My tattoo healing advice to my customers, and the World.
Upon the completion of your new tattoo, you will find yourself the proud owner of a custom-sized, personally expressive & highly decorative, open wound. Your mission during the remainder of the healing period (average total healing time of a new tattoo is typically 4 weeks) is to treat your new wound as gently as possible, and make sure it stays clear of any irritation, damage, or infection that would seek to do it harm. The way to do all of that is to keep your tattoo clean, and keep it away from any objects, materials, or situations that may present the aforementioned dangers.
Clean and polish…
Right after the completion of your new skin addition, your artist (hopefully me!) will typically give you a bandage to keep the fluids that are oozing from your tattooed area away from the general public until you get home. Once you’re home, the bandage comes off. If the oozing fluids have dried on the way home and the bandage tries to fight it’s removal, soak the sticky part of the bandage with water and it should slide right off.
You should wash your new tattoo at least twice a day. It should be washed with basic soap and water. And by ‘basic’ I mean: no excessive perfumes, no “with pumice”-type abrasives, nothing weird or unnecessary. And when it is washed, it should be washed gently. That means use your hand rather than a washcloth, back brush, loofah sponge, pumice stone, or the like. To dry your tattoo, pat it gently with a towel. Don’t rub your towel back and forth across newly healing skin. Doing that will irritate your tattoo and affect the way it will appear after it heals. It is recommended that you take showers instead of baths during the healing process, as soaking your tattoo in bath water is a lot like drying your watercolor painting in the sauna.
Basically, what you are doing by following this washing and moisturizing regiment is tricking your skin into proceeding with the healing of your tattooed area while skipping the step involving the formation of a scab. Washing away the coagulation factors and replacing them with the skin-sealing properties of your ointment of choice allows the replacement cells to form underneath while keeping the outside world and the germs it contains out of the wound. Skipping the scabbing and keeping your new tattoo moisturized also helps to reduce the overall healing time, the potential for loss of color, and the risk of scars.
After you have completed your washing and drying, it is time to apply either moisturizer or lotion to the tattooed area. Apply a light, post-wash coat (and by ‘coat’ I mean just enough to make it shiny; less like ketchup on your fries, more like butter on your toast…) of ointment or lotion, depending on your preference. Again, the idea is to keep things simple; don’t use any type of ointment or lotion that may contain more perfume, pheromones, or body glitter than your damaged skin needs to deal with.
My personal recommendation for post-tattoo care is a petroleum-based ointment called Polysporin. Ever since having it recommended to me by a colleague, I offer it as a more tattoo ink-friendly solution for the overall healing process, outstanding as a part of the temporary bandage procedure (read below), and probably most easily found in any store with an attached pharmacy.
Protect your tattoo
The Basic Don’ts
- Don’t pick at it; constantly toying with it won’t cause it to heal any faster.
- Don’t pull off any scabs or newly forming skin; it will only re-damage what has healed.
- Don’t scratch it; if your tattoo itches, it’s probably either the skin around it drying out or the hair that was shaved during the preparation for your tattoo beginning to grow back.
The best thing to do in the case of dry skin, is to apply more moisturizer (clean it first! don’t just rub the dirt in!). In the case of returning hair or if adding moisturizer isn’t enough, slap it (gently, and only as a LAST resort) with your hand until the itch subsides. Don’t just rub or scratch the newly forming skin away!
To protect your newly re-forming skin and the tattoo it contains, you must keep it free from all irritants, physical and chemical. That means do not irritate the tattooed area by bringing it into contact with anything it doesn’t absolutely need to contact. Avoid having the area poked and prodded by strange fingernails or bitten by pets. No sliding into home base (get your mind out of the gutter) or falling off your motorcycle. No cooking it in the burning sunlight or the ultra-violet tanning bed. And for at least the first three weeks, or while it’s still oozing fluids: No soaking it in the greenish lake water (if you can’t see through it, don’t swim in it), the salty brine near them sandy shores (arrrr, matey!) at the beach, or the chlorine-blue pool (chlorine = bad for skin).
On occasion, you may find yourself in a situation that makes simply avoiding irritation almost impossible. These may include materials or debris in your workplace, items or substances that you are allergic to but have to deal with this one time, having your tattoo done in an area of your skin that your clothing tends to rub against more often than not, or the common problem of the new and oozing tattoo sticking to your bedding while you sleep. To solve the problem, you may need to apply a temporary bandage. First, apply a medium, post-wash (wash-wash-wash, clean-clean-clean!) coat of ointment; if you don’t have access to ointment, petroleum jelly is an acceptable emergency solution. Then, cover the area with a piece of plastic wrap; the kitchen level stuff or it’s equivalent is the recommended way to go here. Finally, use tape around the edges and wherever it is needed to hold everything in place. The ointment will act as a lubricant between the skin and the smooth, non-porous plastic, forming a seal that should keep the majority of possible irritants away from your healing skin. Wear the bandage only as long as is necessary, and take it off as soon as you can.
A special note…
…for you workout / weightlifting enthusiasts: If you are a frequent user of weight benches or curling machines and the like, and your tattoo is on a part of your body that comes in contact with this equipment, make sure you clean the contact surfaces of the equipment before and after you use it.
Remember: other people’s sweat and dirt + your healing skin = greater chance for infection.
In addition: your sweat and leftover blood and viscous fluids + everyone else who has to use that equipment = just plain rude.
Know your ointments
A customer, whose “Yeah, okay” to my query of his understanding of my official post-tattoo aftercare speech was just something to shut me up, allowed everything I’d just told him to roll through both ears and onto the floor. Rather than seek clarification of my instructions from me, he went instead to his grandmother who directed him to use Blue Star Ointment, a topical anti-fungal ointment, in place of the “that stuff you had said to put” I recommended. Two weeks later, he returned with what looked like a Fight Club initiation scar in the exact place and with the same shape as the tattoo I’d done. As a result, we both learned a valuable bit of information:
Do not use anti-fungal ointment on your healing tattoo.
Topical anti-fungal ointment is designed for “temporary relief of pain and itching associated with ringworm, athlete’s foot, scalp itch, jock itch, psoriasis, and other minor skin irritations”. Basically, it removes the embedded fungus by breaking down (dissolving) the cells of the fungus and the skin it’s infecting; great for people who don’t wash their socks, bad for tattoos. For example, the official Blue Star Ointment list of ingredients include salicylic acid, and methyl salicylate, both of which can be dangerous on broken skin or in large doses.
Just remember: “Anti-fungal cream bad new tattoo. You no use place where just get ink…”
Just in case…
If at any time during the healing process you find yourself having trouble dealing with something, or if the healed tattoo doesn’t look right somehow, contact me as soon as possible so that I can do what I can to help.
Please note that all the advice I’m giving you here is just that: advice. I’m not laying down any sort of law here (keeping your tattoo clean and irritation free and having it heal better is just plain fact), or claiming that any other tattoo artist’s care instruction is right or wrong. Everything I’m telling you is based on my years of experience in doing / getting tattoos, and what works best for me and the people I’ve worked on. If you have a method that has worked for you in the past, go right ahead with it. And if anything you’ve read here conflicts with the instructions given to you by friends, family, or “this guy at work”, just make sure that they either do tattoos for a living, or have enough of their own ink to back up any claims they make.