You've just got a new tattoo, and now it's time to make sure it stays healthy & vibrant. In addition to dealing with the pain, there are a few other aftercare steps you can’t ignore if you want your new design to last. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how to take care of a new tattoo, from cleaning to moisturizing to clothing. And by the time you get your next tattoo, you’ll have your aftercare routine down to a science.
The simple way to take care of your new tattoo
Every tattoo is different, that’s what makes them so unique. As such, the aftercare process will vary from person to person, depending on the size, location, and your own skin sensitivity. For example, there are nuances to caring for a neck tattoo compared to a foot tattoo.
But there are a few things that everyone must do to take care of their tattoo like proper cleaning & moisturizing, avoiding swimming & sunlight, and monitoring for signs of infection. We’re going to cover those things now, so you’ll be prepared to care for any type of tattoo you might get.
How to clean a new tattoo
When you leave the tattoo parlor, the area should be covered with plastic wrap. Leave this on for at least 3-4 hours, but no more than 6-8 hours. Once you take it off, clean the area immediately.
Wash your hands before touching the area, then cleanse the tattooed skin with warm & soapy water for at least 20-30 seconds. Use a liquid pump, fragrance-free soap and lukewarm water to reduce irritation. We recommend these types of soap because foamy, fragrant soaps often irritate the skin. Though you may be tempted to shower right away, don’t. Carefully splash water onto the area to clean it.
Note: Though many soap bars are fragrance-free, they tend to sit in water and collect bacteria when not in use, opening you to possible infections.
Wash away the soap & water, then gently pat the area dry with a disposable paper towel or antimicrobial cloth to reduce the possibility of infection. Hand towels also can harbor bacteria, especially if they haven’t been cleaned recently. And be sure to avoid scrubbing the area dry, as this will be painful and likely damage the ink.
When can I shower after a tattoo?
You can shower 24 hours after a tattoo, but limit your tattoo’s exposure to the water. Do your best to keep the area out of the water, except when cleaning it. And when doing so, make sure to reduce the water temperature to prevent burning & damaging the healing skin.
How to moisturize a new tattoo
What to apply
Just like the soap, you should moisturize your tattoo with a scent-free or fragrance-free, white cream lotion or moisturizer. We do not recommend Aquaphor or Vaseline.
Or if you’re looking for an all-in-one aftercare solution for your finger tattoo, check out our Ink Balm, the ultimate tattoo moisturizer. Apply it directly to the healing skin just 1-2 times per day instead of lotion to protect and preserve your finger tattoo forever. It relieves pain & itchiness, prevents infections, moisturizes, and keeps your ink looking vibrant.
Why moisturizing is important
Moisturizing is critical to your tattoo aftercare process. It aids in skin cell regeneration, reduces irritation, and promotes healthy healing so that you can proudly show off your new design as soon as possible.
Do not, under any circumstances, let your tattoo dry out. Dry skin reduces cellular activity and increases your risk of bacterial infections, delaying the healing process. Not to mention, dry skin will crack & ruin your tattoo, meaning you’ll have wasted hundreds of dollars and several hours of your time.
When to moisturize
Apply your daily tattoo moisturizer as soon as the area begins to dry out, usually within 24 hours after you leave the shop.
Apply lotion 3-5 times per day for at least the first two weeks, then regularly as a part of your daily skincare regimen. With Ink Balm, apply just 1-2 times per day to accelerate your healing process and maintain ink vibrance.
With daily cleaning and moisturizing, your new finger tattoo will be just fine. But if you want your ink to stay fresh forever, you’ll need to step up your aftercare regimen.
What not to put on a fresh tattoo?
We already covered a few of these, but just to reiterate – don’t put any of the following on a fresh tattoo:
- Foamy or scented soaps
- Colored or scented lotions/moisturizers
- Sunscreen (until your skin is fully healed)
- Petroleum-based products like Vaseline or Aquaphor
- Tight clothing
What not to wear after a new tattoo
Your clothing will depend on the size & location of your tattoo. But as general guidance, don’t wear tight or restrictive clothing that will suffocate or increase friction near the tattoo.
Here are a few articles of clothing you should avoid based on the location of your tattoo:
- Chest & back – bras, tight-fitting shirts, and necklaces
- Leg – leggings, tight jeans, or spandex
- Ankle & foot – socks, shoes, or ankle jewelry
- Wrist, hand, and finger – gloves, rings, watches, or bracelets
For at least the first two weeks, you should aim to limit the amount of trapped heat and friction around the tattoo as much as possible. Wear baggy, loose-fitting clothing made from soft, natural materials like cotton.
How to sleep after a tattoo
Just as with clothing, you should limit the amount of heat & friction near the tattoo while you sleep. This is easier said than done, especially if you love sleeping in cold rooms or toss & turn at night. For tattoos on your arms & legs, sleep with your extremity outside of the covers. For fresh designs on your chest, back, or neck, you’ll have to get creative – try laying on your side so that the tattoo faces upwards. Place a pillow on either side of you or between your legs to keep you from rolling over.
And for at least the first couple of nights, you shouldn’t cuddle with your significant other – it will increase the chance of friction and infection. The same goes for pets; keep them off the bed for at least the first 4-5 nights.
How long will my tattoo take to heal?
Tattoos heal at different rates. But generally, most tattoos will heal within 2-3 weeks.
- 1 – 2 days – Expect a burning sensation, redness, oozing, and inflammation as your body initiates the healing process. Your body will produce plasma and white blood cells, which will result in your body oozing pus. This is normal, and is called; ink “weeping.”
- 3 – 7 days – By day 3, most pain should subside, but plasma may ooze for up to 6-7 days; if it persists, consult a doctor. As the area remains red and irritated, expect peeling, which indicates healthy skin cell regeneration. Your skin will begin to itch, so apply your moisturizer and an ice pack to cool the sensation.
- Week 2 – As the epidermis heals and wounds seal due to plasma and white blood cells, expect flaking, peeling, and itching. If you’ve cleaned & moisturized properly, you should be well on your way to healing. If your pain & itching are unbearable or persistent beyond 12-14 days, consult a doctor, as it may be infected.
- Weeks 3 + 4 – Redness and peeling should stop, with healthy cells replacing damaged ones and the top layer nearly healed, possibly appearing “scaly” (this is normal). The outer skin layer should be fully healed by week 4 or earlier, with ink potentially appearing dull before shining through the settled new layer.
- Months 2+ – Deeper layers will continue to rebuild and adjust to the new ink. Despite minimal discomfort after the first month, all layers of skin will be fully healed around 6-8 weeks post-session so long as you continue moisturizing, preventing infection, and reducing sun & water exposure.
How long do you need to care for a new tattoo?
You should continue caring for your tattoo for at least 6-8 weeks until all layers of the skin are fully healed. You’ll need to clean & moisturize for the first 2-3 weeks, then just moisturize for the next few weeks.
Taking care of a tattoo goes beyond simply preserving the beauty of your new design. It's a reflection of your commitment to honoring your ink. As you embrace your tattoo aftercare routine, you’ll fall in love with your new piece over & over again. Clean, moisturize, and protect your tattoo, and you’ll be able to cherish it forever.