Tattoo Aftercare & Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by Fountainhead New York on

Embarking on the journey of getting a new tattoo is an exciting adventure that marries art and personal expression in a unique way. However, the path doesn't end when the ink settles into your skin; it's just the beginning of a crucial aftercare process that ensures your tattoo heals beautifully and lasts a lifetime. Proper aftercare is essential not only to protect your new piece of art but also to maintain the health and integrity of your skin. From the moment the tattoo artist wraps your new tattoo to the final stages of healing, each step you take can significantly impact the outcome of your inked masterpiece. In this comprehensive guide, we delve deep into the best practices for tattoo aftercare, drawing on expert advice and proven tips to navigate the healing process. Whether you're a seasoned tattoo enthusiast or stepping into a tattoo parlor for the first time, this article will equip you with the knowledge needed to care for your tattoo effectively, ensuring that your ink remains vibrant and infection-free from day one to fully healed. Let's explore the essentials of tattoo aftercare, demystify common concerns, and set you on the path to a perfectly healed tattoo.

Aftercare Guide

Immediate Aftercare (Day 1)

  • Bandage Removal: Tattoos are typically covered with a bandage by the artist to protect against bacteria. It's crucial to ask the artist how long to keep the bandage on (usually 2-3 hours), as they are the professional.

  • Initial Cleaning: Once the bandage is removed, clean the tattoo with fragrance-free, antibacterial soap and lukewarm water. Dry the tattoo gently with paper towels - dabbing, not rubbing, then apply a thin layer of Aquaphor, Hustle Butter, or A&D Ointment. You want enough to gently moisturize the tattoo, but not enough to leave it feeling sticky or wet to the touch. Less is more in this scenario.

  • Let It Breathe: Avoid re-covering the tattoo with a bandage to allow the skin to breathe and promote healing.
Early Healing Phase (Days 2 to 6)

  • Washing and Moisturizing: Continue cleaning the tattoo 2-3 times a day. Continue to follow the drying and moisturizing regimen stated above to keep the area hydrated. Expect some ink to ooze out during cleaning; this is normal.

  • Peeling and Flaking: Peeling is a natural part of the healing process. Do not pick at the flakes or scabs as this can damage the tattoo and cause scarring. Let it be. 
Mid Healing Phase (Days 7 to 14)

  • Washing and Moisturizing: Your routine shouldn’t change much, but as the tattoo starts to heal, you can drop how much you wash it down to 1-2 times per day. 
  • The tattoo will start to get itchy at this point as the skin heals. Do not itch it. 
Late Healing Phase (Days 15 to 30)

  • Final Stages of Healing: Continue to keep the area moisturized. While the outer layers of skin may heal within a few weeks, the deeper layers can take up to a few months to fully recover.
  • Washing and Moisturizing: At this point, as long as the tattoo is healing well, you may drop down to washing it 1x per day. Continue applying moisturizer. 

General Aftercare Tips

Clean Hands: Always wash your hands before touching the tattoo to avoid introducing bacteria to the wound.

Antibacterial Soap: Use it for both washing your hands and the tattoo. This helps prevent infection and ensures proper hygiene.

Moisturizer: Applying a recommended ointment or moisturizer helps the tattoo heal and prevents scabbing and cracking. Aquaphor or a tattoo specific moisturizer is best. 

What to Avoid: Swimming and submerging the tattoo in water should be avoided for at least 2-4 weeks to prevent infection. Avoid picking or scratching at the tattoo, and use fragrance-free products to avoid irritation. Avoid direct sunlight for at least three weeks and always use high SPF sunscreen on your tattoo. 

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Tattoo Aftercare 

What soap to use when washing a tattoo? 

When washing a tattoo, it's important to use the right kind of soap to prevent infection and ensure optimal healing. Only use a fragrance-free, antibacterial soap to clean the tattooed area. Such soaps are gentle on the skin and effective in eliminating bacteria without causing irritation. Avoid soaps with harsh chemicals, fragrances, or dyes, as these can aggravate the tattooed skin, leading to increased redness, irritation, or allergic reactions. Choosing the right soap not only helps in preventing infection but also aids in the quicker recovery of the tattooed area.

How to dry a healing tattoo? 

After washing your tattoo with the appropriate soap, drying it properly is just as crucial to prevent irritation and promote healing. The best method is to gently pat the area dry with a clean, soft paper towel. This technique is favored because it minimizes the risk of infection and irritation that can occur from using cloth towels, which may harbor bacteria or cause unnecessary friction on the sensitive skin. It's important to avoid rubbing the tattooed area, as this can aggravate the skin, potentially leading to scabbing or the removal of ink. Once the area is lightly patted dry, allow it to air dry for a few minutes before applying any recommended aftercare products.

What to do if my tattoo isn’t healing right? 

If you notice any signs that your tattoo isn’t healing as expected, such as excessive redness, swelling beyond the initial stages, intense pain, or any discharge, it's critical to take immediate action. The first step should always be to consult your tattoo artist, as they have the expertise to differentiate between normal healing processes and potential issues. Your artist can provide advice specific to your situation and recommend if you need to see a healthcare professional. Avoid self-diagnosing or relying solely on internet searches for solutions, as incorrect care can exacerbate problems. In cases where signs of infection are evident, seeking medical attention promptly is essential to prevent complications. Keeping open communication with your tattoo artist and following their aftercare instructions closely from the start can greatly reduce the risk of healing issues.

How long does a tattoo usually take to heal? 

The healing time for a tattoo can vary depending on several factors like its size, complexity, placement on the body, and how well you follow aftercare instructions. Generally, the surface layer of your skin may heal within 2 to 3 weeks. However, the deeper skin layers can take up to 6 months to fully heal.

Remember, everyone's body is different, and so is every tattoo's healing process. If you have any concerns about how your tattoo is healing, it's best to consult with your tattoo artist or a healthcare professional.

How long until I can go into the water with a new tattoo? 

It's generally recommended to avoid swimming or submerging a new tattoo in water for at least 2 to 4 weeks after getting inked. This precaution helps protect the tattoo from bacteria and other harmful substances in water bodies like pools, lakes, and oceans, which can lead to infections. Additionally, soaking can soften the scabs that form during the healing process, potentially causing them to come off prematurely and affect the ink's appearance.

What to do when going into the sun with a new tattoo?

When exposing a new tattoo to the sun, taking the right precautions is essential to ensure its proper healing and to maintain the vibrancy of its colors. Here are some guidelines to follow:

Keep It Covered: For the first few weeks, while the tattoo is still healing, it's best to keep it covered and out of direct sunlight. If you must be in the sun, wearing clothing that covers the tattoo can protect the skin.

Use Sunscreen: Once the tattoo has fully healed (usually after 2-4 weeks, but this can vary depending on the individual healing process and the tattoo's details), you should apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF (30 or higher) to the tattoo area before going out in the sun. Sunscreen helps protect the tattoo from UV rays, which can fade and damage the ink over time.

Reapply Sunscreen Regularly: If you're spending a lot of time outdoors or in the sun, make sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating. This step is crucial to keep your tattoo protected throughout the day.

Choose the Right Sunscreen: Select a sunscreen that is gentle and free from harsh chemicals that might irritate the skin. Sunscreens designed for sensitive skin or children are often a good choice.

Be Mindful of Healing: Remember that a fully healed tattoo is the only one that should be exposed to the sun, even with sunscreen. If your tattoo is still in the healing phases, direct sunlight can cause more harm than good. 

What if my tattoo artist used Tegaderm, Saniderm, or Second Skin? 

If your tattoo artist has used Tegaderm, Saniderm, or Second Skin, you're dealing with a modern method of tattoo aftercare that acts as a protective barrier while your tattoo heals. These transparent, adhesive films are designed to lock in the body's natural moisture and healing enzymes, helping your tattoo heal faster and reducing the risk of infection. Here's what you need to know about them:

Leave It On: Typically, your artist will advise you to leave the film on for a certain period, often between 3 to 7 days, depending on their recommendation and the healing process. It's crucial to follow their specific guidance. You may see pooling plasma underneath the bandage - don’t panic! This is normal and should be expected. 

Waterproof Protection: These films are waterproof, but it's advised to avoid prolonged exposure to water (like swimming or soaking in a tub) to prevent the edges from peeling up prematurely.

Peeling and Replacement: If your artist instructs you to change the film, they'll likely give you specific instructions on how to do so safely to avoid damaging the healing tattoo. This might include gently peeling off the film in the shower where the warm water can help loosen the adhesive.

Watch for Signs of Infection: While these films can reduce the risk of infection, it's still important to monitor your tattoo for any signs of an adverse reaction, like excessive redness, swelling, or pus. If you notice any concerning symptoms, contact your tattoo artist or a healthcare provider.

After Removal: Once you remove the film, continue with any aftercare instructions provided by your artist. This might include gentle washing, applying specific lotions or ointments, and protecting the tattoo from the sun.


Taking proper care of your tattoo from day one is vital to ensure it heals well and retains its beauty. Avoiding certain activities and products will reduce the risk of infection and complications. Remember, every tattoo and skin type is different, so it's important to follow the specific aftercare instructions provided by your tattoo artist and consult them if you experience any unusual symptoms.

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