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Tattoo Aftercare: The Guide

Welcome to our guide to tattoo aftercare. We've pulled together what to do, and not to do, for your tattoo to heal quickly and retain all of the glory it had on day one!

If you have any questions or concerns about this guide or the healing process, please call us first. For any urgent matters that fall outside of regular business hours, dial 811 to reach Healthlink, or 911 for emergencies.

Tattoo artist tattooing a hip

How fast your tattoo heals depends on your age, health, hygiene, and where on your body you get it. Most tattoos will appear fully healed within the first couple of weeks, but until the six week mark, there's a lot more happening under your skin than you can see!

This guide will walk you through what to expect during this process in a day-by-day breakdown. Support the steps below by drinking plenty of water, eating well, and getting enough rest!


The Basics

How to Properly Wash & Moisturize a Tattoo

  1. Start by cleaning your hands REALLY well. Let's be honest - the last few years have made sure we all know how to properly wash your hands. Wash those wrists, between your fingers, all of that fun stuff.

  2. In warm water, use unscented, antibacterial soap to wash the area. Gently rub with your hands to remove any plasma or ink on the surface. Do not pick at anything! That could end up pulling ink from where you want it. Don't use a washcloth! Reusable fabrics can harbour bacteria no matter how recently you washed them.

  3. Pat the area dry with paper towel. Remember - towels could be gross regardless of your bleach skills. Use paper towel for now. Make sure your tattoo is completely dry before you apply ointment. If not, it could trap moisture between your skin and the ointment, causing scabs to swell or become gooey.

  4. MOI. STURE. IZE. MOISTURIZE. This isn't just a comfort thing - you know how washing too hard will pull ink out? How much more do you figure a dry scab could pull? Along with frequent washing to remove any liquid your tattoo is releasing, keep your skin hydrated to prevent scabbing to form in the first place. Apply a thin, even layer of ointment to the area and rub it in well. Too much ointment can suffocate the wound.



DAY 1 - 3: Blood and plasma and oozing, oh my!

The first few days are crucial for proper healing. Unless you've carefully cleaned your hands and are washing or moisturizing the area, keep those plague-riddled mitts off your art! Treat your tattoo as carefully as you would treat any open wound! The lifespan of your artwork depends on it.

What should I expect?

The healing process starts as soon as you leave your tattoo appointment. During the first few days, your tattoo is still an open wound and will be sore, painful, and warm to the touch. The skin around your tattoo might be slightly red and swollen from increased blood flow as your immune system kicks in. Your tattoo will continue to release plasma, blood, and ink—this is completely normal.

Your tattoo artist will have wrapped the new artwork with some form of dressing. Most pieces will be covered with a breathable, self-adhesive, transparent bandage (like Saniderm or 2nd Skin) that can stay on for nearly the full first week of healing. It might look gross, but all that body juice keeps your tattoo well hydrated, avoids contamination, and speeds up the healing process as a whole!

What should I look out for?

What should I do?

When can I remove a self-adhesive bandage?

Day 3 - 7: Itchy Bullshit

After the third or fourth day, your tattoo will begin to dry out. It may feel tight. Swelling should go down, though your skin might still feel warm and uncomfortable. You can remove your self-adhesive bandage now, but longer is typically better! NEVER scratch any part of your tattoo. If you're experiencing any itchiness, lightly ‘pat’ or ‘tap’ your tattoo instead.

What should I expect?

You may begin to form small scabs or dried flakes over top of your tattoo. By the end of the first week, you will likely see flaking. This is normal, but can be minimized by washing and moisturizing regularly.

What should I look out for?

What should I do?

Day 7 - 14: Itchy Bullshit, now with Bonus Flaking!

Your tattoo will appear dry and dull for now. The deeper layers of your skin still need to repair themselves, which is why aftercare is still important even after your tattoo is healed. In time, the new, healthier skin underneath will be revealed.

What should I expect?

Your tattoo will continue to flake, and you may start to see scabs forming over some areas of the tattoo. The more stringently you use your aftercare, the less flaking and itching you will experience. The same goes for scabbing; it's best to prevent scabs from forming in the first place! The best way to do this is to keep the tattoo well hydrated.

What should I watch for?

What should I do?

Day 15 - Forever: You get out what you put in.

After the scabs and dead skin have flaked off, you shouldn’t experience any more swelling, bleeding, or ink leaching. Your tattoo may still look slightly dull and continue to have some fine flaky bits until the fresh new layer of skin is exposed.

Your skin can also look slightly ‘shiny’. It may take 3 to 4 months for the lower layers to completely heal. By the end of your third month, the tattoo should look as bright and vivid as the artist intended.

Washing and cleaning your tattoo need not be as often as it was in the early days. At this stage, you can wash your tatt when you take a shower. The needle puncture wounds may have healed, but it’s best to stay safe and just clean the tattoo periodically.

What should I expect?

Of course, the ever-persistent itch will still be present, but it should be more manageable now. Also, the swelling should have subsided at this point, and there should be no more raised or bumpy on your tattooed skin.

The little bits of remaining flaking and dullness will gradually improve over the next few weeks until your tattoo looks much clearer, brighter, sharper, and your skin texture is back to normal. It will be later on in this stage that you'll be able to tell if any touch-up work is needed.

What should I watch for?

What should I do?

From here on out, stay hydrated by dudes! Moisturize that skin, drink plenty of water, and don't forget sunscreen!

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