Once you're out of the artist's chair and your new ink is complete, it becomes your responsibility to keep your tattoo safe through proper aftercare. Following a few simple steps to care for your tattoo can keep it clean, infection-free and fresh-looking for years to come.
Your tattoo is an open wound, which is why your artist likely put some kind of covering or bandage on it before you left the studio. As tempting as it is to remove your bandage so you can look at your new ink or show it off to your friends, the bandage should stay on for one to two hours to protect it from airborne bacteria.
Give your tattoo its first bath right after you take the bandage off, and continue to do so three to four times per day for the first two to three weeks until it is healed.
Wash your hands first, and use only your fingertips to wash the tattoo. Warm water and mild antibacterial soap work best. Make sure the soap you're using is free of any harsh fragrances or dyes. Avoid scrubbing the tattoo with any sort of loofah or washcloth during this period; simply pat it dry with a clean towel or paper towel. Friction can irritate the skin and even start to remove bits of fresh ink.
Keeping your tattoo "shiny" with ointment at all times during the healing process will keep a hard scab from forming and protect it from infection. Diaper-rash ointments, skin-healing ointments and products specifically made for tattoos are all commonly used for this purpose. If you're not sure what to use, ask your tattoo artist for a recommendation.
Apply ointment gently in a thin layer each time you wash your tattoo or any time it begins to feel dry or "hard.'
Scabbing and peeling
When the tattoo begins to heal, you may notice that your skin is slightly peeling (as if you've had a sunburn) or forming small scabs. This is a normal part of the healing process. No matter how itchy or annoying it is, avoid picking or scratching the skin. Apply extra lotion to peeling skin, and try giving the tattoo a pat or a gentle slap to ward off itchiness.
Water and sun
Getting a new tattoo wet is fine, but avoid submerging it or completely saturating it with water during the first two to three weeks. Take care to keep it out of the shower head's direct stream during a shower, and avoid taking baths, soaking in hot tubs or swimming during the healing period.
Sun can be a tattoo's worst enemy, even after it is healed, so take care to protect your tattoo from the sun. Cover it with clothing or stay in the shade during the healing period, and apply an SPF sunscreen (30 or higher) any time your tattoo is going to be exposed to sun afterwards. Protecting a tattoo from the sun is one of the best ways you can keep it fresh-looking.
Choosing a reputable tattoo artist is just the beginning of the tattoo safety process. Take care of your fresh ink by following these simple aftercare instructions to keep your tattoo safe and beautiful.