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How to Care for a New Tattoo

Man with tattoos on his arms working on a laptop with a dog sleeping in his lap.
SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock

Getting a tattoo is a big decision (and often an expensive one at that, given the cost of quality work). Here’s how to keep your tattoo looking sharp long after you leave the tattoo parlor.

Before we dive in, the advice below is general advice applicable to most tattoos. Always consult with your tattoo artist to see if there is any special care required for the style of tattoo you received or the pigments used.

How to Care for a New Tattoo: The First Few Days

So you’ve just gotten your new tattoo! Congratulations! You’ll need to take careful care of it to make sure it doesn’t get infected as it heals and to get a head start on preserving the beautiful artwork and colors.

Your tattoo artist will likely apply an antibacterial ointment and cover your tattoo when you leave the tattoo parlor. After 12-24 hours, you can remove the bandage and transition into caring for your tattoo.

Here’s what you should do to keep your tattoo clean for the first few days when you get home:

  • Wear loose-fitting clothing: Wear breathable clothes that allow air to flow to your tattoo. Avoid tight clothes that might stick to your skin’s surface.
  • Avoid direct sunlight: Keep your skin out of direct sunlight, which can damage your tattoo and even be painful.
  • Wash your tattoo gently at least twice per day: You’ll want to gently wash your tattoo at least twice a day with a gentle, unscented antibacterial soap. Use lukewarm water and gently rub the skin clean with your hands. Do not use a washcloth, loofa, or other material that could irritate your skin. Use as gentle a soap and touch as you would use to wash sunburned skin.
  • Apply a moisturizer to keep the skin fresh: After washing your tattoo, you’ll want to apply a moisturizer to keep your skin fresh and your tattoo looking bright and colorful. Try something soothing, like Aquaphor.
  • Avoid rubbing the skin: Your new tattoo will be itchy and irritated. Avoid rubbing or scratching your skin, which can damage the surface of your tattoo and cause infection.
  • Avoid pools and hot tubs: You’ll want to avoid submerging your tattoo until it’s fully healed. That means avoiding pools and hot tubs for the first several weeks after you get your tattoo.

Depending on the size of your tattoo, it can take anywhere from a week to a month or more for your tattoo to fully heal. You should follow these steps during the healing process. Think of your tattoo as a wound (albeit a beautiful one): you need to keep it clean to give it the best chance of healing correctly.

Keeping Your Tattoo Fresh Long-Term

Once your tattoo is fully healed, you can move away from washing it daily and can start wearing tighter clothing. You’ll also be able to swim!

To keep your tattoo fresh long-term, you’ll want to keep it out of direct sunlight and wear sunscreen.  Wearing sunscreen regularly is a good habit to get into anyway, and the fact that it helps keep your ink fresh will encourage that habit. You’ll also need to use moisturizers daily to keep the skin hydrated. Using a combination daily moisturizer plus sunscreen is a great way to protect and moisturize at once.

Despite the careful application of sunscreen and minimizing sun exposure,  some tattoos will still need to be touched up as they can fade over time. Talk with your tattoo artist about when you should come in to get your tattoo touched up.

Tattoos are beautiful. But they require a lot of maintenance, especially when you first come home. Put in the work to keep your tattoo clean and healthy, and you’ll be able to enjoy your new ink for years to come.

Hayley Milliman Hayley Milliman
Hayley is a former Teach for America teacher turned curriculum developer and writer. Over the past five years, she's written hundreds of articles on everything from education to personal finance to history. She's co-author of the book  Females. Read Full Bio »
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