Tattoo Aftercare: Everything You Need to Know


Most of us will spend a considerable amount of time deliberating over tattoo ideas, placement, and size, and consulting with tattoo artists before getting our first tattoo. You may even be this diligent about each and every tattoo you get.

Whether you’re hyper-responsible about your tattoos or not, going under the needle is only half of the tattoo process. Keep reading to learn how long a tattoo takes to heal, what the healing process will look like, and why aftercare is important.

Why Does Tattoo Aftercare Matter?

Tattoos are essentially open wounds, and taking proper care of your new tattoo will not only ensure the longevity of the artwork, but also prevent health complications. In all seriousness, infections, if untreated or not immediately addressed, can be incredibly painful and, in extreme cases, potentially life-threatening. The best treatment for infection is prevention by following rigorous aftercare practices in the hours and days that follow getting a new tattoo.

Not following sound tattoo aftercare instructions can result in some pretty undesirable outcomes. Meanwhile, a well-cared-for tattoo will retain its colour, vibrancy, and sharpness. A tattoo that is not properly cared for will result in fading, blurring, and oftentimes additional scarring, which can distort the line work and shading.

If you're planning on getting another tattoo, you can show your tattoo artist that you're serious about the work they do by taking care of your tattoos.

Aftercare: Timeline Week by Week

It’s good to go into your first tattoo knowing what to expect afterward.

Tattoo healing and aftercare is a gradual process that spans days, weeks, and even months. Tattoos are open wounds that require time to heal as well as special attention to prevent infection and yield the best results long term. Understanding the best aftercare practices, as well as what to avoid during each stage of the recovery period, will help you preserve your tattoo for a long time.

The First 24 Hours

Keeping your tattoo clean and covered prevents the possibility of infection and promotes healing. If you experience any swelling or discomfort, consider taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as ibuprofen or Advil.

This is the time to pay close attention to your tattoo and be on the lookout for possible allergic reactions. Please see a physician or dermatologist immediately if you experience an adverse reaction, such as a rash, burning, fever, or chills.

Here are some tips to follow during your first 24 hours post-tattoo:

  • Keep it covered: Your tattoo artist will cover your tattoo with a bandage and/or plastic/cling wrap. Be sure to leave the bandage on for at least a couple of hours post-tattoo session, but no longer than 24 hours, unless otherwise recommended by your artist.
  • Clean the tattoo: After a few hours, remove the bandage and gently wash the tattoo with lukewarm water and mild, unscented, antibacterial soap. Always use a new, dry, clean towel each time to lightly pat the tattoo dry, or simply allow it to air dry. Do not rub the tattoo with the towel, as that can irritate the skin and possibly push bacteria into the wounded area.
  • Aftercare ointment: Your tattoo artist may recommend a specific aftercare ointment, such as A&D or Aquaphor. Apply a thin layer of ointment to the tattoo and gently rub it in.
  • Avoid direct sunlight: Sunlight notoriously damages skin and will cause damage to your tattoo as well. Be sure to keep your new tattoo covered when outdoors and avoid direct sunlight for at least the first couple of weeks.

Week 1

During the first week of healing, your tattoo will likely become very itchy as it starts to scab and peel. It's important to continue to keep the tattoo clean and moisturized to prevent cracking and infection while allowing it to heal. Follow these tips during your first week:

  • Moisturize: Apply a layer of aftercare ointment or lotion at least 3 times a day, gently rubbing it in to keep the tattoo moisturized. Avoid using any products that contain fragrances, perfumes, or alcohol, as they can irritate the tattoo.
  • Do not pick at the scabs: If you’ve ever had a scratch or large wound, you may realize already just how itchy the healing process can be. Scratching or picking at the scabs can cause scarring and long-term damage to your brand-new tattoo. With every ounce of your willpower, let the scabs fall off naturally.
  • Keep it clean: Continue to wash the tattoo with lukewarm water, using mild, unscented, antibacterial soap. Using a new, clean towel, gently pat your tattoo dry, taking care not to rub the tattoo with the towel. Let your tattoo sit and continue air drying for at least 10 minutes afterward.
  • Do not submerge the tattoo: This includes swimming pools, bathtubs, and especially hot tubs. Your tattoo is still a wound and can be susceptible to bacteria in the water. Your tattoo should be kept dry, unless explicitly cleaning it, for the first two weeks.

Weeks 2 - 4

During the second and third weeks, your tattoo will continue to heal. The scabs will fall off, and the tattoo will start to look more crisp and vibrant. Follow these tips during this time:

  • Moisturize: We cannot stress enough how important moisturizing is during the early stages of aftercare. You will want to continue to apply aftercare ointment or lotion several times a day, taking care to rub it in gently.
  • Avoid submerging the tattoo: Continue to avoid submerging the tattoo under water.
  • Avoid the sun: Continue to keep the tattoo covered and avoid direct sunlight for at least four weeks, at minimum. This will improve the longevity of your new tattoo.
  • Apply sunscreen: After the fourth week, to avoid harmful UV rays, start applying sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30, to protect the tattoo.

Beyond Four Weeks

The tattoo should be completely healed by the fourth week. It's important, however, to continue to take care of the tattoo to ensure it stays vibrant, crisp, and healthy for many years to come. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Moisturize: Continue to apply lotion or aftercare ointment to the tattoo as needed to keep it moisturized.
  • Avoid sunlight: Continue to cover your tattoo and apply sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 to protect the tattoo from skin-damaging UV rays.
  • Clean your tattoo: By now, you should be taking showers or baths as usual. Try to regularly wash the tattoo with lukewarm water, using unscented antibacterial soap.
  • Avoid harsh chemicals: Avoid exposure to harsh chemicals, such as alcohol, chlorine, and bleach, as they can cause discoloration and damage to your tattoo.

Top Aftercare Tips and Products for Your New Tattoo

When it comes to tattoo aftercare, there are several essential tips and products that can help ensure that your tattoo heals properly and continues to look great. Here are some aftercare tips and products to consider:

  • Cleaning: Gently wash the tattoo with lukewarm water and mild, unscented, antibacterial soap a few times a day. Always use a new, clean, dry towel to pat your new tattoo dry gently. A few viable soaps you can find to use post-tattoo include Dove Beauty Bar, Neutrogena Transparent Soap Bar, or Dial Basics Bar Soap.
  • Moisturizing: Regularly apply aftercare healing ointment or lotion, such as A&D Original Ointment, Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion, or Aquaphor Healing Ointment. Avoid using products that contain fragrances or alcohol, as they can irritate the tattoo.
  • Healing and protection: Some tattoo healing balms and tattoo butter contain natural ingredients that help protect, soothe, and moisturize your tattoo. Consider using coconut oil, beeswax, or shea butter to help it heal quickly, prevent cracking, and reduce itchiness.
  • At Black Line Studio, we take your safety and satisfaction very seriously. For any questions or concerns you may have regarding proper aftercare practices, reach out to a member of our team today to get the answers you need.