Tattoo care: Useful tips to keep tattooed skin healthy
Every tattoo tells a story. But to keep your tattoo looking great for the rest of your life, it’s important to make sure it heals correctly, and that you continue to look after it long after it’s finished healing. Every new tattoo is a wound, so your skin needs all the help it can get to make sure it heals.
It can be hard to know where to start when looking after a tattoo, whether it’s a new one or one you’ve had for years! We’ve put together a guide on tattoo care, looking at washing and cleansing tattoos, tattoo protection, how to avoid tattoo infections and tips and tricks for keeping your tattooed skin looking great for years to come.
Tattoo care: washing and cleansing
Tattoo care starts the moment your tattoo artist has finished the design. They’ll clean the area and then wrap it, often with a bandage or clean clingfilm/plastic wrap. Your artist will advise you how long they want you to keep this wrap on, and the time you need to wear it will depend on how big the tattoo is and where it’s positioned on the body.
When you first remove the wrap, you might notice fluid like dried blood, plasma and spare ink on your skin or oozing from the tattoo. This might look a little gross… but it’s perfectly normal!
Your artist will advise you on how to care for your new tattoo in the first few days, and often different artists will recommend different methods. But generally, you should wash your tattoo once or twice a day. Gently wash the tattoo and the skin around it with warm water and a mild soap. You can either let it air dry, or carefully pat it dry with kitchen towel.
Tattoo care: protection
It’s important to protect your tattooed skin during healing and beyond, to keep it looking fresh and bright. Protecting your tattoo starts the moment it’s finished and your artist wraps it, as this stops bacteria getting into the broken skin . It also helps to stop your tattoo rubbing against clothing and getting irritated.
After the first day, your artist may advise you to continue wrapping your tattoo. This helps to keep it protected from debris and also stops things like clothing and bedsheets rubbing against it, which can irritate your skin.
While your tattooed skin is healing, you should make sure you cover it with light, sun-protective clothing when you go outside. You should not apply sunscreen to a fresh tattoo, as it can clog the pores and potentially trap bacteria.
Tattoo care: avoiding infections
A new tattoo is an open wound, so it’s very important that you take the proper steps to stop it from getting infected. If your tattoo becomes infected, it can require medical treatment.
Most tattoos will be red and swollen when they’re brand new. They may also feel warm to the touch. This is normal, especially if it’s a large tattoo! If the redness and swelling does not go down after a few days, then the tattoo may be infected.
The other signs of an infected tattoo are:
- A rash around the tattoo
- Pus coming out of the tattoo
- The area feels hot
- Fever and chills
If you think your tattoo has an infection, you should see your doctor or seek medical care as soon as possible. Getting treated quickly will help stop the infection becoming more serious and can also prevent long-term damage to the tattoo.
Your doctor will probably prescribe you a course of antibiotics . Typically, if you catch and treat an infected tattoo early, you’ll make a full recovery.
There are a lot of reasons why a tattoo can get infected. Some causes of a tattoo infection are:
- Unhygienic equipment. Unclean tools that aren’t sterilised can pass bacterial infections into the skin.
- The ink used. Ink can easily become contaminated.
- Unclean skin. Skin needs to be cleaned before the tattooing process begins, to prevent bacteria on the skin getting into the open wound.
- Poor healing. If you don’t look after your tattoo while it’s healing, it might get infected. This includes removing the wrap too soon, not cleaning your tattoo and letting it get dirty or irritated.
The best ways you can avoid getting an infected tattoo are by making sure the shop is reputable and following your artist’s aftercare advice. Before you get a tattoo, research the shop online to make sure its reviews are good and your artist is a professional. You could also pop into the shop beforehand to double check. Always look at your artists work before you make a choice, and if you can see if you can find some photos of their healed work too.
In the UK, you need a license on the artist and premises before you can legally tattoo anyone. Make sure that both the shop and the artist you’ve chosen have licences before you book in.
When your tattoo is done, make sure to keep it clean. Always wash your hands with antibacterial soap before touching your new tattoo, and do not scratch or pick at the skin while it’s healing – even if it’s itchy! Your skin will develop scabs as your tattoo heals, and you should be careful not to pick at these or knock them as this can cause scarring.
Tattoo care: tips and tricks
There’s a few more things you can do to care for your new tattoo. Here’s our top tips on keeping that new ink looking good.
UV rays from sunlight can damage your tattoo, both while it’s healing and when it’s healed. During the healing period, stay out of the sun or wear loose-fitting clothes that cover it up. Once your tattoo is healed, make sure you cover it with a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF whenever you’re out in the sun.
Don’t submerge your tattoo
Avoid bathing while your tattoo is still healing . A quick rinse in the shower is okay, but you should not submerge your tattoo under water before it’s fully healed. You should also avoid swimming, as there can be bacteria in the water that can lead to an infection. Chlorine may also cause colour loss in a new tattoo.
Avoid sports and the sauna
When your tattoo is new, you should give your fitness routine a rest until its healed. Pulling the skin and sweating can disrupt healing, and gym equipment can harbour germs that could result in an infection. You should also be careful as tight gym wear can cause irritation if it rubs on your new tattoo.
Support your body
It’s important to look after your health so your body can properly heal. Good nutrition is linked to proper healing, so in the weeks after getting a tattoo make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet and drinking enough liquid. You should also make sure you’re getting enough sleep , as this can also help your body heal.
Keep it moisturised
Your tattoo artist will advise you when they think you need to start applying a cream or ointment to your tattoo, but usually its twice a day after the first 24 hours. Find the routine that works best for you and your skin – for example you could moisturise it whenever it feels tight or dry.
Once your tattoo has healed, you can continue to keep it moisturised so the skin stays healthy and hydrated.