THE CARE AND HEALING OF YOUR NEW TATTOO
Just in case you were adrenalin rushed and didn’t catch everything that your tattooist said here is a best practice guide for you. YES, a Tattoo is an “open wound” — and thus subject to the possibility of an infection. But with simple good hygiene (see below) there is no danger of a serious infection.
There is a wide variety of opinion about what is the best aftercare regimen for ensuring the best results for your new tattoo. If you have any concerns contact your tattooist and they can re-assure you over the phone. Below is our personal advice based on more than 10 years of experience.
A tattoo normally takes 7 to 10 days to heal. There is no “idiot proof” instructions for the care and healing for a tattoo, but we think if you read — and FOLLOW — the suggestions below, that you’ll have an excellent chance of making sure that your new tattoo will be the best that it can be!
1. Before you leave the Tattoo Studio. When your tattoo artist has finished your tattoo he or she will typically “wipe” the tattoo down with green soap, then apply a thin coat of Vaseline or an anti-bacterial ointment, then cover it with plastic film.
2. How Long Before I Can Remove the Bandage? Naturally, most people want to remove the bandage to show off their new tattoo right away. But you want to wait at least a few hours. Principally, this is to allow the traumatised skin to heal and the “oozing” (lymphatic fluid and blood) to stop flowing. These fluids may drain and collect in the bandage for an hour or more on a fresh tattoo.
After 4-6 hours remove the bandage. Once you have removed the bandage, clean your new tattoo well with a mild, non-abrasive soap and warm water. DO NOT SCRUB – Clean it well — massage and remove the excess ink and dried fluid and be sure to remove the residue of any Vaseline. If your tattoo is larger or in a difficult location on the body, removing the plastic film-wrap can be more easily done by letting it loosen and slip-off while taking a shower.
CAUTION: If you are exposing your tattoo in the shower, do not let the full force of the shower spray directly onto the newly tattooed skin. You will also find that a lukewarm shower is more comfortable and will not “sting” your new tattoo. Hot water (and STEAM) opens the skin’s pores and can cause greater loss of pigment during the healing process.
HINT (Old Yakuza Secret!): After you have cleaned your Tattoo and before stepping out of the shower, turn the temperature to ice-cold and let the water run indirectly over your new tattoo for 30 to 45 seconds — this closes the pores and prevents further drainage and in our personal experience feel generally results in better healing, and brighter colour retention.
3. Ointments and Lotions? Applying oily, petroleum-based ointments is actually counter-productive to the healing process. They can clog your pores and prevent the skin from “breathing” and generally unnecessarily prolong the healing-time of your new tattoo. There are also some that believe these oily products “leach” pigment out of the skin, thus contributing to a loss of colour and vibrancy in your new tattoo.
4. Care During the First Week. Care is pretty simple thereafter. You do NOT need to re-bandage the tattoo!!! In fact, that would simply prolong the healing time — and risk scabbing and loss of color if you are applying a gauzy type bandage (they tend to “stick” to the skin, and promote the creation of thicker scabbing on the tattoo). Instead, simply moisturise the tattoo lightly with a lotion — no more than 2 or 3 times a day.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT SLATHER YOUR TATTOO WITH ANY CREAMS OR LOTIONS! It is sufficient to lightly moisturise the skin when it “feels” dry. This will also help prevent itching.
That said — everybody’s skin IS different — using the above as guidelines experiment and stick with what works best for you.
Clothing: You will also want to be sure to wear loose-fitting clothing that will not rub against the Tattoo — especially in the first 2 or 3 days of healing. It is better to keep your freshly tattooed skin exposed to the air during the healing process if at all possible, and if not, to avoid tight clothing that can “stick” to the tattoo, or clothing that will cause you to perspire where you have been tattooed.
DO NOT PICK at your new tattoo. Ideally, the skin will form an “onion-peel” like a sunburn. Allow this to slough-off naturally while bathing — and some will dislodge when you gently rub lotion into the tattoo.
KEEP IT CLEAN! Sure, this is stating the obvious — but remember — especially the first day or two, the tattoo is an OPEN WOUND until a skin barrier is formed again. So — avoid things like letting your pets lick the freshly tattooed skin (they will naturally be attracted to the smell). Don’t touch your tattoo yourself if you have not washed your hands. Don’t go out and lean your tattoo on bar and tables surfaces, theatre seats, handrails, etc. — be conscious that you are still healing.
HINT: When sleeping with your new tattoo, one way to avoid the freshly tattooed skin from “sticking” to your bed sheets is to liberally sprinkle baby powder onto them. It will not hurt your tattoo and will prevent you from sticking to the sheets like you would with a gauze bandage.
EXCEPTION TO THE RULE – Difficult to Heal Areas of the Body: Isn’t there always one? On occasion, there may be parts of the body where despite your best efforts, you end up with some heavy “scabbing” — for example, the “crack” where your knew or arm bends. There, the constant, repeated movement of the joint simply makes it very hard not to end up with some scabbing during the healing process. Sometimes this can be painful and perhaps even impede proper healing of your new Tattoo. On those rare occasions when this does happen, we recommend showering to hydrate the area that has scabbed and to apply heavier and more frequent coating of lotion to help it dislodge the scab. This must be done carefully — picking at the scab and pulling it away before its properly loosened will just result in more scabbing and loss of pigment. But sometimes removing heavy scabbing — on a joint-area particularly — results in better healing for the rest of the Tattoo. You may also need to have your Tattoo Artist go back in and touch-up those areas where the color is lighter after healing — but this is normal for more difficult to heal areas of the body.
6. Scratching and Picking — DON’T!! Like a bad sunburn, during the healing process you may find that your tattoo “itches”. We’ve found this tends to be more intense with heavy colour-work, or working on a large area at one sitting and with some colours that seem to be more prone to this than others (reds, purple and magenta) — but it can be very individualistic. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that scratching and picking at your tattoo is bad. RESIST — picking at the scab that forms over your Tattoo will result in loss of colour. Even if your tattoo does not “scab” (and hopefully it won’t or any scabbing will be minimal — some parts of the body are just going to scab no mater what you do) resist the urge to “peel away” the onion-skin like layer that will form over your Tattoo as it heels. This is natural, and it will drop off naturally in the shower or when you wash.
7. What to AVOID! Once it is healed, there is very little that will really screw up a tattoo. The one BIG exception is prolonged exposure to UV light, i.e., sunlight and tanning beds.
DURING HEALING AVOID:
Bathing: During the first 48-72 hours, care should be taken while bathing. Soaking in a hot tub is NOT A GOOD IDEA! The hot after will draw impurities (including tattoo ink pigment) out of your skin. Similiarly, a hot shower or a steam-room will have the same effect — take a lukewarm shower and minimise your time in the shower with a new tattoo and do not let the shower spray beat on the tattooed skin directly.
Swimming: Swimming in chlorinated pools and salt-water swimming should be avoided for the first week or so (as should soaking in a Jacuzzi, or even your own bathtub at home). While neither pool Chlorine nor salt-water will affect a healed tattoo, both are sources of bacteria and other impurities that could infect your new tattoo. But, after the first few days, the surface over the tattoo (absent scabbing) is relatively impervious and it is OK to swim. If, however, you are scabbing, water will tend to swell the scab, loosen it and perhaps cause some loss of pigment. A much greater danger to your tattoo is the prolonged exposure to SUNLIGHT that is associated with swimming.