Proper Tattoo Aftercare: Guide for Caring Your New Ink

Tattoo Aftercare: Guide for Caring Your New Ink

Getting a new tattoo is an exciting experience. But caring for your fresh tattoo is just as important as choosing the design itself. Improper aftercare can lead to infections, fading, and poor healing that results in touch-ups and reworks. So how can you ensure your new tattoo heals beautifully?

This complete guide covers everything you need to know about proper tattoo aftercare. We’ll discuss:

  • The stages of tattoo healing and what to expect
  • How to care for your new tattoo during each phase
  • Common mistakes to avoid
  • FAQs on healing times and aftercare tips

Why Proper Tattoo Aftercare Matters

Aftercare is crucial because your tattoo is essentially an open wound when you first get it. Without proper care, your tattoo is vulnerable to:

  • Infections: Caused by bacteria entering broken skin, leading to redness, swelling, pus, and fever. It can spread via unclean hands and tools.
  • Poor Healing: Scabbing, scarring, bleeding, and plasma leakage under the skin. Causes fading and loss of vibrancy.
  • Damage: Improper cleansing and scratching can pull out ink and require touch-ups.
  • Fading: Sun exposure, friction against clothing, and drying out of skin make tattoos fade faster. Moisturizing helps.

Following your artist’s aftercare guidance and using the right products reduces these risks dramatically so your art heals cleanly.

The 3 Stages of Tattoo Healing

Tattoo healing happens in overlapping phases:

1. Initial Healing Stage (Days 1-2)

Your tattoo will be bandaged upon leaving the studio to keep it protected. Some swelling, redness, and plasma leakage under the skin are normal as your skin begins healing the wound. Follow your artist’s instructions on when to remove the initial bandage. Many recommend 24 hours. Gently clean with antimicrobial, fragrance-free liquid soap and lukewarm water, then pat dry with a clean paper towel.

Apply a thin layer of unscented moisturizer or ointment recommended by your artist. Let your skin breathe – only cover with a bandage if instructed by your artist. Avoid submerging your new ink in water during this stage – no pools, baths, etc for 2 weeks minimum to prevent infection risks. Sponge baths are ok.

Pro Tip: Resist the urge to scratch or pick at your tattoo! This can pull out ink or introduce bacteria. Slap it instead if it itches.

2. Scabbing & Peeling (Days 3-10)

This is when those pesky but protective scabs form. Your tattooed area may feel a little tight. But don’t pick the scabs – this can cause scarring and fading! Let them naturally flake away. Wash your tattoo 1-2 times daily with clean hands and mild soap. Rinse thoroughly, pat dry with a paper towel, and apply a thin layer of moisturizing ointment.

Once the flaky scabs fall off, your skin will start shedding. Moisturize liberally during this phase to replace the lost hydration in the peeling skin. Exfoliating with a loofah can help shed dead skin. Avoid activities that cause friction on your tattoo so the scabs don’t get rubbed off prematurely. Tight clothing and exercise can disturb scabs so choose loose, breathable fabrics.

3. Final Healing Stage (Weeks 2-4)

Your ink should appear nearly healed by this point, with brighter colors and crisper lines as the top layers fully close up. But the healing process is still underway under the skin. Continue gently washing and moisturizing your tattoo 1-2 times per day for 2-4 weeks. Avoid long, hot showers that can dry out your skin. Apply fragrance-free lotion whenever your skin feels tight or dry.

Protect your tattoo with sunscreen to prevent fading. Harsh sun exposure and tanning beds are off-limits during healing. Avoid scrubbing, soaking in baths, or swimming for at least 2 weeks.

How to Care for Your Tattoo During Initial Healing

The first 1-2 days require diligent aftercare to set your new tattoo on the path to perfect healing. Here are some do’s and don’ts for the initial healing stage:


  • Wash tattoo 2-3 times per day with antimicrobial mild soap – no fragrances or dyes
  • Apply a thin layer of fragrance-free moisturizing ointment after washing
  • Follow your artist’s aftercare instructions precisely
  • Let your skin breathe – no bandages unless instructed
  • Wash hands thoroughly before touching the tattoo


  • Soak or submerge tattoo in water for 2 weeks – no baths, pools, etc
  • Use petroleum jelly like Vaseline that blocks oxygen
  • Wear tight clothing over the tattoo
  • Scratch, pick, or peel any scabbing – let it flake off naturally

Tattoo Aftercare Do’s and Don’ts

Here are some key dos and don’ts to remember during all stages of tattoo healing:


  • Wash hands before touching tattoo
  • Use mild, fragrance-free soap
  • Apply fragrance-free moisturizer
  • Follow artist’s aftercare instructions precisely
  • Wear loose, breathable fabrics over tattoo


  • Pick scabs or peel skin
  • Scratch, no matter how itchy
  • Soak in bath, hot tub, pool etc
  • Use petroleum jelly or harsh soaps
  • Expose to direct sunlight

When to See Your Artist About Tattoo Healing Issues

It’s important to monitor your new tattoo carefully during healing and watch for any abnormal symptoms that could signal complications. Consult your tattoo artist immediately if you notice any of the following issues:

Signs of infection – An infected tattoo will likely appear excessively red, swollen, and hot to the touch around the tattooed area. You may see pus or fluid oozing from the tattoo. Other symptoms can include a fever, chills, muscle aches, and flu-like symptoms as your body reacts to fighting the infection.

Excessive scabbing/bleeding – Normal scabbing is expected, but seek advice if your tattoo scabs excessively and the scabs weep clear or bloody fluid when washed. Or if your tattoo bleeds a lot with normal cleaning. This can indicate an issue with wound closure.

Cloudy or faded appearance – As your tattoo heals, the colors should appear more vibrant. If the ink looks faded, blurry or cloudy instead, something is interfering with healing.

Allergic reaction – Signs of allergy include red rashes, bumps, swelling, and severe itching around the tattooed area, sometimes spreading beyond it. You may be reacting to antibiotic ointments, fragranced soaps, or sunscreen.

If your artist suspects an infection, they may prescribe oral or topical antibiotics. Seek emergency medical care immediately if you experience shortness of breath, persistent high fever over 101 F, or spreading redness and swelling. Catching infections early is crucial.

Pro Tip: Use non-comedogenic moisturizers without petrolatum to avoid clogged pores and pimples on the healing tattoo.

How Long Does It Take for a Tattoo to Heal?

Tattoo healing times vary based on several factors:

  • Tattoo size – Small tattoos heal faster than large ones. There’s less ink and trauma for your skin to recover from. Large intricate tattoos take the longest.
  • Artist technique – A more experienced artist with great technique will create less trauma and bleeding, speeding up healing. Proper depth and shading techniques prevent the ink from spreading under the skin.
  • Your skin type – Healthy skin heals quicker than dry or damaged skin. Oily skin may bleed more during tattooing. And if you scar easily, your tattoo will take longer to fully close up.
  • Aftercare diligence – Skipping aftercare or using harsh products slows healing and risks complications. But proper washing, moisturizing, and sun protection enable the fastest healing.

General guidelines for tattoo healing duration:

  • Small tattoos: 1-2 weeks
  • Medium tattoos: 2-3 weeks
  • Large, complex tattoos: 4-6 weeks

Remember healing continues under the skin for 3-4 weeks after the surface looks healed. The lower ink layers take longer to fully stabilize. Be patient, go easy while it finishes healing, and contact your artist with any concerns.


Caring for your new tattoo starts as soon as you leave the studio. Understanding what’s happening under your skin during the healing stages helps you perform the proper aftercare. Avoid picking, scratching, and sun damage. Use the artist’s recommended products to wash, moisturize, and protect your tattoo daily. With diligent at-home care, your art will heal beautifully for a lifetime.

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