How Long After Getting a Tattoo Can You Go Swimming?
Tattoos and summer go hand-in-hand. With the growing popularity of tattoos, it’s only natural that they also became the perfect souvenirs for travelers! Every city has its own specialty, style, and talents residing there. Even if you’re not vacationing, it’s fun to rock a new tattoo during your time on the beach while you get a tan. There’s just one big issue with that—you can’t swim with a new tattoo, and tanning damages them. How long after getting a tattoo can you go swimming? And why can’t you swim with a new tattoo, anyways?
Whether you are trying to avoid damage to your tattoo or trying to figure out how to work around swimming with your new tattoo, I answer any and all questions you might have about tattoos and swimming with this article. For further guidelines on tattoo aftercare, I highly recommend that you give this article a read. Anyways, let’s begin by learning about what makes swimming so bad!
What Happens if you Swim with a New Tattoo?
What happens if you go swimming after getting a tattoo? If you kept up on our aftercare guides, then you might have an idea. But, in case you’re a new visitor (welcome!), I’ll give it to you straight. You risk life and limb. No, that’s not exaggeration. Even a healthy 31-year-old man died a few days after taking a dip with his new ink. Infection sets in and medical assistance is often required if you want to keep your tattoo—and the rest of your body—from taking further damage.
Your tattoo is essentially an open wound for the first few days after you get it. The ink gets under your skin through small needle piercings throughout your tattooed area. Not a single part of your tattoo is closed skin when you walk out of the tattoo shop—even if it looks like a solid color! The proof of this is all the plasma and ink that oozes out of your tattoo for the first few days. You have to treat it like any other wound or you’ll get a serious infection. This begs the question—how exactly do you wash your tattoo if getting it wet is so bad? Along with that…
How Soon Can I Go Swimming After Getting a Tattoo?
How long after getting a tattoo can you go swimming? If you’re on vacation, you want to know right away. The beaches and swimming pools are calling, after all! Unfortunately, small tattoos will be unsafe in water for at least three days. Large tattoos can go up to two weeks before they get their initial layer of platelets and skin.
While you might be tempted to jump right in the moment it stops bleeding, it’s still very fragile at this stage. The barrier between the outside world and your body is very thin at the point of your tattoo. This means pathogens, germs, chemicals, and all sorts of nasty stuff can permeate far deeper than they normally would. On top of that, providing these diseases a moist environment by taking a dip in the pool will give them all the opportunity they need to colonize and infect your tattoo. That’s definitely something you don’t want. Along with the potentially deadly consequences, your tattoo ink can be damaged.
Moral of the story? Wait until the third stage of tattoo healing. This is after your tattoo stops oozing plasma and ink. It’s after your tattoo scabs over and starts looking like a mess. It’s even after the peeling begins. Once your tattoo blends in seamlessly with your skin, it’s safe for you to jump back in the water. This takes a month for small tattoos and six weeks for larger tattoos. Of course, your artist will give you a proper estimate of the time. You’ll know it’s ready the moment your tattoo appears to be ‘faded’ or ‘gray.’ That’s the point where your scar tissue has completely covered your tattoo. Eventually your scar tissue will clear up and give you a nice view of your tattoo, but in the meantime, it serves as a tiny alert that your tattoo is ready to hit the beach!
Swimming in the Ocean after a Tattoo
Can you swim in the sea after getting a new tattoo? If the lesson of the man that died three days after getting his tattoo didn’t get through to you then let me say it now. No. No, you can’t. In the best case, prolonged contact with water poses the risk of bleaching out your ink. In a typical case, you expose yourself to hundreds of species of bacteria. Most of these bacteria are normally harmless. Even if you end up swallowing some on accident, you wouldn’t see particularly adverse effects. Unfortunately, that all changes when they are exposed to a wound.
The skin that normally protects your body from pathogens might as well not exist on your tattoo when you take a dip in the water. The barrier is so thin that the water and bacteria have no problem affecting your wound. Even if you dry your tattoo thoroughly after you depart the water, some germs could easily lay beneath your skin where plasma and platelets are doing their best to heal the tattoo. Combine that with ample water and food (in the form of your defenseless body) and you have a horrible opportunity for infection.
Swimming in a lake or river after a tattoo is perhaps more deadly, especially if you live south of the Canadian border. Warm and stagnant pools of water already breed hardy types of bacteria, but one in particular stands out as dangerous to people with tattoos. Naegleria Fowleri, better known as the Brain-eating Amoeba, does exactly what its name implies. While it typically gets to your brain when you accidentally inhale some water through your nose, exposing your bloodstream to it is another way to cause trouble. The bacteria can quickly and efficiently eat away at your brain and kill you within days. Of course, less exotic bacteria will still eat away at your wound. It should be pretty obvious by now why you shouldn’t swim in untreated water while your tattoo heals.
How Long after a Tattoo can You Swim in Chlorine?
Similar to swimming in the sea, you want to stay far away from swimming pools as your tattoo heals. Unlike swimming in the sea, germs are not your main concern. While it’s possible for a few pathogens to survive in treated pool water, the method of treatment poses a far greater risk to your tattoo. The chemical cleaners used in a pool break down germs, pathogens, and harmful substances that would threaten even healthy individuals. Unfortunately, it also breaks down ink particles.
With that said, on top of worrying about the risk of infection, you will also have to worry about literally bleaching your tattoo. The open wound also gives these chemicals an uninhibited pathway to your bloodstream. If you wouldn’t drink the water, then you sure as heck don’t want it floating around in your veins and making you sick. Even with hand and body soaps, the body isn’t quite equipped to break them down properly. Heavy duty cleaners used to sterilize a hundred gallons of water are even tougher for your body to deal with.
Other Types of Off-Limit Soaks
Swimming pools, oceans, and lakes are just the start of a new tattoo owner’s water worries. Jacuzzis and hot tubs also pose a large risk thanks to both the cleaning supplies and the constant contact of water. Jacuzzi jets could even hinder the healing process of your tattoo if you put the tattoo in front of one. Extended time in the rain will create a moist mess on top of your tattoo. Combined with any soggy clothes you might wear on top, you have a potential breeding ground for bacteria.
Of course, not every type of dangerous water poses the risk of infection. You can be responsible about what types of water you expose yourself to and still find yourself at risk. How, exactly? Quite simply, innocuous activities like washing your tattoo under the faucet or taking a bath will not do your tattoo any favors, even if it’s squeaky clean. You can learn more about how to clean your tattoo properly here, and it does involve water, just not directly applied.
Especially during the first few days of your tattoo, your ink won’t have much of a barrier to the outside world. You could end up washing some of your ink away. It doesn’t help that wounds should stay nice and dry. Excess moisture prevents your platelets and white blood cells from doing their work in an expedient manner. In other words, they may not be able to handle infections in that moist environment you gave them. Keep your tattoo dry and aired out whenever possible!
What Do I Do If I Get My Tattoo Wet?
I think it would take some kind of miracle or divine intervention to keep a tattoo dry for six whole weeks. When you inevitably get your tattoo wet, don’t fret. In fact, there are situations which call for you to wet your tattoo! Simply dab the area dry with a clean towel and then apply tattoo-safe antibiotic cream. If your tattoo got doused, it might be worth it to press a paper towel on top and swap them out periodically until they come off dry. You never want to scrub your tattoo dry, since that could upend some of your healing skin.
Once you dab out any of the water with a clean towel, keep a close eye on it. If it was just soapy water or faucet water that you got in there, it shouldn’t cause any long term damage on its own. If it was pool water, lake water, sea water, or something with bleach in it, you should watch it carefully. If a part of the ink looks discolored—but otherwise feels fine—then you’ll probably end up going in for a touch-up later down the line. If it seems sore, feels swollen, starts leaking puss, or otherwise acts suspiciously—go see a doctor.
How do I Safely Get my Tattoo Wet?
Even though water can create a hostile environment, it’s also a necessity when you’re washing and caring for your tattoo. To learn more about safely washing your tattoo, check out this article. The gist of it is that you never place it beneath a faucet. Using a damp and freshly cleaned towel, wet the area by dabbing it. Apply a thin film of tattoo-safe soap, moisturizer, or numbing cream (whichever you end up using) and then leave it as is. You should wash it like this twice per day, no more and no less, though you can reapply moisturizer and cream as needed.
While showering with a tattoo, you generally don’t have to worry about it. Simply follow the drying instructions above and keep your tattoo out of the stream of water. Brief splashes of water from your shower or a passing rainstorm pose no risk if you dry your tattoo properly and keep up with your regular aftercare.
How to Wrap a Tattoo to Go Swimming
If your tattoo is on your back, it’s best to cover it while you shower. Some people also need to swim for their job or their hobby, making it essential that they cover their new tattoo. If you can avoid it, then you need to stay out of deep water, but there is a solution for people where that’s not an option. This should only be used as a last resort. Let’s learn how to waterproof a tattoo for swimming—and how to cover a tattoo to go swimming at the same time.
It doesn’t matter what sort of cream or lotion you put on your tattoo. There is no way to waterproof it without using some sort of plastic. Duct tape—as painful as it is in hairy areas—is just about the only way to secure stuff to your skin. Wash the area around your skin and do your best to get off the oils—without messing with the actual tattooed area, of course. Use a piece of plastic to cover the tattoo and duct tape it on. Test the plastic to make sure it can hold water first.
Spend as little time as possible in the water. When you exit, immediately remove the wrap. Follow the directions in the previous section if any water leaked through. If no water leaked through, make sure to keep your tattoo exposed to open air for a while. This should help all the pent-up heat and moisture dissipate.
So, How Long After Getting a Tattoo Can You Go Swimming?
If you want a tattoo souvenir, get it close to your vacation departure time. That way, you can have some fun in the sun first! As you already know, any type of wound poses a risk of infection. Since tattoos will warp, distort, and blur when they heal improperly, caring for them is especially important. You don’t want your tattoo waterlogged and dull at the end of your healing process. It might be annoying to stay out of the water while your tattoo heals, but it’s incredibly irresponsible and potentially deadly if you do otherwise. Your health matters more than your tattoo design, after all. Stay safe, treat your body and tattoo with respect, and make the right decision for your lifestyle. That’s all I ask of you! As always, thanks for reading!