving top honors to the classic Aquaphor Healing Ointment. Highly recommended by many tattoo artists, it absorbs the skin’s natural moisture while creating a protective (but breathable) barrier over your new ink. If you’re looking for a product that’s specifically formulated for tattoos, Tattoo Goo is another classic that keeps your tattoo moisturized, prevents scabbing, speeds up healing, and keeps colors vivid. Of course, you can’t go wrong with a pure product like Nutiva Virgin Coconut Oil, which can be used for a slew of different purposes in addition to healing a fresh tattoo.
What to Look For in a Tattoo Lotion
Harper recommends looking for tattoo aftercare products with naturally-derived ingredients. “They tend to have anti-inflammatory and healing properties that are healthier for your skin than those of non-organic ingredients. They also don’t contain synthetics and chemicals that may cause irritation to the tattoo.” A fresh tattoo is essentially an open wound and will feel quite irritated following your session, so anti-inflammatory, non-irritating properties are a major plus.
Tubes or Dispensable Packaging
When it comes to how your aftercare product is packaged, Olive recommends reaching for products that come with a dispenser (or, alternatively, a squeezable tube). “Something you have to continuously dip your hand into may harbor bacteria from the hands.” That doesn’t mean balms and creams that come in a pot are a no-go, just be sure to thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water before scooping out any product.
Some of the aftercare products on this list do contain some fragrance, but both Olive and Harper recommend avoiding fragrance if possible, especially if the tattoo is extremely fresh or if your skin is on the sensitive side. “It can irritate the tattoo, which can affect the healing process,” says Harper.
Meet the Expert
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any tattoo lotions from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.