Here’s Exactly How to Take Care of a New Tattoo

Here’s Exactly How to Take Care of a New Tattoo featured image
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If you’re going to put yourself through the often grueling (and expensive) process of getting a new tattoo inked onto your skin, then it’s worth making sure you get the best possible results. Not only does the proper aftercare allow for proper healing—which minimizes the risks of scarring and infection—but it can also have long-term perks. (For instance, regular maintenance can ensure that the colors of your design remain bright and vivid and that the edges stay sharp and clear over time.)

While it might be tempting to simply show off your new ink as soon as you get it, a fresh tattoo requires a little more TLC than that. We spoke to dermatologists to find out exactly what that entails.

What is the best aftercare for a tattoo?

For the first 24 hours after your tattoo appointment, it’s best to keep the area you got tattooed under wraps. “The newly inked skin should be kept moist with healing ointment and covered with a bandage to prevent sunlight exposure, trauma and scabbing,” says Washington, D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD. 

That’s strategic since wounds generally heal better and more quickly in a moist, covered environment. The bandage in question should fit snugly like a second skin, but it shouldn’t be too tight. The goal is to protect the wound from sunlight and other incidental trauma to the area, like errant scratches.

After the first 24 hours, though, you can shower, cleansing the area with a mild soap and water, says Joel Schlessinger, MD, a dermatologist in Omaha, NE. The first few times you suds up, the water should be cold or lukewarm and, ideally, the shower itself should be quick. “Prolonged soaking or submersion should be avoided,” says Dr. Alster. After about a week, you can go back to showering normally.

In addition to showering—and if it’s not too inconvenient (which might ultimately depend on where it’s located)—you can wash the tattoo several times a day for the first six days; keeping the wound clean will help minimize the chance of it getting infected.

After four to six days, you can remove your bandage or dressing, depending on how well it’s healing. But continue with your washing routine until you reach day six, at which point you can move to regularly moisturizing the area with a fragrance-free moisturizer, says Omaha, NE dermatologist Daniel Schlessinger, MD.

What products are best for tattoo aftercare? 

It helps to stock up on a few products to take care of your tattoo. First and foremost, use an occlusive skin-care product, like an ointment. Dr. Joel Schlessinger recommends EltaMD’s SilverGel ($19) “to protect the newly tattooed area and promote proper healing.”

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You should also have a body wash that’s formulated for compromised skin, such as CLn Body Wash ($36). “It has anti-staph and -MRSA infection properties, which are common infections from tattooing,” says Dr. Daniel Schlessinger. An unscented moisturizer can also help support skin health as it heals too.

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However, healing isn’t a linear process, especially after getting a tattoo. For instance, newly tattooed skin can feel hot, tight, or dry, which is why Dr. Daniel Schlessinger recommends Avène Thermal Spring Water ($14), which can have a cooling effect and soothe irritation with mineral-rich water. Finally, for any itching or flaking that comes up, don’t scratch—instead, moisturize the area and apply an over-the-counter one percent hydrocortisone cream to help control inflammation.



What should you not do after getting a tattoo?

If your tattoo scabs, don’t pick or scratch at them since that can lead to scarring. Instead, just keep washing and moisturizing the area and wait for them to fall off on their own. 

Otherwise, the single most important thing to avoid is sun exposure since freshly tattooed skin is more sensitive to UV rays. The exact time you need to keep it out of the sun is a bit of a moving target—ideally, protect it completely from sun exposure until “healing is complete, meaning no residual redness is evident,” says Dr. Alster; otherwise, she says, you risk infection, poor wound healing or even skin dyspigmentation (in which skin whitens).

Also, for the first week, avoid saunas and steam rooms. Since you’re essentially dealing with an open wound, “avoid swimming in ‘dirty’ water, like lakes, oceans or public pools,” says Dr. Joel Schlessinger. (Basically, don’t plan to get a tattoo before your summer vacation.)

And finally, to keep your tattoo looking fresh for years to come, load up on (what else?) SPF. “Regularly applying sunscreen is essential for protecting your tattooed skin from sun damage while also helping to preserve the vibrancy and color of your tattoos,” he says, adding that tattoos can conceal problematic moles—making it all the more important to get annual screenings for skin cancer.

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