Taking care of your tattoo after it is done is just as important as having a competent artist. We do the best we can but it is ultimately up to YOU to make sure it heals well and looks good for years to come. The instructions I give you here may be different from what you've done before, but I've been using this method for years and it works amazingly well for most people. Aftercare can be as diverse as an artists style, so if you're reading this but getting tattooed by another professional artist you should follow their instructions since they are the ones guaranteeing your work.
-You should leave your bandage on for at least 2 hours. This time allows your pores and skin to settle down and begin the healing process. If you remove the bandage sooner than 2 hours you take the risk of getting an infection. Do NOT take your bandage off in a public place or in someone else's home. You need to do this in a clean and controlled environment. So if you have to leave your bandage on longer than 2 hours it's ok. Just wait until you get home to remove it.
*IMPORTANT NOTE: If your tattoo is in a hard to reach area and you need someone to help you care for it make sure that they wash their hands thouroughly before helping. I don't care if it's your wife, mother, or the next door neighbor. Just touching a doorknob or a faucet handle can contaminate their skin. So play it safe and ask them to wash up first. Also make sure they wash their hands afterwards so that they don't contaminate anything else in the house with your gross cooties!
-After removing the bandage you will wash the tattoo with warm water and a liquid anti-bacterial soap such as liquid Dial. Using a liquid soap ensures a clean wash, as bars of soap tend to sit around all day collecting dust and who knows what else! You should use a fragrance free soap that is basic, without a lot of special additives. I find that the store brand gold colored anti-bacterial soap is perfect and affordable. Wash your tattoo gently, using just your hand to wash it. Do not use a washcloth or any kind of scrubber. Once again, these things sit around all day collecting potential contaminants and not to mention that the abrasion will hurt like hell and could damage your new tattoo. After washing it check to see if there's any dried blood left on the tattoo. If so wash it again gently to remove any of this. Once it is clean pat it dry with a clean paper towel. Don't use a towel that is hanging in the bathroom or kitchen as you might contaminate it or your tattoo.
-After washing your tattoo you will rub in a very small amount of AQUAPHOR Healing Oinment. This ointment is easily found in any drug store or supermarket. It can usually be found where they stock the lotions. If you can't find it just ask someone that works there and they can help you. Do not buy another product to replace it. Other oinments or healing creams could severely damage your tattoo! You should always use a very small amount of the ointment when caring for your tattoo. Too much ointment too often will block your pores and actually slow down your healing process. Start with a small amount on your fingertip and gently rub it into your tattoo until your skin has absorbed it, like using a lotion. Continue until you've treated the entire tattoo. You should use Aquaphor twice a day (once in the morning and once in the evening) for three days. Depending on your skin type and lifestyle you may need to use it a third time in the middle of the day. But usually twice a day is enough. Remember, too much of a good thing is bad! Your skin should have a light shine and not look wet or greasy after applying Aquaphor. If you feel like you may have applied too much just use a clean paper towel to blot off any excess ointment.
-On the first three nights after getting your tattoo, just before going to bed, you should wash your tattoo, apply a very small amount of Aquaphor, and then re-wrap your tattoo in plastic cling wrap. Doing this prevents your tattoo from forming scabs. It also keeps your tattoo from sticking to your clothing or sheets while you sleep. This method of aftercare will greatly reduce your healing time and prevent any scabbing which tends to make your colors and linework seem dull and spotty. I've seen tattoos heal in less than a week using this method. When you wake up you can remove the plastic wrap, wash your tattoo, and apply a small amount of Aquaphor. When you are awake you do not need to have your tattoo wrapped, as this allows it to breathe and you will know if it's starting to dry out.
-After three days and three nights you can switch to using a fragrance free hand lotion to care for your tattoo. At this point in the healing your upper layers of skin will begin to shed and peel, just like a sunburn. Using the lotion will help promote this and help to elasticise the new healed skin. As your tattoo starts to peel make sure that you do NOT pick at it or try to "help" the peeling process. You may see some peeling that has pigment in it. Don't worry, your tattoo is not falling out! As we apply your tattoo to the lower layer of your skin some ink is left behind in the upper layers. This is what you're seeing when it peels. One of my clients says that her entire tattoo peeled in one sheet. This is very rare but can happen. Remember, it is only the upper layer that is peeling. Her tattoo looks great to this day by the way.
-The healing process can take anywhere from 7-20 days, depending on your skin type, daily habits, aftercare, and the type of work you had done. Tattoos with simple linework and light shading will heal much faster than ones with lots of color blending and intricate linework. Following your artists aftercare instructions wil help your tattoo heal its best. The follwing are some tips to help you through the healing process and how to keep your tattoo looking great over the years.
-Keep your tattoo out of sunlight. When the tattoo is healing you should make sure that it is covered and protected for sunlight until it heals. Once it is healed, using sunblock when you are out in the sun or tanning will keep your colors bright and crisp.
-Don't pick or scratch your healing tattoo. After a couple of days your new tattoo will begin to itch. Scratching it could damage it permanently! What you CAN do is pat it or slap it with the palm of your CLEAN hand or rub it gently. Scratching it with your fingertips or anything else could damage the skin or break it open.
-You should never submerge your tattoo while it is healing under water as in a bath or swimming pool. Showering and washing is fine, but when you submerge a tattoo for any time under water your skins oils will be leeched out of your skin and will negatively affect your healing. Chlorinated water is the worst as your tattoo will scab like crazy and your colors will appear to have dropped out.
-If you work out or play sports you should avoid any activities that will stretch the skin in the location of your tattoo. For instance, if your tattoo is on your arm you should avoid things like weight lifting. Instead you can do cardiovascular exercises like running until your tattoo is healed.
-Be prepared to wear differnt clothes or shoes depending on where your tattoo is located. Getting a tattoo on your foot means that you cannot wear socks or hosiery, and you must wear shoes that leave the tattoo open to air. If your work reqiures closed shoes or socks then you should plan your tattoo for a time when you will be off of work for a week or more. Sometimes a tattoo ends up where a bra strap or pant waistline is. You should be prepared to wear clothing that is loose or avoids those areas. Clothing can be very abrasive on a tattoo and that could severely damage your tattoo.
-Never use any product other than what your artist reccomends to heal your tattoo. Using first aid creams like Neosporin will destroy the tattoo that you and your artist worked so hard to make. There's a reason that we have the instructions that we have. Please don't try to outthink us on this. Thanks!
-The better care you take of your skin, the better your tattoo will look over the years. Get in the habit of using lotion. Use sunscreen when going outdoors. You're seeing your tattoo through two layers of your skin. The cleaner and clearer those layers, the sharper and cleaner your tattoo will look. I have some tattoos that are 15 years old and they look as good as the day I got them.