You finally got your own tattoo! Congratulations! Whether it’s your first tattoo or fourteenth, we at IDR know how precious a new tattoo can be. That’s why I want to write about how to take care of your new tattoo. Even experienced tattoo veterans sometimes make mistakes during their aftercare, and I want to make sure all those tattoo myths are cleared up right away! Here are 14 common misconceptions about tattoo aftercare that could damage your tattoo or cost you your design.
1. You Can Remove Your Wrap Right Away
When you wrap up your tattoo session…and your artist wraps up your tattoo, they will generally give you a minimum amount of time to keep your tattoo wrapped up. The plastic wrap keeps your tattoo sealed from bacteria during the most crucial part of tattoo healing. It gives your body a chance to fight any existing illnesses before you expose it to the outside world. Only take it off after your artist’s recommendation! It’s worth noting that many online recommendations could be for a tattoo size that doesn’t match yours. Your artist knows best, so listen to them!
2. You Can Use any Tattoo Soap
Everyone knows to stay away from scented soaps (or, at least, I hope so). But did you know that you also have to stay away from most antibacterial soaps? Don’t get me wrong, you absolutely want something antibacterial to keep your tattoo healthy. However, many of these soaps use alcohol-based ingredients, along with lanolin and paraffin preservatives that could cause more harm than good. I go over healthy tattoo soaps in my article here, but in general, just pay close attention to soap ingredients. Your artist should also have tattoo-safe soap recommendations for you.
3. Your Tattoo Is Healed After Two Weeks
Some of your friends and even artists might tell you that your tattoo is healed after two weeks. This is not the case for anybody—even people with small tattoos! A simple glance at your peeling tattoo will tell you that there’s still aftercare to do. Expect to follow all of the aftercare restrictions you would for the first two weeks for at least another month. It’s a small price to pay for a permanent piece of art.
4. Your Tattoo Is Healed After Six Weeks
Similar to point three, this point has to do with your healing time. However, artists will sometimes mess this up! Unless you received a very large back tattoo, your tattoo should stop peeling and scabbing at about six weeks. At this point, it’s probably okay to go swimming and work out. However, it’s still not finished healing! You might notice that your tattoo appears faded and the area around it raised. This is caused by scarred skin and will take quite a while to fade. Wait at least three months after your tattoo before you start doing activities in the sun!
5. Your New Tattoo Is Great for Hitting the Beach
Going to the beach is possibly the worst thing you can do to your tattoo. I’m talking about sunburns in particular. During the first stage of tattoo healing, you won’t be able to wear sunscreen. It’s possible during the second stage, when your tattoo is technically sealed, but still dangerous. Why? Sunblock adds extra protection, but it doesn’t compare to the protective ability of your actual skin. And, after you get your brand new tattoo, your skin is heavily damaged and sunburns directly affect the tissue below! The sun also breaks down ink without that barrier, causing your tattoo to fade even before it heals. If you absolutely must go to the beach, sit under an umbrella and stay out of the sun!
6. You Can Cover Your Tattoo
After you unveil your tattoo to the world, it needs to stay out in the open for the next six weeks. No wrapping it up with a towel. No wearing clothes over it, unless you have to due to location. And absolutely no putting some sort of bandage on top! While keeping a bandage on a cut or scratch makes sense in some cases, you want your tattoo to have a lot of space. It will be leaking out plasma, ink, and all sorts of stuff which makes bandages more of a hindrance than a protective barrier. You protect your tattoo by washing it properly instead of bandaging it up!
7. You Don’t Need to Wash Your Tattoo
As long as you don’t swim or get your tattoo dirty, it’s alright to let it heal on its own, right? Wrong. While there are some miracle cases out there where people do everything wrong and survive, you actually want to keep your tattoo washed and cared for. I mean, it’s the center of aftercare. To take care of yourself after your tattoo, wash the area twice per day with safe soap. Do so lightly and keep the area moisturized throughout the day. Neglecting to wash your tattoo is the worst thing you can do.
8. It’s Okay to Peel off Dead Skin
Okay, I get it. It’s fun to peel off your skin, especially after a sunburn. However, peeling the skin of your tattoo poses a bigger risk than getting off the top layer of your healing sunburn. The main danger is that you make your tattoo prone to sunburns. Every layer of skin is a shield against UV rays, even the dead bits. Another big danger is that the peeling skin hasn’t fallen off yet because it is still attached to healthy skin. By peeling your skin, you might inadvertently pull up some of your healthy, healed skin.
Worst case scenario? You end up pulling the bottom layers that contain tattoo ink in them before the tattoo becomes permanent. If you see someone with chunks of color missing from their tattoo, it’s probably because they peeled off their skin instead of washing it away or letting it flake off on its own.
9. Touching Your Tattoo is Okay
Out of everything you come into contact with, your hands are the dirtiest thing. Maybe even dirtier than your keyboard. If you touch your tattoo, it should only be after you thoroughly wash your hands, and only if you are applying soap. Otherwise, you pose a risk to yourself. No one likes infections. If you absolutely have to scratch an itch, use a clean towel to pat down the itchy area. Numbing cream also helps a lot with the itching and peeling.
10. Listening to the Internet over Your Artist
Something seems off about your artist’s instructions, so you decide to look it up on the net. Stop right there. Go right back to listening to your tattoo artist. Each artist works with unique tools, inks, and techniques that make the aftercare process a little different for everyone. It is also in their best interest for your tattoo to come out looking great, so you know they’ll give you the best advice they can. The internet is good for preparing, learning the essentials, and checking out minutia…but your artist’s word takes precedence! Don’t forget it!
11. Washing Your Tattoo as Often as Possible
This is the polar opposite of neglecting your tattoo. Instead of never washing it, you constantly wash it. The result is a dried-up tattoo with faded color, scabbing skin, and a horrible raw feeling. Washing is necessary, but it also poses a risk to your tattoo when done improperly. Read our aftercare guide to learn how to avoid damaging your tattoo while you wash. Moral of the story? Stick to washing your tattoo twice per day until the six week mark.
12. “Oh, that swelling is just normal.”
There are many warning signs of infections and allergies. The most prominent sign of infection is a redness around the area three days after a tattoo. A low fever, green puss, throbbing pain, and vein marks extending from your tattoo are clear signs of an infection. Even if you think it’s a coincidence, see a doctor immediately. They won’t tell you to remove your tattoo, I promise.
In the case of allergies, things get a little trickier to distinguish. Only a doctor can tell the difference between an infection or allergic reaction, but either way, an allergic reaction presents dramatically and requires immediate attention. Swelling on a specific tattoo color (usually red) indicates an allergy to that pigment. If you notice your wound expanding, that’s also a clear indicator. Go to a doctor right away if you see something strange, rather than dismissing it!
13. Soaking Your Tattoo in a Bath/Shower
Keeping your tattoo clean is not synonymous with keeping it scrubbed under warm bath water. It’s generally okay for shower water to hit your tattoo, but avoid putting it directly under the shower head. Absolutely stay out of bath water or keep it raised above water level until your tattoo is healed. While the water is perfectly clean and certainly helps keep the tattoo disinfected, it also waterlogs the tattoo and causes your ink to leech out, bleed, or create a blurry pattern instead of the crisp design you walked home with.
14. Ignoring Allergies and Pre-Existing Conditions
As you should know by now, allergic reactions are a real possibility with any tattoo session. How do you solve it? Letting the artist know is a good step in the right direction. Anyone with allergies to food coloring should be especially careful. Your artist will look into the tattoo ink ingredients and find one that is hopefully compatible with you (there’s no telling for anyone until the artist does a spot test).
As for pre-existing conditions, there are a few that matter. First, any heart conditions can adversely affect the flow of blood during the tattoo session. On top of that, they could make the healing process more difficult. Nerve sensitivity, diseases transmitted by blood, and skin conditions all pose a threat to achieving an excellent tattoo. Having one of these things never bans you from getting your own tattoo, though. Simply get a doctor’s express permission in the form of a note. Inform the artist thoroughly so they can make all the preparations and precautions that they deem necessary. Once that’s done, get ready to enjoy your new tattoo!
Preventing 14 Common Misconceptions about Tattoo Aftercare
Reading this list is a good start to preventing 14 common misconceptions about tattoo aftercare. However, just because you know about it, doesn’t mean your friends do. I hope that you absorb this information and tell any friend interested in a new tattoo about the misconceptions around tattoo aftercare. If you cut corners on aftercare, then your tattoo pays the price. Infections are the worst-case scenario, but everything else matters just as much.
By telling your friends about these misconceptions, you increase their quality of life and spare them a lot of trouble. Whether you share this article or not is up to you, but sharing the knowledge is essential to dispelling the myths surrounding tattoo aftercare! Less misconceptions means more beautiful tattoos, so spread the word!