Tattoo artists, and people with tattoos, vary widely in their preferred methods of caring for new tattoos. Some artists recommend keeping a new tattoo wrapped for the first twenty-four hours, while others suggest removing temporary bandaging after two hours or less. Many tattooists advise against allowing too much contact with water for the first two weeks. This is to prevent the tattoo ink from washing out or fading since common inks are water based. In contrast, other artists suggest that a new tattoo be bathed in very hot water early and often.
General consensus from all agree against removing the scab that forms on a new tattoo, and avoiding exposing one’s tattoo to the sun for extended periods. Both can contribute to fading of the tattoo image. Furthermore, it is agreed that a new tattoo needs to be kept clean. Various products may be recommended for application to the skin, ranging from those intended for the treatment of cuts, burns and scrapes, to petroleum jelly, cocoa butter, lanolin or A&D. In recent years, specific commercial products have been developed for tattoo aftercare. Although opinions about these products vary, there is near total agreement that either alone or in addition to some other product, soap and warm water work well to keep a tattoo clean and free from infection.
Ultimately, the amount of ink that remains in the skin throughout the healing process determines, in large part, how robust the final tattoo will look. If a tattoo becomes infected (uncommon but possible if one neglects to properly clean their tattoo) or if the scab falls off too soon (e.g., if it absorbs too much water and sloughs off early or is picked or scraped off), then the ink will not be properly fixed in the skin and the final image will be negatively affected.
These are the instructions I have used – given to me by my tattoo artist:
- After leaving your artist, keep the tattoo covered for a minimum of 1 hour and no more than eight hours.
- After you have removed the covering, wash the area around the tattoo and the tattoo with mild soap and water.
- Gently rinse away all surface blood, ointment and surrounding soap and blot dry – NO rubbing.
- Do not apply alcohol, Neosporin, peroxide, or betadine to tattoo.
- Do not rub, pick at, or scratch your tattoo.
- Apply a thin layer of Bacitracin or A and D Ointment.
- Do this four to six times a day to avoid letting the tattoo dry out.
- After this stage, depending on the rate of healing – everyone is different – switch to a high quality, fragrance free lotion such as Keri, Aveeno, or Eucerin – keeping the skin moist but not wet.
- Do not expose tattoos to sunlight for at least 2 weeks.
- Do not soak in a bathtub, hot tub, lakes, pools, etc for the first 2 weeks.
- If you see any signs of infection, contact your doctor.