A new tattoo requires smart aftercare to ensure that the skin heals properly and your ink doesn't fade. Both colored and noncolored tattoos require the same care, which involves protecting and cleansing the skin. The size and position of your tattoo, as well as your skin type, dictates how long the healing process takes. However, your tattooed skin will likely heal after one to three weeks.
You'll walk out of the tattoo parlor with some new ink, but it will be masked under a bandage. Keep the bandage on for at least two to four hours after your tattoo is applied. During this period, your tattooed skin will continue to ooze plasma, so you want to keep it covered.
Gentle care of your new ink is essential. Once you remove your bandage, wash your tattoo with lukewarm water and a mild, fragrance-free liquid soap.
Use a clean hand to gently massage the soap into the tattooed skin. Don't use a washcloth or loofah to scrub this sensitive area. Avoid submerging your skin in water -- instead run the tattoo under a faucet in the sink or shower. Pat your skin dry with a paper towel; avoid using a towel that can rough up your tattoo.
Your newly tattooed skin needs to stay dry to avoid scabbing. A dry tattoo that is scabbed over will impede the recovery process and could even damage the tattoo itself. Apply a dime-sized dab of clear antibacterial ointment or a water-based lotion or cream to avoid dry skin. A thin layer of ointment, lotion or cream is ideal -- the less, the better. Talk to your tattoo artist about what product is best for your tattoo; he may recommend using the antibacterial ointment for a day or two, followed by the gentle lotion or cream.
Protecting your newly tattooed skin from the sun is essential. Avoid direct sun exposure or tanning beds for two weeks. Ultraviolet radiation can cause your tattoo to fade, so long-term sun protection is important as well. Apply a broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every two hours or as needed when you are outdoors.
Tattoos on the hands, feet, ankles and waist are more prone to healing problems. They're more likely to be exposed to germs, and the skin is easily irritated by clothes, shoes and daily use. Implement several strategies to encourage healing of these areas:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly to minimize germ exposure for hand and wrist tattoos.
- Do not touch your tattoo unless your hands have just been cleaned.
- Wear loose-fitting, soft socks or pants to reduce friction between your clothing and the tattoo.
- Wear easy-to-wash shoes for ankle and foot tattoos. Toss the shoes in the washing machine daily, if possible, to eliminate germs.
Barbie Carpenter worked as a technical writer and editor in the defense industry for six years. She also served as a newspaper feature page editor and nationally syndicated columnist for the Hearst Corp. Carpenter holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in professional writing from the University of Central Florida.