My Fresh Tattoo Care Instructions
How you care for your new tattoo is vital to maintain its appearance for the years to come, especially since you took the time to find the right one. Your skin at this point is one big open wound where your new tattoo is and should be treated as one.
There are many steps you should follow to ensure you are helping your skin to heal properly. I want to note you will see or hear different recommendations from all over the place and that is because everyone is different and what works for them may not work for you. These are my fresh tattoo care instructions that I personally use every time I go for a new session.
Immediately After Your Session
Take some Ibuprofen! It will not eliminate the pain but it will certainly help. I actually take some about an hour before my session because I know they are going to be long (over 3 hours) and then by the time I get out of there enough time has passed for a second dose.
Your artist should have wrapped your new tattoo well at this point. I usually see recommendations to remove this wrap after 4 hours buy my artist has always told me to leave it on overnight so that is what I have always done. I have not had a problem doing this. There are two things you want to prevent those first couple days: infection & drying out.
Most artists will spray your new tattoo with some sort of antiseptic like Bactine and apply some ointment like Vaseline before they wrap your new tattoo. Both of these will prevent infection and drying out. Your new tattoo will be oozing blood, ink and plasma for well over four hours so in my opinion if you remove that wrap before then you may end up having to wash it over night to prevent scabbing.
If your tattoo did not get an antiseptic or ointment bath before it was wrapped or you don’t feel like it was thorough then go ahead and remove your wrap. Wash it and apply a thin layer of Aquaphor then re-wrap it for the night.
Showering with your new tattoo
Alright, you made it through the first night! How did you sleep? If your tattoo was large enough probably not well. Don’t worry it will feel nice to remove the wrap and let your skin breathe after your first shower.
My whole arm was usually wrapped up so it would use scissors to cut the tape and then gently remove the wrap. Try to do this over a tile or wood floor as the ink could stain any carpet. After you dispose of the bandage you will want to hop in the shower with warm water.
Before you wash it let the water run over it to remove all of the blood, plasma and ointment from the night. If the water alone is not enough massage it gently until it is gone. You will only want to use the amount of water that is necessary, don’t let it soak your tattoo.
Most people will recommend an anti-bacterial soap at this point like Dial. I am actually going to recommend for the first couple days that your tattoo is still oozing plasma to use Hibiclens. It is a cleanser as well as an antiseptic and their website claims it can kill germs for up to 24 hours!
You can find it at Wal Mart and they even have a generic brand. It is a little more expensive than a soap but a little bit goes a long way. Gently massage your new tattoo with the Hibiclens for 30 seconds and rinse. When your skin starts to peel then switch to an antibacterial soap.
Just before you get out of the shower turn the water as cold as it will go. Let this cold water run over your tattoo, this will help the pores close up which will slow down the oozing during the first couple days.
When you are done showering gently pat your tattoo dry with a clean towel and let it air dry for at least 15 min. Then apply a thin layer of Aquaphor, the thinnest layer that you need to cover it. You do not want globs of it, less is more in this case because your skin needs to breathe. Try to wear loose clothing and if you have to wear something over it you may have to reapply the ointment more frequently if your clothes are absorbing it.
If you are still in a lot of pain I would continue on the Ibuprofen regimen. Your skin will also feel very hot now, this is from the all of the extra blood working to heal your skin. It may also be swollen (my arm always swells a lot) and I am a huge fan of ice! Just don’t put the ice directly on your skin, use a towel as a barrier but the ice will provide some nice relief. I would do no more than 20 minutes at a time with the ice.
Your tattoo will continue to leak plasma slowly through this period so I would recommend rewashing (don’t forget the 15 min air dry) it every 3-4 hours and reapplying Aquaphor. Depending on where your tattoo is you may or may not have to get back in the shower. You may want to have some paper towels with you so you can pat the tattoo dry as the plasma leaks out before you have a chance to wash it.
Avoid my rookie mistake!
After my first color session I was wearing a long sleeve shirt to bed the second night to help prevent my sheets from getting stained. I didn’t realize how much the tattoo was still leaking and I woke up to one giant scab. This was a very weird feeling.
Fortunately, by the third day, they started falling off when you would normally start to peel. All except one section of red, which is one of the harder colors to heal, the scab did not want to come off. It cracked and bled and pieces of it stayed on for almost 3 weeks. I will definitely have to get this section touched up as the spots that bled pulled the ink out.
Don’t worry, you can prevent this! Each night for the first few nights if your tattoo is still oozing plasma throughout the day you need to wrap in plastic overnight. After you wash it, give it a fresh coat of ointment before bed just wrap it with plastic. This discomfort of the plastic the first couple nights will be much more comfortable than the discomfort of a huge scab on your tattoo, trust me!
When you wake up in the morning just continue washing it and applying ointment like you normally would.
By now your tattoo should be peeling nicely and you must resist the urge to scratch! It can be uncomfortable but you do not want to pull off and loose skin or scabs, let them come off on their own. Encouraging the scabs to come off early can result in scarring, trust me, I know.
I continue to use Aquaphor at this point despite a lot of recommendations to switch to a fragrance free lotion. When you switch to a lotion you will have to reapply every 1-2 hours to prevent the tattoo from drying out and only applying this ointment every 4 hours is more convenient to me.
By now most of your peeling should be done however some colors heal faster than others. Black is always the fastest and for me red takes forever! I’ve had some spots peel for 5-6 weeks. Some areas may even peel more than once which is fine just continue to keep it clean and moisturized.
If you need to go out in the sun during any of this and for the life of your tattoo please use sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. This will help extend the life of your tattoo. After 3 weeks most of the hard work should be over unless you have an infection or complications. Regardless of how careful you were there still may be some spots that require touching up. Wait at least 6 weeks before you schedule this appointment.
Finally, I just wanted to remind you that everyone is different and this method is what I have had the most success with. I hope sharing this helps with your next tattoo! If you have any suggestions that I might have missed please feel free to leave them in the comments below.