Tattoo aftercare – how to look after your new tattoo the right way

Your tattoo artist will take the time to offer expert guidance on tattoo aftercare during and after your sitting. Still, we realise that in the midst of the excitement you feel when you leave our tattoo shop, you might forget a thing or two your tattoo artist recommends, so we thought we’d pull together a handy guide on post-tattoo care.

Introduction

Whether you're getting tattooed for the first time at our studio or have been tattooed here many times before, it's always a good idea to brush up on aftercare procedures. There are many steps to take when it comes to new tattoo care, and there are things you should avoid doing during the healing process in order for your new tattoo to heal nicely.

Most importantly and perhaps the most pressing matter is the risk of infection. You want to avoid infection at all costs. You can lower your risk significantly by taking proper care of the area of tattooed skin, keeping it clean, and washing with mild soap and water.

It’s imperative that you don’t pick and choose from the aftercare instructions, be sure to follow the guidelines as closely as possible. Including but not limited to keeping the cling film in place and making sure to replace it often for the first couple of days of the tattoo healing process. If you follow all the steps listed below, you’re sure to come out with a beautifully healed tattoo!

What to expect after getting a tattoo

If this is your first tattoo, you may be wondering what to expect as you begin the healing process.

Keep in mind that a tattoo, although beautiful, is an open wound. During the tattooing process, your skin experiences trauma and depending on placement, overall size, and your skin’s sensitivity, healing time will vary from person to person.

It’s not uncommon for your new tattoo to be sore or sensitive to the touch, swollen, red, irritated looking, or even bruised in some cases. Again, this is going to depend on the location of the tattoo and the individual's skin. You can usually expect the irritation to the skin to subside after 3 to 5 days. In some cases, it may take up to a week for your tattoo to stop looking so “angry.” In the unlikely event that you don’t follow these aftercare instructions and the swelling, redness, or irritation spreads, your tattoo becomes hot to the touch, or you notice pus leaking from the area, seek medical attention. You’ve got yourself an infection.

You will most likely experience some scabbing and or skin peeling during the healing process. Do NOT pick at the scabs or dead skin. Doing so can damage the tattoo by removing ink and creating a faded look within the areas you picked. No one wants a new tattoo to look uneven or washed out, so again DO NOT PICK!

Immediate tattoo aftercare

Once your artist has added the final details, they’ll wrap the tattoo in cling film to aid in the healing process and reduce the chances of scabbing. As soon as this final step is complete, it’s over to you to look after the tattoo until it’s fully healed. On average, the complete healing process takes between two and four weeks but it can vary based on the size and placement of the tattoo, the person and even the season. The first week of the healing process is when you are at most at risk of infection, and before we get into the detailed guide, there are two crucial components worth keeping in mind:

Keep Your Tattoo Clean

  • You’ll need to ensure that your tattoo is kept as clean as possible. There’s no way around it, a fresh tattoo is an open wound and you need to bear that in mind when looking after it. Whilst we take responsibility for the piece of art, tattoo aftercare is 100% your responsibility and cleanliness matters. We recommend short showers until your skin has fully healed.

Look after yourself Post Tattoo

  • Your immune system is going to be working overtime so remember to take good care of yourself, and it’s the ‘little decisions’ you should consider wisely. For example, you may choose to decline that midweek pint and remain hydrated, whilst preventing your skin from drying up.

Aftercare for the first 1-3 days

The first couple of days are crucial in setting up your tattoo to heal correctly. Since you need to keep your tattoo covered, cling film is going to be your new mate, so go ahead and stock up on it. Keeping your tattoo clean and adequately washed is crucial within these first three days as well.

How to clean & wash your new tattoo

Keeping your new tattoo clean and free of germs is essential. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before touching your new tattoo. Then proceed to clean the area using the steps below:

  1. Use an anti-bacterial, fragrance free soap such as Dettol or Simple to clean the tattoo. If you don’t have Dettol or Simple, then warm water will also be fine – just be sure to clean away all the plasma and excess ink from the whole area.
  2. Be careful not to scrub too hard- use the pads of your fingers in a circular motion to gently wash away excess plasma from the surface of the skin. You should always be gentle when cleaning a fresh tattoo. Rubbing too aggressively when you wash the tattoo can not only irritate the area, it may also pull some of the ink out of the skin, causing an uneven appearance at healing time.
  3. Rinse your tattoo well in warm water and gently pat dry. It's important to pat skin dry so you're not rubbing at the tattoo. It's also important to use a lintIf you are still in the cling film stage, give your tattoo 3-5 minutes to air out before reapplying the cling film.

How often should you wash a new tattoo?

It’s best practice to wash your tattoo 2-3 times a day. Go ahead and get into a routine now, as you will need to wash your tattoo for the duration of the healing process, not just within the first few days of getting it.

How long to keep a tattoo wrapped in cling film

You’ll need to keep your tattoo wrapped in cling film from one to three days. Depending on the size of your artwork this may be longer and your artist will let you know but a general rule of thumb is:

  • Small line-work pieces – keep the cling film on for one to two days.
  • Palm-size pieces –  keep the cling film on for two to three days.
  • Larger artwork – the tattoo artist will direct you on how long to keep your cling film in place on bigger tattoos.

How often should you change the cling film?

You should change the cling film, clean the tattoo and replace it with fresh cling film at least three times throughout the day and before going to bed.

You can use any standard cling film found at your local supermarket. It’s just important that it’s new and clean. For some tattoo areas, you may prefer to use micropore tape to help keep the cling film in place, and you can find this at any local pharmacy.

How to replace the cling film on your new tattoo

You might see that under the cling film, there’s a build-up of plasma and ink (thick excess liquid), but don’t worry. This is completely normal, and it’s a sign that your tattoo is starting to heal. It will also mean that it’s time to change the cling film. To do this simply;

  1. Take off the existing cling wrap.
  2. Wash the area following the cleaning steps above.
  3. Put new cling film over the tattoo and use micropore tape to keep it secure if needed.

If you notice a small rash appear surrounding the tattoo, it’s usually from the cling film but feel free to contact the studio to ensure that everything is as it should be.

Top tip: Heading on holiday or somewhere warm? We advise you to book holidays once the healing is completed, as tattoo aftercare is even more important in warmer climates. Should this be unavoidable, you should try to keep the tattoo out of direct sunlight and change the cling film more frequently to allow your skin to breathe.

Removing the cling film

If you’re seeing good results, pulling off the cling film can feel like a big step but the tattoo still needs some protection, with just the right amount of moisture to nourish the skin. Therefore, when you are ready to remove the cling film completely, (as recommended by your artist and once it has dried out) you will need to start applying cream to the area.

When to put cream on a new tattoo

When you are ready to remove the cling film completely (as recommended by your artist and once your tattoo has dried out), you will need to start applying cream to the area.

The cream works in a number of ways, ultimately helping your tattoo stay fresher for longer;

  1. It speeds up the healing process by keeping infections at bay.
  2. It keeps the tattoo moisturised meaning it’ll stay healthier (and shinier too).
  3. It will help soothe inflamed skin and prevent itchiness and irritation.

Top tip: When applying cream, don’t smother it, we recommend a pea-sized amount of cream, just a light layer to cover the surface area.

What kind of cream should I use on a new tattoo?

Here at Cloak and Dagger, we recommend a few cream options but it’s important you find out what works for you, here are some good and readily available options:

  • Benpathen – nappy rash cream, works well for most people
  • Palmers cocoa butter – ensure it is 100% natural with no additives, fragrances or perfumes
  • Coconut oil – 100% natural
  • E45 cream – lighter alternative, PH neutral moisturiser

Continue to apply a thin layer of cream a few times a day to help your tattoo heal and prevent it from drying out.

The most frequently asked questions regarding tattoo aftercare

At the studio our tattoo artists receive lots of questions, so we thought we’d pull together a list of the most common queries that come our way.

Can you go overboard and take "too" much care of a new tattoo?

Yes, yes, you can. Excessive washing or even overdoing it on the cream can cause more harm than good. While we applaud your efforts to keep your tattoo clean, it’s important not to overdo the aftercare. If you follow the instructions above, you should be well on your way to a nicely healed tattoo.

Should I cover my tattoo with cling film when I sleep?

You should wrap your tattoo in cling film, even while sleeping for the first couple of nights. This helps keep the germs out and helps with keeping fabric off of the tattoo to reduce rubbing/chafing.

How do I know if my tattoo is completely healed?

With proper care and handling, you can expect your tattoo to be fully healed by 4 weeks in most cases. Within the first week, you will notice that it is less vibrant, not as tender to the touch, and has slight scabbing. These are all good signs that your tattoo is healing correctly. By the end of week 2, all signs of swelling, redness, and irritation should be resolved. Keep in mind that you should still practice the proper cleaning/washing followed by cream until the entire 4 weeks are up. Even if your tattoo appears to be fully healed on the surface, you are still susceptible to infection in the early weeks, as looks can be deceiving.

What should I do if my tattoo scabs (or skin around it) starts flaking?

Try to touch your tattoo as little as possible and let any scabs or flaking skin fall off naturally.

Can I go swimming with my new tattoo?

During the healing process, it’s important that you do not submerge your tattoo in water for any length of time as this can increase the risk of infection due to bacteria in the water and ink dropping out from the tattoo.

This means;

  • No baths,
  • No pools
  • No swimming in the sea

Showering is absolutely fine and when you shower, this is a great opportunity to give the tattoo a good clean and remove any excess plasma or dry skin that is present in the area.

How long are you supposed to wait to shower after getting a tattoo?

It’s best to wait a few hours (a minimum of 3-4 hours) to shower after getting a tattoo. If you can wait until the next day, even better. If waiting to shower is not an option, be careful not to saturate your tattoo with water.

What if shampoo or shower gel gets in my tattoo?

Please do your best to avoid any shampoo or other scented products from coming in contact with your new tattoo.

What should I wear as my tattoo heals?

It's a good idea to avoid tight clothing around the tattooed area. Things like waist bands and bra straps can rub and irritate the new tattoo, causing more trauma and stopping it from healing properly. Your tattoo artist will recommend sticking to loose fitting clothes until the tattoo heals completely.

Should I avoid the sun?

During the healing process, avoid direct sunlight and sunbeds as this will cause damage to your skin and increase the likelihood of the tattoo to fade.

Can I put sunscreen on my new tattoo?

Once healed, always apply high factor sunscreen to your tattoo on sunny days to ensure it stays as vibrant as possible.

Can I go on holiday with my new tattoo?

As we mentioned the climate could affect your new tattoo and tattoo aftercare so if you’re planning to go on holiday somewhere tropical, your tattoo should be fully healed before you go. When booking your tattoo, let us know if you are intending to go on vacation so we can make sure your tattoo will have enough time to heal.

Tattoo aftercare is vital to the healing process & dictates the overall look of your healed tattoos

When you decide to make a long-term commitment in ink, it is crucial that you take the necessary steps for proper tattoo care. From avoiding infection and washing your new tattoo with soap at least twice per day to keeping it covered with cling film for those first initial days, it all works together to give you the best outcome possible.

Following these simple aftercare tips will ensure that your new tattoo looks excellent and fresh years from now!