From heartfelt mother-daughter tattoos to artistic watercolor tattoos to reconstructive tattoos after surgery, there are plenty of reasons to get a tattoo — all of them valid. But if you want your tattoo to continue looking freshly inked long after you get it done, it’s important you select an artist who uses the best tattoo supplies and that you follow proper aftercare guidelines.
Why is tattoo aftercare important?
According to NYC-based tattoo artist Ghinko, who has a residency at Bang Bang Tattoo, tattoo aftercare is just as important as skincare. “Like how we take special care of our face to keep it looking hydrated and healthy, you also must moisturize, [apply] sunscreen and exfoliate your body so your tattoos take well to your skin and age well,” she explains.
What is the best way to care for a new tattoo?
- Keep it wrapped at first. Often, when you get a tattoo, the artist will wrap it up in cling film to protect it for the first few days to keep out bacteria and prevent any rubbing. “Depending on the size and advice of the artist, you’ll need to keep your tattoo wrapped in cling film from one to three days,” says Ghinko.
- Apply sunscreen vigilantly. Avoid direct sun exposure for the first month after you get your tattoo and be sure to apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to your tattoo every time you’ll be in the sun to prevent fading.
- Strike a hydration balance. Be sure to listen to your tattoo artist and apply soothing products and creams that will reduce itching, scarring and tissue damage. Moisturizing your skin helps speed the healing process.
- Apply occlusives lightly. “People tend to over-apply Aquaphor or healing creams, but you’re actually supposed to apply a thin layer every time, so that your skin can also breathe,” says Ghinko.
- Treat it with care. “Treat a new tattoo like fresh stitches,” Ghinko says. “Take it easy.”
What should you not do after a tattoo?
- Drink alcohol excessively. Ghinko advises to not drink heavily before or after a tattoo. This is because alcohol thins your blood, which could cause you to bleed more than you normally would during the tattooing and healing process.
- Go swimming. “When a fresh tattoo is exposed to a pool or lake … you can cause irritation and infections,” says Ghinko. Avoid swimming for two to four weeks post-tattoo.
- Sunbathe. For the first month after your tattoo, avoid sun exposure to prevent fading and color distortion.
- Over-moisturize. Some hydration is essential, but according to Ghinko, it’s also important to let your skin breathe while it’s healing.
- Scratch. Tattoos tend to itch as they heal, but resist the urge to scratch which can irritate or tear the skin. Instead, Ghinko says to lightly slap it.
What are the best products for tattoo aftercare?
- Aquaphor Healing Ointment. For the best results, spread a thin layer onto the skin two to three times a day for the first few days after a tattoo, and rub it in completely
- A+D First Aid Ointment Skin Protectant. This is another ointment that is best applied in a thin layer two to three times a day for the first few days post-tattoo.
- Hustle Butter Deluxe Luxury Tattoo Care & Maintenance Cream. Formulated specifically with tattoos in mind, this cream can be applied two to three times a day until your new tattoo is healed, and can also be used beyond that to keep your tattoo moisturized.
- EltaMD UV Restore SPF 40. UV light fades tattoos, so it’s important to keep them protected from the sun’s harsh rays. Apply sunscreen to your ink every two hours — not just in the first few months after a new tattoo, but every day.
How long does it take a tattoo to heal?
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Ghinko says that it really depends on the size and how well you take care of your fresh ink, but you can expect a tattoo to heal within two to three weeks. Don’t worry about the weird healing phases that can happen in between. “Larger tattoos [tend] to get super itchy during the peeling phase,” Ghinko says. It’s normal for tattoos to peel or flake during the first week or two after getting a tattoo done, just be sure not to pick at them.
What if my tattoo gets infected?
With proper care and a reputable artist, you should be able to avoid infections, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t happen rarely. If you suspect your tattoo might be infected, seek medical help immediately. Signs it’s time to call your doctor: fever, chills, pus coming out of the tattoo, red lesions or streaks and raised skin around the tattoo.
How do I care for my tattoo long-term?
Sun protection is the single most important aspect of tattoo aftercare. “Just as you take care of your face so that the skin remains youthful, you have to do the same with the skin that holds your tattoos,” Ghinko says. “For long-term care, you should always use sunscreen on the tattoos.” If your tattoo begins to fade or distort, remember — you can always go back in for a touchup.