Care for a new tattoo begins the moment you step out of the artist’s chair and it continues years into the ink’s lifespan. Optimizing the healing during aftercare and protecting your tattoo to ensure its longevity is the best way to preserve your art piece.
You won’t find a more thorough aftercare guide than this, so read on for tips and tricks for every stage of your tattoo.
Table of Contents (clickable)
If you want to ensure you’re using the best products on your ink, have a look at our Best Tattoo Aftercare Products - Our Favorites Reviewed article.
When you get a new tattoo, your body’s immune system goes into hyperdrive in an attempt to not only mend the wound done to your skin, but also to push out all the foreign particles inserted within it.
Aftercare for a new tattoo is simplified with a highly skilled artist who is able to insert the ink into your dermis with minimal damage that causes less of a body response and leads to quicker healing.
Before we dive into step-by-step aftercare instructions for each stage of your tattoo, here are a few tips you should keep note of.
A brand new tattoo is essentially an open wound, and the moment your artist puts needle-to-skin, your body begins it’s healing process. Your tattoo is most vulnerable during these moments, which makes the first day of aftercare so important.
When your artist has finished the last round on your ink, they will wipe it clean with an antiseptic cleanser. They will allow you to take a photo prior to giving it another wipe down, while covering it with ointment before they wrap it.
They will either wrap your tattoo with medical grade bandaging or saran wrap, protecting your tattoo completely during its weakest and most vulnerable stage. Each artist has their own preferred bandage, and no bandage is better than the next. These wraps are made to keep bacteria out while keeping moisture in, when your sensitive tattoo needs it the very most.
Your skin will likely be very raw, red, swollen, and painful at this time. Do not pick at or remove the bandage after it is wrapped.
Your artist may give you instructions on how long you should keep the bandage on your tattoo, as different wrapping methods have different wrapping time and efficiency. If they have not given you instructions on when it should be removed, we recommend leaving it on for four to six hours prior to removing your bandage.
You must not remove your bandage without washing your hands first. Once you’ve done so, you may slowly and gently peel back the bandage from your tattoo. Do not be alarmed if pieces of skin, blood, or ink get removed with it, though in most cases, it should not stick at all to your new tattoo or take anything with it.
If you do notice that some pieces of the bandage are stuck to the tattoo, it is safe to use lukewarm water to help encourage the release of the bandage from your skin.
This first wash may be the most awkward and most uncomfortable of all of them. Your tattoo goes through a process called weeping where it pushes out excess blood, ink, and plasma from your tattoo. Mixed with the ointment of your artist, this makes for a very sticky mess. Your skin will also be highly sensitive at this time.
Follow these key steps to make sure your first wash is your best wash.
While it may be painful to wash your tattoo at this moment, you just need to bite the bullet and do it. Avoiding a thorough wash could put your tattoo at risk for infection.
If you see ink sticking to the towel or paper when you dry it, this is completely normal. Your tattoo may continue to “leak” ink over the next few days.
When scrubbing your tattoo, you must be meticulous but not rough. You don’t want to tear away any important aspects that are central to the healing of your tattoo.
When your tattoo is completely dry, at this stage you can apply an ointment if you wish, but only in a very thin layer. It is not a necessary part of first day care, but it may help with inflammation and pain. Under no circumstances should a numbing cream ever be applied to a new tattoo, as this may cause severe burning or distortion of your tattoo.
Your tattoo will likely be at its most sore stage during the first day, and you may notice that you feel exceptionally cold which is just an immune response to the injury. The best thing to do during the first day of your tattoo is to have a bit of rest and relaxation, and to stay hydrated with lots of water.
We also recommend that you avoid smoking as this affects circulation and could negatively influence the healing of your tattoo. Alcohol and caffeine should also be avoided. In addition, for the first month of healing, you should avoid tight fitting clothing.
The most challenging aspect of this day may be when it comes to getting ready to sleep on your new tattoo. Here are some quick tips:
You can follow our complete guide on How To Sleep With A New Tattoo.
During the first three days, your tattoo will continue its weeping process, which means your immune system is still pushing the foreign particles out of your body and cleansing the wound as much as possible. As such, your tattooed area will continue to feel sore and possibly look swollen or red during day two and three.
If your tattoo is raised or your skin looks bruised, this is also a common symptom of day two or three. You must continue your rigorous cleansing regimen on these days, using only ointment if necessary.
Some people may have allergic reactions to tattoo ink, and this sometimes becomes evident during this stage. If small pimples emerge underneath your tattoo, simply keep an eye on how they progress and if you are at all concerned, speak to your artist. Red ink is the most common cause of allergic reactions.
After your tattoo has stopped weeping, it will begin to get dry and therefore start its scabbing process. After day three, it is safe to add moisturizer to your aftercare regimen. Here are a few important tips to keep in mind:
The scabs that may begin to form at this stage are likely light and crusty, and your tattoo may look dull in color. Do not pick or pull or peel away at these scabs. They are essential to the healing of your tattoo, and removing them could pull away ink or cause scarring. Do not be tempted to over-moisturize them, either, as this could lead to scab bubbling.
After scabbing comes the torturous stage of itching. The problem with an itchy tattoo is that you must absolutely, under no circumstances, scratch it! If you have followed a careful aftercare regimen up until this point, you may have scabs and peeling skin with very minimal itchiness. Otherwise, here are some ways you can treat an itchy tattoo without compromising your ink:
You can read our entire Tattoo Itch Guide: How To Stop And Prevent Tattoo Itching for more tips and tricks.
It’s at this stage that your tattoo will likely look the most unsightly and be the most irritating. If you are planning to go out with your tattoo exposed, a small dab of moisturizer will help it look more appealing for a few hours.
Pieces of your skin and your scab will come off naturally, and you may notice it stuck to bed sheets, your hands after washing, or your towels. This is perfectly normal, just continue your aftercare regimen as usual.
At this stage, very rarely is your tattoo still red, sore, or swollen. If you notice these symptoms, it may be helpful to talk to your artist for advice. You could be having a reaction to aftercare products, or your tattoo could be facing an infection.
Depending on the size, placement, and intensity of your new tattoo, as you move into week three of your healing journey, your tattoo will begin to look as it should, with very minimal scabs or peeling skin. The thicker scabs may have been replaced with a milk scab. Milk scabs are the thin, final layer of healing over your tattoo that may make it look faded or dull. This will eventually fade away at around week four.
You should continue your strict aftercare regimen until the end of the month, after which you can reduce your washing and moisturizing to once a day.
You can also begin to use sunscreen at this stage, which is highly recommended for extra protection and to help your tattoo age well. For more information, check out our article Can I Put Sunscreen On My New Tattoo? - Sunblock Safety Tips For Fresh Ink.
At this point, you should have made it to the end of your healing journey and your tattoo should be ready to be shown off to the world.
After one month:
At this point, you should also have a close look at any patchy spots or dull color in your tattoo and speak to your artist about whether or not you need a touch up. The skin might still be sensitive, so you may want to wait until around month two or three before going under the needle again.
If you notice anything abnormal or issues are still persisting after one month, it’s crucial that you speak to a medical professional about your concerns. It is not worth the risk to sit idly by and hope for everything to go back to normal; you not only compromise the integrity of your art but also your health.
Aftercare and general preservation of skin health should continue even after your tattoo is done healing, as this is a lifelong investment and you want to preserve your work of art. By following our careful aftercare steps, you set your tattoo up for optimal healing, and you increase its longevity.