Did you know the first 24 hours after getting your new ink are the most crucial ones to the whole healing process of your new tattoo? Well, if you didn’t we’re guessing there are a few more things you probably don’t know about the importance of tattoo aftercare and its healing process. Luckily for you, we’ve gathered everything you need to know in order to ensure the best healing for your brand new tattoo. It’s long, you’ll need a few minutes to read it, but we advise you to read the whole thing. By doing so you’ll have a better understandment of, well everything and you’ll be prepared, you’ll know what to do!
Some say your tattoo will heal as good as your tattoo artist is, but still… If you mess the healing process up, you’re going to end up with something less pretty.
There are a few options you have when it comes to tattoo aftercare, but for you to be able to choose the proper aftercare process we’ll have to go through what actually happens to our body and skin when we get tattooed.
Table of Contents
What tattooed skin goes through
When getting a tattoo, the skin goes through trauma. Our skin is made up from 3 layers and each one is important in order for us to understand what actually happens when ink enters our body. We’ll try to keep it brief and don’t worry, we wont get TOO scientific.
The upper layer (epidermis)
The first layer of our skin is the one we are able to see everyday. To the naked eye it’s a paper thin layer, yet it still manages to protect us.
It is made of a highly cellular tissue. What does that mean? Well, there are lots of cells that are packed together and stacked on top of each other. There can be stacks of up to 50 layers! To us, that’s about 1 millimeter. You’ve probably heard we, as human beings, shed our skin. How does that happen, though?
The bottom layer of this cellular thin tissue copies itself. As a new copy has been made, the previous copies move up. Think of an escalator: one step comes out of the bottom as the previous ones move up.
Since those layers keep moving upwards, and this isn’t an actual escalator so therefore we can’t reuse the ”steps”
(read: cell layer), there’s bound to be a layer that eventually ends up at the surface. That layer is the farthest from the blood supply, so it eventually flattens out and dies. We then call this ‘dead skin.
In the end, it flakes off and that is how we shed our skin. This whole process takes up about 4 weeks total.
The second layer (dermis)
The second layer of our skin isn’t as cellular. Among other important structures (like sweat glands, nerve endings, hair follicles,…), there are a few cells that are scattered around floating throughout the tissue. Those cells are called fibrocytes but we’ll name them the F-cells in order to keep it simple. The F-cells produce a protein fiber named ”Collagen” and that fiber goes all directions. It’s the reason we can tug on our skin whichever direction we desire!
Okay, but what does that have to do with tattoos?
Thank you for your patience! We’re getting there, but we’ll have to understand what happens when trauma happens to our skin first.
Usually, when there’s trauma to the skin and foreign substances are entering it, our immune system gets alerted and the inflammation process starts. This is also the case with tattoos.
When a bunch of needles are puncturing our skin with high speeds, injecting ink (the foreign substance), there’s no doubt the inflammation process won’t activate.
Once that happens when it’s e.g. a normal wound from falling, the white blood cells exit their vessels and go on their way through the tissue in order to reach the affected area.
Now that they’ve made their travel, the white blood cells engulf (read: take up) the foreign substances that are usually things like: bacteria, viruses, debris,… and start to digest and break them down. The thing is, ink isn’t a biological substance and therefore, our body cannot digest or break it down.
What does it do instead? It takes up the ink from that collagen we talked about, and from the F-cells. The ink stays in the white blood cells and we can see it through our skin! So, it’s less of digesting it or breaking it down and more of let’s contain them so they can’t go to other areas of the body!
So, this is the most stable layer of the skin and the ideal one to get the ink in.
The third layer (hypodermis)
The third layer is still relevant! Yes, we’ve already went over the most stable layer of the skin, but aren’t u guys curious how blow-outs happen?
Well it has to do with 2 things mainly. The pressure the tattoo artist applies and the thickness of the dermis, the second layer.
Most of us know that we have a fatty tissue ‘under’ our skin, but this is actually the third layer. We can compare this fatty tissue to a bit of an oily substance and let’s think about what happens to other liquids when ‘mixed’ with oils. They don’t.
That is the reason why ink tends to look blurry if it gets tattooed too deep. Some blurriness occurs or it looks like it kinds of dissapates into the skin.
This doesn’t always mean the tattoo artist is inadequate. Some areas of our skin are thinner and some are thicker. If a tattoo artist isn’t used to tattooing areas of the body where the dermis is thinner, yes you might get a blowout. Personally, we don’t think that’s a reason not to go to a certain artist, because everybody has to learn. We understand being cautious, though. So, we’ll go over the topic of picking the right tattoo artist for you in a bit!
Listen, listen, listen!!!
Before we get into the actual aftercare instructions, we want to point out something important. If you don’t have much experience in healing your tattoos, because you don’t have any or perhaps the ones you have are tiny, we strongly recommend to listen to listen to your tattoo artist!
They will give you the best suitable aftercare instructions for you as most tattoo artists have first hand-experience with healing their own tattoos. Even more so since they’ve seen how previous tattoos have healed on clients, plus their skin-type and its reaction.
If your artist doesn’t provide aftercare instructions for whatever reason, don’t worry. We got you.
The traditional way of tattoo aftercare
I’ll be honest. Yes, tattoo aftercare is crucial and following the aftercare instructions your artist gave you is important,… but it is also fairly simple. We’ll go over the traditional way of healing your new tattoo first.
When you leave the tattoo shop, your new body art should be covered with plastic wrap. This is to protect your fresh tattoo from any bacteria, friction from clothes, anymals, etc… If it isn’t we don’t advise you to go back to the same artist in the future.
Once you’re home and your tattoo is looking moisturized but not leaky, you’re in luck! You get to rest and do your thing. Most tattoo artists will tell you to wait a few hours before taking the plastic wrap off. They usually say anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, but in reality it depends. If it’s not leaking nor is it drier than uncooked noodles, you’re good to go for a while.
Anyhow, when you see its time to take it off it’s time to wash your hands, take the foil off and wash your new tattoo for the first time. This is really important and so is the way of doing it. Here’s a step-by-step and remember, you should treat this as if it’s a medical procedure!
Wash your hands WITH SOAP(!) for at least 20-30 seconds. If you have antibacterial soap, use that.
Take off the foil and throw it away. If you have a trash bin with a foot pedal, great! If not, wash your hands again and no, we’re not kidding.
Now it’s time for to wash the tattoo. Wash it with (luke)warm water, not cold, not hot.
Things to be mindful of: use only your hand, no sponge nor washcloth; don’t scrub, don’t be harsh; do not use a regular body soap or body wash – use a tattoo aftercare soap only and make sure all of it is rinsed off!
If you prefer to dry your skin off after, do so with a clean paper towel! No cloth towels as they hold bacteria and no toilet paper as toilet paper will do it’s thing and ‘dissolve’ into your tattoos. When drying the fresh ink off, it’s important to pat dry, gentle taps!
If you do not like drying your tattoo off, just move on to the next step.
As your tattoo is now washed you have to apply the tattoo aftercare cream/tattoo goo.
Do not use random lotions! Only tattoo aftercare products. Those are specifically formulated for tattoo aftercare and ensure they’ll heal properly! Other ointments are often too harsh for tattoos. Keep your tattoos safe and just spend the extra 5-10 bucks for proper aftercare products.
You should also avoid putting too much ointment, a thin coat of it is plenty! More is less guys. Too much ointment can suffocate the tattoo which can cause multiple issues. More on that further down.
Please, do not use shea butter, coconut oil or any things like that on a fresh tattoo.
Over-moisturizing is a thing?
Yes, my darling and it can be a cause for multiple issues and it can ensure that your newly tattooed skin won’t be healing properly. The following things can happen:
It won’t be able to dry and therefore it won’t heal.
Let’s think about mold and how it usually happens: moisture. Excessive moisture is the perfect place for bacteria to grow.
This leads to inflammation and infections.
The tattooed area together with the skin surrounding can break out or it can give you irritated skin.
Protect your fresh ink and just don’t over-moisturize, guys. Use the tattoo aftercare products your tattoo artist recommends and only when it’s in need! There’s no ‘strict guidelines’. You’ll see what your tattoo needs.
All about dry healing your fresh tattoo
Have you ever heard people discussing on whether dry healing or wet healing is better, only to be left confused? No worries, we’ll explain.
Dry healing your tattoo is exactly how it sounds. You do not use any moisturizers! You still have to keep it clean of course and wash the tattoo, but people who go for this method only go for it because, well… It’s dry, meaning no moisture since you let your new ‘open wound’ heal in the open air.
As already mentioned, the only thing that stays the same is that you’ll still have to wash it with (antibacterial) soap as per usual. Make sure it is alcohol free, though!
But why would anyone want that?
There’s a bunch of reasons why some people choose to go for this method. For starters, it’s a more natural aproach for your tattoo aftercare routine.
This is especially convenient for people with (extra) sensitive skin! Skin types that are sensitive for whatever reason, can react to all sorts of stuff including typical ointments. So, healing your tattoo with this method can be a huge plus!
Now if you’re anything like me (the writer) you know typical hygiene routines can become tasks, sometimes. Whether you’re depressed or have ADHD, we have to put brushing our teeth and hair on our to-do list or we just simply forget! It’s not that we are unhygienic people or want to stink and have yellow teeth… We’re just forgetful. If you can relate without me even having to explain this more, the dry healing method can saveeee yourrrr lifeeeee!
To sum it all up, the pros to this are that there’s no risk of you getting a skin reaction and therefore you prevent infection! It saves you time and effort and therefore the energy that tends to be non-existent sometimes. Not to forget the cherry on top, no additional costs for new tattoo aftercare creams or soaps!
Okay, but the downsides areeee...?
The downsides might make you reconsider, hence why we only recommend this method for people with skin types that get an allergic reaction from anything and everything.
Thanks to (or in spite of) the lack of moisture, the skin will obviously dry out, but it will do even more so with this method causing the skin to crack. Many claim that this might affect how your body art looks once fully healed. Personally, I haven’t noticed any differences on how my tattoos have healed between the traditional, second skin or dry healing method. Take my words with a grain of salt though, the healing process is different for everybody and there’s no black or white with this.
Moving on, the peeling. Ah yes, the thing us tattoo lovers most hate. No matter which way you choose to go for
when it comes to tattoo care, your ink will flake, scab and itch. But… even more so with dry healing. If you’re not strong enough to endure the itchiness plus having to restrain yourself to not pick at the scabs or the urge to peel the flakes off, choose a more suitable healing method.
It might also elongate the healing process, or it wil at least seem and feel that way. Mainly since there’s no ointment to relieve you from the itchiness and there’s no external help with the healing process of the actual wound. But we’ll give you some tips further down.
Consequently, keeping track and taking all of this into consideration might take more energy out of you than being consistent with the traditional healing. You win some, you lose some.
And on the contrary: the wet healing method
As dry healing is all about keeping your tattoo dry at all times (except for when it’s being washed), the wet healing method is all about keeping it wet. At all times. It can ‘mesh’ a bit with the traditional method, but there’s a few differences.
While the traditional way tells us to let the skin breathe and ‘dry out’ for a bit, the wet healers tell us to never let it dry out. How? Well, you’ll see what we meant with the ‘meshing’ between the two:
Gently wash the tattoo as we explained before (yes, this still includes washing your hands).
Put ointment on before the tattoo has had a chance to dry from the water!
Pack it up with plastic wrap again.
Doing this twice a day, usually at the start and end of your day, will ensure that your tattoo does not dry out! Repeat this process daily until you start noticing it won’t be necessary anymore. That can be anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks.
Sounds like a lot of upkeeping, why would I do this to myself?
Alright, let’s start with the pros. A recent medical study from 2019 showed us that wet wound dressings prevent excess scabbing, a more ideal environment for healing, if you will.
Since there’s less scabbing, there’s also less cracking thus your skin won’t tighten up and it will keep its flexibility. As a consequence, you won’t be in that much pain.
All of this combined, leads up to a faster tattoo healing! The cherry on top? When and if done correctly, it will prevent infection even more!
If you don’t want to read about my personal findings, you can skip this section. Speaking from (obviously) experience, i’ve also found that wet healing a wound helps the process in terms of time. A year ago I fell down from my electric scooter (I know), and got these TERRIBLE scalding wounds on both of my knees from the friction between my skin and rough ground. As I am a very clumsy person, this wasn’t the first time I’ve fallen down so I know and also knew then, my body will not heal fast and it
was going to be a sh*tty recovery ride. Tattoos and piercings? My body will heal those like the flash, but wounds? Yeah? No, I have to suffer.
Luckily my (now) ex’ dad had these wound dressings. I don’t remember what they were called, but essentially it was a bandage with a gelly layer and some sort of ointment in it that kept the wound moist. I used those for a day and I noticed that the healing process had already started??? You can probably imagine my surprise, especially when I tell you, my body does not heal burn wounds fast. Yes I fell down, but you know, riding at relatively high speed, falling down, it wasn’t just an abrasion, it was a whole a** burn.
I kept changing the bandages whenever I felt necessary, cleaned the wound in between and before I knew it the wounds were closed up. Besides from the redness, my wounds healed in one week. This would’ve normally taken me up to 3 to 4 weeks, if not more.
I would also like to mention that I had an allergic reaction to the adhesive around the gelly part. As I mentioned before, you win some, you lose some. It was just a rash that didn’t affect the wound at all so I didn’t care. A rash goes away in a few days.
Ok, ok, hit us with the downsides
Yeah, you’re right, don’t get too hyped up now.
Something that works for someone else might not work for you. What I mean by this is, you need to be mindful of which products you use. Certain ointments prevent oxygen from reaching the healing tattoo and others are a hindrance to the cells’ healing. You need experience and a bit of experimenting until you get the right one that works with this method… or you need extreme luck to hit the best one, first try. And you know, it’s a tattoo, something permanent on your body. Experimenting comes with its risks.
Like we mentioned a bit earlier, moisture is the perfect condition for bacteria to grow. Although it is a wet healing method, you can still over-moisturize. This is why this method is tricky and very risky, because again, knowing what the right ‘amount’ of wetness is comes with experience. If you don’t have experience, you have to once again experiment. I think it’s needless to repeat why experimenting is a whole other risk on itself.
Rewrapping can compromise the sterile environment if done incorrectly. Quite honestly, doing it correctly is also tricky. You overlook something small but it ends up being crucial and you get an infection. But, no pain no gain, right?
Next we’re moving onto the most controversial way to heal your tattoo.
Using second skins a.k.a. Saniderm
No, this isn’t a promotion of any specific products, this isn’t sponsored (although Saniderm is welcome to hit our e-mail inbox, you know where to find it). We’re going to explain this method with the product that Saniderm provides, because it’s become like a synonym for ‘second skin’.
We’ll start off by explaining what a second skin is and how it works. A saniderm bandage is essentialy another way of wrapping your tattoo and wet healing your new tattoo. It’s a medical grade, breathable and waterproof tattoo bandage! Sounds like a miracle right?
It looks like a really thin piece of see-through foil, with a sticky side. The bandage is made to be permeable which basically means, it allows oxygen to flow in – while keeping the bacteria and liquids out. On top of that it keeps your own ‘liquids’ in, the exsessive ink and plasma.
Here’s the process:
If your tattoo artist puts one on you, keep it for 24 hours.
If they don’t, keep you protective film (plastic wrap) on you for the remaining of the day OR just a few hours.
Once those 24 hours have passed, or you’ve taken the plastic wrap off – it’s time to wash the tattoo. Do this as explained with the traditional way.
Now it’s time to put a new piece on. Your tattoo artist should’ve provided one for you. If you want to go for this method, go out and buy yourself some Saniderm or any other brand you might prefer. Do this beforehand! Better be safe than sorry, your artist can forget to give you a new piece.
Let your tattoo dry a bit, do not put ointment on (unless your skin is overly dry, then you should apply a thin layer) and apply the new piece – avoiding any debris and air bubbles. A tip: apply pressure going from the center of the tattoo and out. Kind of like you would apply a screen protector on your phone.
- Simply keep the bandage on for 3-5 days. Six/seven days is pushing it!
A bit of the science behind it
I mentioned the plasma already, but not many seem to know what it is or why it is actually good. It is a gooey substance that will ooze out of your tattoo once it’s finished. Every tattoo does this but not everyone knows about it since they don’t trap it thus it’s less visible. Plasma is the liquid element of blood (55% of blood). The most important thing about that plasma is it’s richness of the proteins a.k.a. clotting factors. Once they’ve reached the surface of the wound, it creates a barrier which limits inflammation and helps with regeneration.
That plasma usually hardens and BOOM, we have scabs we now have to resist picking. The second skin bandage keeps the plasma in it’s liquid form. The first 24 to 48 hours you will ‘leak’ more plasma than for the remaining of the process, but that plasma loses it’s healing properties after the first 24 hours. This is why YOU MUST change it after that initial first day.
For the remaining of the healing process, the second skin bandage will rely on you body’s natural healing process.
Before we go into the pros and cons there are a few things you guys need to be mindful of:
If you haven’t ‘leaked’ at all the first 24 hours, we don’t recommend to remove it. Wait a few more hours to see if you’ll get the infamous ‘ink sack’ and then remove it. If you don’t, still remove it.
Do a patch test if you’ve never used it!
You don’t have to think about your tattoo for the first couple of days. You can just go about your day and you can take normal showers! As long as they’re not too hot, because this might loosen the adhesive.
You don’t have to adjust your style because there’s no need to wear loose clothes!
It speeds up the healing time of your tattoo by a significant amount!
The process of the healing tattoo is so much easier and makes for a better experience overall.
Less scabbing and peeling
It gives you an extra layer of protection against the external elements that might be damaging, such as: overly dry air, pets, liquids (e.g. if you spill something), friction of clothing and bed sheets, etc…
Longer shelf life! Unlike ointments, these bandages won’t go ‘bad’ by the next time you get a new tattoo.
I don’t know about you, but this was enough to convince me!
There are some drawbacks to this method and it’s why a lot of people are afraid to try it out and also the reason why many tattoo artists try to stay away from it.
Certain people can tend to have an allergic reaction to the adhesive. There’s been cases where that reaction has been extreme, hence why we’re so strong on doing a patch test! This is the main reason why you won’t see that many tattoo artists recommending it. Go to doctor google, you’ll find the horror stories…
If you mess up and trap germs in there, you’re kinda scr*wed and you wouldn’t realise until it’s too late. You have to be really careful with this method, more so than with the other ones.
It can be ‘expensive’ but it depends. One roll can last you quite a while as it has a longer shelf life.
You might also need some assitance applying it on harder-to-reach areas. If you have a new back piece for example, but no girlfriend (/bf) nor roommates, good luck!
Leakage is a possibility! Checking it from time to time will come at handy if you don’t want your favorite clothes to be ruined.
Things to consider once your tattoo is (almost) fully healed
Before your tattoo is completely healed you won’t be in need of a regular moisturizing lotion. Once it’s done peeling and there are no tattoo scabs to be noticed anymore though, it’s recommended you start using a regular moisturizing lotion. This can be any body lotion, although it is advised to use fragrance free lotions for skin care in general. (This also goes for fragrance free soap by the way!)
You also oughta know, that even if it’s done peeling: it is not fully healed yet! Therefore, we recommend you long-term aftercare! Keep using sunscreen when needed and hydrate your body.
Tattoo aftercare tips for each method
We’ll start off with some general tips that apply to every method.
Avoid any activities that will make you sweat, any form of exercise. At least for a week but the optimal time to avoid is until your tattoo has stopped peeling.
Around that time, you should start wearing sunscreen too. Do not wear sunscreen before that! Just make sure your tattoo is covered (e.g. with clothes) when you go out in the sun until then.
Do not go swimming and don’t take baths for the same amount of time. Taking a shower is fine but don’t leave it under running water for long periods of time, keep it at the minimum. This is for multiple reasons.
Your skin can dry out if you go swimming in the ocean; chlorine can bleach your tattoo and make the colors look… not right; and lord, the bacteria that will enter if you take a bath or go swimming…
Tips for traditional healing
Wear clothes that are loose fitted to avoid friction.
Don’t use a soft cloth, clean paper towel only!
Your tattoo artist will provide aftercare instructions. Don’t look at them as rules or laws you absolutely MUST follow. Take them as guidelines. Use lotion whenever you see it’s needed. If you need it only twice or once a day, that’s fine, don’t use more because your artist said so.
Avoid the tattooed skin under the shower. Properly wash the tattoo though! But if you want the tattoo to completely heal as it’s supposed to, avoid soaking it.
DO NOT USE A LOOFAH OR A WASH CLOTH! Letting water run over it is enough!
Tips for dry healing
Avoid this method on parts of your body that stretch and bend a lot. Areas like: knees, fingers, elbows, etc… Any joints basically. If you’re a skinnier person, avoid the stomach area and lower back aswell. The upper parts of your neck, under your chin, etc.. You get the gist.
Drink enough water please! Hydrate your body from the inside out.
Do NOT touch your tattoo at all, with the exception of when you’re washing it.
Tips for wet healing
The areas you have to avoid for dry healing tattoos, are the best ones for wet healing.
Same goes for areas that will naturally have contact with clothes, or areas that will cause work-related issues.
Keep an eye on your new tattoo at all times! If your gut instinct tells you something looks weird or doesn’t feel right, listen to it and reach out to tattoo artists you’ve been to.
Second skin tattoo aftercare tips
- Do a patch test beforehand to avoid any allergic reactions to the adhesive!
- When pulling it off, do so under the shower. Assuming you’re using lukewarm water, the adhesive from the second skin should loosen up a bit and make it easier for you to take it off.
Tips for prior to getting a tattoo
Scrub the area your tattoo is going on a few days before you go for it to remove any dead skin.
If you are a razor master, make your tattoo artist’s life easier and shave the tattoo area. If you want to wax, do so a few days prior, not a few hours. If you don’t want to risk it, dont do anything. Your tattoo artist will shave the area.
Don’t freak yourself out over a small tattoo, we promise, it’s going to be okay!!!
Know that tattoo artists always book enough time in for any changes that might be needed on the tattoo design.
Eat enough, don’t drink coffee nor alcohol, don’t take any blood-thinners if you can and get a good night’s rest!
If you’ve had previous skin damage caused by, whatever, let your tattoo artist know and explain!
Be mentally prepared that healing tattoos is a pain in the a**.
The actual tattoo process is painful, even with a small tattoo design.
Save yourself the hastle and buy an alcohol free anti-bacterial (liquid) soap beforehand.
First of all, don’t go back to them. Any professional that is preforming, essentially a medical procedure, on you – and doesn’t send you home with aftercare instructions: is not a professional!
And, luckily you’ve found us. Read the article or go to the sections that interest you.
Is your skin moisturized enough that you see a shiny layer, but not over-moisturized to the point you’ll see your fingerprint and an indent if you were to touch it? Then yes.
If it looks as dry as a chalkboard, then no.
Yes, yes and yes!!! Don’t freak out and there’s no need to be disgusted. It’s just the excess ink combined with blood, a part of the healing!
Only if your tattoo aftercare has gone wrong and you won yourself an infection. We advise you ask your tattoo artist what to do if you think you have one.
Tattoo artists have their own preferences and since you’re representing their work, you should listen to their advice.
Yes. This is a normal part of the healing process of a tattoo, it is essentially an open wound.
Leave a comment, we’ll try to respond asap!
Or contact your tattoo shop. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Better safe than sorry.