We all want to heal our tattoos so they look amazing. But it can really be confusing which process to actually follow. Each artist or studio you engage will give you different advice and swear by it. I’ll outline the most commonly accepted steps you should follow. So try not to get overwhelmed. Let’s keep it simple.
Bandaging by your artist
Let’s take a step back to just after your tattoo.
Before you left the Tattoo studio the artist will have washed the inked area with an unscented, anti-bacterial soap and then applied a thin layer of A+D Ointment. This is to start the tattoo healing.
They’ll then bandage up the area to prevent foreign objects, dirt, or bacteria from coming in contact with the wound, preventative action against an infection. The most common materials used are Seran wrap, meat packing pads, non-stick ABD wound dressings, or a combination of these.
Personally, I really like it when the tattoo is wrapped in the non-stick ABD wound dressing and then wrapped in Coban Self-Adherent Wrap Blue, 2″ X 5 Yd Roll. Even though I can’t see the tattoo, I feel it is secure and can breathe.
Again, there is a very large debate around how to bandage a tattoo and what promotes the best healing process. Regardless, go with what they put on you and change it out when you get home if you have a different preference.
Unbandage after 2 -3 hours
Once you get home from your tattoo appointment, it’s highly recommended that you leave the bandages on for 2 – 3 hours at a minimum. So try very hard not to take the wrapping on or off to show friends and family. What you do in the beginning will really impact your lifelong tattoo.
If your tattoo was inked in the evening, it’s a good idea to leave it on overnight to protect it from the abrasion of your clothes or bedding. Plus, it will most likely ooze clear or blood stained plasma fluid throughout the night and possibly the next day. It will generally leave an imprint of the tattoo via the combination of fluid and ink. When you see this, don’t be alarmed, you aren’t losing your tattoo.
Alternatively, you can take the bandage off, clean the area as directed in the next section, and then re-bandage for that evening’s sleep. That’s often what I tend to do.
Remove the bandage & gently wash with lukewarm water
Now you’ve decided it’s time to remove the bandage, thoroughly rinse the area with lukewarm (not hot) water very gently.
Note: when washing, try not to let the faucet water directly hit the tattoo area as the impact may be too harsh, disperse the stream with your hands if possible.
Lightly lather with unscented anti-bacterial soap and wash away. Do this until there isn’t any shine to the area. Pat dry with a clean, soft cloth, again be sensitive with the area, this is an open wound.
Apply a very thin layer of A+D Ointment. Don’t use a petroleum based product as it will fade the tattoo color. Sadly, many artists and studios recommend Aquaphor Ointment, which contains petroleum. I’ve used it myself and won’t any more.
When applying the A+D Ointment don’t overdo it either. Too much can cause a redness, you also don’t want the area swimming in the stuff, that’s just as bad. Only put on a thin layer and gently massage it into the area. You’ll want only a slight sheen. The goal is to keep it from drying out and creating a heavy scab. Do this full process about twice a day for the next two to three days.
Now I’ve heard of some crazy things recommended like Preparation H (No, please don’t) and while Neosporin sounds like a great idea, it will heal too fast and you may lose some of the ink.
While we do want the skin to heal, we want it on our terms to lock in the ink. You won’t want a heavy scab. It should be a light scab similar to a sunburn scab, allowing for the skin to be pliable and not crack which can be caused with a heavy scab. Otherwise, you’ll require more touch ups later.
After the 2 to 3 days switch to an unscented lotion
The initial healing has begun, so it’s time to put something other than A+D Ointment on the tattoo. Many shops will try to sell you their products. I’m currently testing a number of them. But generally most suggest an unscented, light lotion applied to the area two to three times a day. Just make sure the area doesn’t get too dried out. I tend to use NIVEA Soft Refreshingly Soft Moisturizing Creme, 6.8 Oz it’s light on my skin and they come in a travel size to take with me throughout the day.
Things NOT to do the first couple of weeks
- Don’t allow hot water to be focused on the tattooed area
- Don’t sit in a Jacuzzi or any steam environment
- Don’t go swimming
- Ease up on sweaty activities
- No sunbathing where the area is exposed, including tanning salons
- Do not pick at the scab at all costs
- When it itches, do not scratch it. Slap it!
Again it is worth mentioning twice. It WILL ITCH, DO NOT SCRATCH IT. This is a big one. Slap the area, yea I said SLAP IT! This will stop the itching
Full healing can take from 3 weeks to a month
We all heal at different rates. The expectation is that three weeks it will be very far along in the healing process and completely healed within a month.
During the first two weeks wear loose clothing so the area doesn’t get rubbed a lot. When sleeping it is common to get residue ink on the sheets, so I don’t use my favorite bed linens. I try and sleep in such a way that the tattooed area isn’t touching anything. Obviously, this is not foolproof nor easy especially if you toss and turn. Just try and be careful.
Lots of money, pain, and thought went into your tattoo
Give your tattoo the respect, care and time it needs so you can proudly sport it to all your friends and family. It’s one blip in your life but a big experience milestone, be conscious of what you do around your tattoo’s healing.
Next step, enjoy your tattoo and keep it looking amazing.
Photo of Nomi Chi’s tattoo work. Nomi Chi has a unique design sense that reflects a charcoal like “sketch” quality. Her work is intentionally designed with a raw perspective. You can reach her at Gastown Tattoo Parlour in Vancouver BC firstname.lastname@example.org