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Tattoo Care: Four Aftercare Tips for New Tattoos

man getting tattoo on arm

People have been expressing themselves through tattoos for more than 5,000 years, dating back to the time of the ancient Egyptians. While our inking methods have significantly improved over the millennia, getting a tattoo is still no small procedure.

Getting inked involves puncturing the skin with a needle to inject the design into the skin. Although complications rarely occur, your skin can still take a serious beating in the form of bleeding, itching and swelling. Taking good aftercare of your newly inked skin is essential to a fast and effective healing process.

Before you get inked, here are several things you need to know about proper aftercare of your new tattoo:

  • Some states don’t require tattoo artists to provide aftercare instructions for their clients.
  • To keep your tattoo free from infection, wash your hands properly before you clean your tattoo.
  • If you have a severe reaction to your tattoo, see a doctor immediately.

1. Wash Your Hands Before Washing Your Tattoo

So, you went to the bathroom not 20 minutes ago and made sure to wash your hands. Your hands should be clean enough to wash your new tattoo, right?

If research is anything to go by, probably not. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health found that a mere five percent of people wash their hands correctly after using the restroom (see claim: “..only 5% or so spent more than 15 seconds in combined washing, rubbing, and rinsing of their hands.”)

man washing soapy hands

To ensure that you don’t accidentally spread bacteria to your new tattoo, be sure to wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Use your elbows to turn off the faucet and pat your hands dry with a clean paper towel before touching your tattoo.

2. Stay Away from Scrubbing Products

Exfoliation should be a key part in any guy’s regular skin care routine. When caring for your new tattoo, however, it’s best to avoid getting your face scrub anywhere near your new ink.

Scrubbing products are too harsh for a new tattoo and may rip the tiny scabs off that form along the design. If your scab comes off prematurely, it can ruin the design of your tattoo.

The same goes for your loofah. These popular scrubbing tools can be tough on the skin and can accidentally be rubbed against your newly healing tattoo.

To make things more treacherous for your tattoo, some loofahs can spread bacteria. In a 1994 study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, researchers discovered that natural loofahs are packed with all different kinds of bacteria (see claim: “Our data show growth enhancement of sterile loofah fragments for numerous gram-negative (Pseudomonas, Xanthomonas, and Klebsiella) and gram-positive (Enterococcus and group B Streptococcus) species…”)

Take the skin care quiz

3. Apply the Right Antibacterial Ointment to Help Your Tattoo Heal

When it comes to tattoo aftercare, not all antibacterial ointments are created equally. For years, tattoo artists have warned against using petroleum jelly-based ointments, which can leach color from tattoos.

ointment squeezed out of tube

One of the most commonly recommended ointments for new tattoos is Bacitracin, a topical antibiotic that helps prevent infection. Apply Bacitracin (or a similar ointment) twice daily, making sure to use a thin coating each time.

Consider bandaging the tattoo again to protect it against further injury and minimize scabs. Although some tattoo artists say to leave your tattoo unbandaged, there is no evidence that an uncovered wound heals faster than a covered wound.

In fact, the opposite is true. According to a 2013 study published in Advances of Wound Care, there is more evidence to suggest that wounds heal faster in a moist environment (see claim: “…strong evidence pointing to the favorable healing of wounds in a wet or moist environment compared to dry treatment…”)

4. Make Your Moisturizer Work Double Duty

Once your tattoo has formed a scab, you can begin applying a thin layer of moisturizer to your freshly inked skin. A moisturizer for your tattoo can serve multiple purposes.

First, it can prevent your skin from becoming too dry and keep scabs from cracking. If your moisturizer contains nourishing ingredients such as Calendula Extract or Aloe Vera, it can also help soothe lingering inflammation.

Using a daily moisturizer with SPF on your new tattoo will also protect it from UV damage. This is especially important for new tattoos because sun exposure can negatively impact the healing process.

Additionally, sun exposure can fade the color of your tattoo over time. By applying sunscreen daily, you can keep your tattoo sharp and defined while simultaneously reducing your risk of skin cancer.

Final Thoughts

From infections to allergic reactions, getting a tattoo isn’t without its risks. While some of these risks can be avoided by properly vetting your tattoo artist, it’s up to you to take proper care of your healing tattoo.

If you have a severe reaction to your new tattoo, don’t wait to seek medical attention. See a dermatologist immediately if your skin reacts negatively to your new ink.

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