Freshly Inked? Here’s How to Care for Your New Tattoo, According to a Tattoo Artist and a Dermatologist

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You just got a new tattoo and it looks incredible. Clean, strong lines. An exact match to the sketch. Instant euphoria. After you’ve marveled at the new masterpiece on your arm and snapped a few pics for the ‘gram, your tattoo artist bandages you up.

At this time, it’s likely your artist will do one of two things: apply a ‘second-skin’ type of bandage (a sterile medical grade adhesive patch that stays on for multiple days and protects your skin from infection) or they may apply some antibacterial ointment and bandage you up with some good ol’ fashioned plastic wrap before sending you on your way. Even though it’s beautiful art, you did just give yourself an open wound, after all. But how do you care for your new tattoo once you’re on your own at home? We chatted with a tattoo artist, aftercare experts and a dermatologist to find out. Read ahead for their seriously helpful tips.

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Meet the Experts

  • JZ is a professional tattoo artist at Atelier Eva. With over six years of tattoo experience, JZ aims to bridge the gap between past and present through his designs. Growing up in China, he embarked on numerous creative endeavors, mastering each with intent care. His initial creative inspiration for tattooing began while he lived with a group of similar-minded creatives. Additionally, his work is influenced by classical fine art.
  • Richie Bulldog and Seth Love are the founders of Hustle Butter, one of the very first tattoo aftercare brands. Launched in 2012, Hustle Butter became known for their petroleum-free aftercare solution. Bulldog and Love have been a part of the tattoo community since the early '80s—when tattooing wasn't yet legal in New York City—and formulated their products with some of the industry's best artists
  • Erin Murray is the senior vice president of marketing at Mad Rabbit, a company that specializes in tattoo aftercare products. Murray has over 10 years of marketing experience in the skincare, beauty and haircare industries. 
  • Dr. Elliot Love is a board-certified dermatologist based in North Carolina. Love is also a fellowship trained skin cancer and reconstructive Mohs Surgeon and board member for Mad Rabbit Tattoo. Love has written several research papers, as well as a book chapter specifically related to skin cancer. He is also the Director of Dermatologic Surgery at Dermatology Group of the Carolinas.

The First 24 to 48 Hours 

Bulldog and Love mention that "Sticking to a structured timeline can ensure optimal healing of your new tattoo. [It's best to] follow the specific instructions given by your artist, as each tattoo and person is different. Healing depends on a multitude of factors, so there is no 'one size fits all approach.' As always, if you are ever unsure or have concerns, reach out to your artist immediately."

Follow your artist’s aftercare instructions closely

During the first 24-48 hours after receiving your new tattoo, your skin will be at its most vulnerable. All of our experts (as well as myself, a proud owner of five tattoos) agree that you should keep your tattoo covered for at least the first 24 hours and follow the aftercare instructions of your tattoo artist very closely. Murray recommends that, “for at least the first three hours, wear the bandage put on your tattoo. [I] recommend keeping it covered for the first 24 hours to allow it to settle after your appointment.” If for any reason you need to remove the initial bandage in the first 24-48 hours, you’ll definitely want to make sure you do so with clean, dry hands. Gotta keep that open wound sanitary. 

Don’t drink any alcohol

JZ adds “[You should] not drink for the first 24 hours following your session. Alcohol can thin your blood which can increase bleeding from the tattooed area.” Again, your tattoo is technically an open wound and you want to do whatever you can to help it heal.

Skip the gym or any strenuous exercise 

You’ll also want to be avoiding hitting the gym for the first 10-14 days after getting tattooed. “Taking 10 to 14 days off from intensive exercise is recommended, as stretching/flexing the skin and exposing it to sweat and other gym-related bacterial concerns can cause major problems like scarring and infection,” JZ says.

Avoid beaches and pools, but drink lots of H2O

It’s best to avoid beaches and pools for the first two to four weeks as well because you run the risk of infecting your open wound before it’s fully healed. But you will want to stay hydrated, so make sure to drink plenty of water.

Wear loose, flowy clothing

Because of how sensitive your skin will be post-appointment, you’ll want to keep any clothing that may come in contact with that area of your body loose to avoid any rubbing or chafing. 

Days 1-3 

If you received a ‘second-skin’ type of bandage, you can remove it at the three day mark. Some people find this type of wrap difficult to remove because of how strong the adhesive is. Murray recommends that during ‘second-skin’ removal, you’ll want to “pull slowly in the direction your hair is growing to ensure a smooth removal process, as well as to avoid any disruption to the tattoo. Once you remove it, we recommend using warm water and an antibacterial or a gentle cleanser to wash off the tattoo. From there, pat dry the tattooed area with a paper towel and follow with a petroleum-free aftercare lotion.”

JZ also shares, “It’s best to remove the bandage under a steady stream of lukewarm water. The water acts as a natural lubricant for the adhesive, so it's easier to remove. When you're peeling the bandage off, slowly pull [from either] the top or bottom of the bandage [and away from your skin] to prevent pulling up any early scabbing.”

Bulldog and Love recommend a similar removal process, emphasizing that you should using warm, not hot water and a gentle tattoo soap if you need like Hustle Bubbles. When it comes to washing the tattoo post-‘second-skin’ removal, if you’re using a liquid soap, drizzle it over the tattooed area and let the water pressure do the rest. On the other hand, if you’re using bar soap, you’ll want to do the lathering in your hands instead of directly on the skin and gently apply the lather to the tattoo.

When drying the skin, you’ll still want to be cautious of any bacteria that could find its way in, so wipe away with a clean towel or hygienic paper and then apply an unscented aftercare solution. (Our editors have been loving Aquaphor or CeraVe Healing Ointment for the early stages of healing.)

Dr. Love points out that in terms of frequency, your new tattoo should be cleaned at least twice a day in the first three to five days after removing a ‘second-skin’ or similar bandage. Additionally, Mad Rabbit has hydrogel Tattoo Repair Patches that create a protective barrier for tattooed skin and are intended for use within the first three days of getting a tattoo.

Days 4-14

While it’s imperative that you clean your tattoo extensively for the first 3-5 days, Murray recommends doing this through day 21 to ensure that your tattoo stays in tip top shape and to avoid any possibility of infection. This should be done at least once a day, but if you’re keen on keeping it squeaky clean, up to three times a day wouldn’t hurt. According to Dr. Love, depending on the size of your tattoo, yours could heal within the first 7-10 days. In the case that this does happen, you’ll want to keep it moisturized with an unscented lotion and reapply multiple times throughout the day until Day 30. Moisturizing will keep your skin “hydrated and  the ink vibrant,” Murray explains. Because your tattoo won’t be completely covered during days 4-14, try your best to keep it out of direct sunlight and avoid exposing it to bacteria-prone surfaces like sinks, toilets and other areas of contamination. Bulldog and Love warn that, "You may notice scabbing or flaking—this is normal and is part of the process. Don't pick or scratch at the tattoo."

Days 21-30

Sometimes larger tattoos won’t heal fully until the 30-day mark. Moisturizing regularly, as stated above, should continue throughout the full 30 days. Once your tattoo has scabbed over and fresh skin has started to emerge, you’ll want to move to using an SPF to protect your ink from the sun. It's important to note that you should never be using sunscreen on a fresh and/or healing tattoo. That said, Bulldog and Love note that, "Sunscreen should not be applied until the skin has healed, and fresh tattoos should not be exposed to the sun."

To keep your tattoo vibrant and skin around it moisturized, use a nourishing balm regularly. Hustle Butter Deluxe checks off all of these boxes, thanks to ingredients like shea, mango and aloe butters, coconut, sunflower and rice bran oils, and vitamin E to keep the skin supple and your tattoos looking radiant as hell.

And to keep the colors or your tattoo vibrant and bright and the area nourished and moisturized, use a balm with good-for you ingredients regularly. Hustle Butter Deluxe checks off all of these boxes using elements like shea, mango and aloe butters, coconut, sunflower and rice bran oils, rosemary oleoresin, green tea, Vitamin E Complex & Mint Arvenis essential oil in their product to keep the skin fresh and supple and your tattoos looking radiant as hell.

Some Extra Tips from Our Experts

  • Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate 

 “Exfoliation is key—gently removing the dead skin cells, similar to how you would take care of your face, will help accelerate the moisturizing and vibrancy benefits,” shares Murray. Though it's important to note that you should never exfoliate a fresh tattoo. You need to wait until it's fully healed before beginning this process. And when the time comes, "Be cautious not to overexfoliate, as this can lead to skin irritation and damage." Bulldog and Love explain.

  • SPF or bust

Murray also mentions that you’ll want to “avoid excessive sun exposure and always, always wear sunscreen.” JZ agrees, adding that you should also keep your skin extra moisturized. “Even beyond the initial healing period. I always moisturize before leaving the house," he says. Oh, and make sure you’re using a sunscreen that has both UVA and UVB protection. Doctor Love recommends either keeping the tattoo covered whenever you’re in the sun for prolonged periods or using a zinc or titanium-based sunscreen and reapplying every 90 minutes.” SPF is essential to keeping your tattoo in good condition.

Throughout the duration of your aftercare, all of our experts recommended keeping an eye on your tattoo for any abnormalities and to consult a doctor if you’re concerned with how it’s healing. "Tattoos, like any other type of art, require proper maintenance and care to ensure longevity. Continue to care for it beyond just the healing process," advise Bulldog and Love.

How’s that for aftercare? And on that note, here are some of our editors' go-to tattoo aftercare products.

Shop Our Favorite Tattoo Aftercare Products

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Assistant Editor, Trinket Collector, Artisanal Latte Enthusiast

Delia Curtis (they/them) is a New York City based writer and Assistant Editor at PureWow. They have eight years of print and digital media experience covering lifestyle, fashion...