Getting a tattoo may be a fun or meaningful experience, but it can be traumatic for your skin.
That’s because that tattoo needle actually makes thousands of tiny wounds in the skin as the artist creates his masterpiece in ink. Complications may include allergic reactions, infections, redness and swelling, and eczema flare-ups.
If you’re convinced a tattoo is the best thing for you, we suggest you be extra choosy about who does it. There are some inks that can be dangerous (read more about that on our other post about the safety of tattoo inks), and if the shop isn’t super diligent about cleanliness and sanitation, you could develop an infection.
Once you take the plunge, be sure to take extra care of your skin after your appointment. It helps speed wound healing, reduces risk of complications, and increases your odds that you’ll be happy with your tattoo for years to come.
What Does a Tattoo Do the Skin?
Most tattoo artists use machines that contain needles to do their work. These machines inject dye into the skin via the needle, puncturing the skin at a frequency of 50-3000 times a minute. That means it’s making lots of little puncture wounds on your skin as the needle pushes into the underlying dermis and leaves the pigment behind.
Each of these wounds presents a problem that the body has to fix. It marshals up the immune system and starts the inflammatory process, which is always the first step in wound healing. Immune cells travel to each site and start repairing the skin, eating through what they believe to be a dangerous invader—the ink—much as they would bacteria.
It is this immune reaction that actually makes tattoos permanent. The cells consume the ink, and because they can’t dispose of it, the ink stays put. It’s likely to fade within a few weeks, however, as the skin cells at the surface die and slough off, and new cells rise from underneath to take their place. This is why a tattoo looks more brilliant after it’s first completed than it may a month later.
The important thing to remember is that tattooed skin is wounded skin, and it requires care to heal properly. During the first week especially, the skin is likely to become itchy, swollen, and red, and is at risk for infection. Taking good care of your skin also increases the odds that your tattoo will stay looking as good as it did in the beginning.
7 Important Post-Tattoo Skin-Care Steps
First, if you have sensitive skin or suffer from skin conditions like psoriasis, rosacea, or eczema, think twice before getting a tattoo. The process can make your skin condition worse, and may result in complications that can cause discomfort and even permanent scarring.
After the tattoo is done, take the following seven steps to care for it properly:
1. Protect protect protect.
It’s always wise to protect your skin from damaging UV rays, but it’s absolutely critical after getting a tattoo. The skin is very fragile at this point and any sun damage could create serious complications.
Sunscreen isn’t a good idea either, though, especially in the first week. It can contain harsh chemicals that further irritate the wound. Tattooed skin also has trouble absorbing it, so it may not work as expected.
For at least two to three weeks, keep the tattooed skin out of the sun entirely. If you have to go outside, wear loose (not tight) clothing that will block the UV rays. Once the tattoo is completely healed, apply sunscreen regularly, as the sun can not only cause skin damage, it can also discolor and fade your tattoo.
2. Wash very gently.
After you remove your bandage for the first time and while the tattoo is healing, be sure you wash regularly but very carefully. Harsh soaps and detergents are not what you want to use during this time (or ever, in our opinion!). Instead, use a fragrance-free, mild liquid cleanser and pat (don’t rub) dry.
3. Apply ointment and/or moisturizer.
All skin needs regular moisture, but a tattoo needs it even more while it’s healing. Your tattoo artist may have recommended an antibacterial ointment, which may help you reduce your risk of infection while keeping the area hydrated.
As the tattoo starts to heal, consider using our award-winning Restorative Skin Balm, which pampers skin with natural oils, beeswax, and a powerful trio of plant-based antioxidants known for their antiseptic and skin-regeneration properties.
4. Repeat the above steps.
Continue to gently wash, apply ointment (as needed), and moisturize your tattooed skin. You’ll need to stay consistent with this skin-care routine for 2-3 weeks, until the tattoo fully heals. Don’t forget to continually protect it from the sun.
5. Moisturize—don’t pick!
It’s normal for your skin to peel after a few days. It may scab in a few areas too. If you see this, don’t panic, and definitely don’t pick or pull at these areas. Simply moisturize them with the Restorative Skin Balm and let them be.
6. Avoid swimming or soaking.
Until your tattoo completely heals, you need to avoid soaking it in water. That means no swimming and no hot tubs, and if you take a bath, you must keep the tattooed area out of the water. You can take a shower, but submerging the wounded skin—especially in a pool or other body of water—increases your risk of infection. There are often germs and bacteria in water, as well as chemicals like chlorine, that can irritate and infect the skin.
Even a hot bath can contain germs brought in by your body, so it’s best to avoid it. A shower is your safest bet, and keep it short. Soaking the tattoo while it’s still healing may lead to possible fading and patchiness.
7. Continue to take good care of your skin.
Once the tattoo is fully healed (usually after a few weeks), it’s best to continue caring carefully for your skin. After all, it is your canvas for the art. If it gets dry, flaky, or damaged, your tattoo will suffer. Continue to gently wash and moisturize regularly (our Body Repair Lotion will leave your skin radiant!), and always protect from the sun.
How do you care for your tattoos?
Dr. Claudia Aguirre, “Tattoos and Skin Health,” Dermal Institute, http://www.dermalinstitute.com/us/library/78_article_Tattoos_and_Skin_Health.html.