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Written by Kieran Proctor

How to Care For Your First Tattoo



Now that tattoo day has finally come and you’ve got your new tattoo, it’s time to use those tattoo aftercare products you stocked up on prior to getting tattooed. Here’s how you should remove the bandage your tattooist applied. And how you should clean your new tattoo, before applying a tattoo cream or salve.

How to remove the tattoo bandage applied by the tattooist?

The makeshift bandage applied by your tattooist is to protect your new tattoo. But only until you can get home and wash it. You shouldn’t leave that plastic wrapping on your tattoo for more than 1-3 hours.

If you get home and find that the bandage applied by your tattooist has stuck to the tattoo, you shouldn’t try and pull it off. Instead, remove the bandage in a tepid or lukewarm temperature shower.

If you’re somebody who normally takes red hot steamy showers, you will want to dial the temperature back to a level that is very mild. Hot water can loosen the pores and cause your tattoo to lose color, causing it to fade. Until your tattoo is well on the way to healing, hot water should be avoided.

Get into a tepid or mild shower, with the stuck bandage still attached. The lukewarm water will loosen the bandage and allow you to remove it without damaging the tattoo. Do not do this in a bathtub. As you cannot soak the new tattoo.

Once the bandage is dislodged and removed, you will now need to thoroughly clean your new tattoo. 

How to clean A new tattoo?

You need to properly clean the new tattoo of all excess blood, ointment, ink and plasma. You need to clean off all that goo using soap and lukewarm water.

Apply the tattoo specific soap you acquired. And then begin gently rubbing in a concentric circular motion.

The tattoo will feel slimy at first, as you apply the soap. Once this slimy feeling abates and there is no more visible ink, blood, plasma or goo, on or around the new tattoo, rinse it off and exit the shower.

Do not rub the area with a towel. Instead, you should gently pat the area dry using a darker colored towel that does not give off fibers. Do not use fluffy towels that leave fluff, fibers or fragments on the tattoo. And don’t use light colored towels, because they might get stained with tattoo ink.

Once the bulk of the water is off, you should let your tattoo air dry that last little bit. Before applying the tattoo aftercare cream. 

Mad Rabbit - Tattoo Safe Soap - Cleansing New Tattoo Soap
Tattoo Safe Soap

How to apply tattoo aftercare cream to a new tattoo?

Once the shower water is gone and before the tattoo begins to dry out completely, you will need to apply a tattoo ointment or tattoo aftercare cream.

Use a sparing amount and cover the whole tattoo surface. Go about half an inch past the edge of the tattoo. Don’t apply too much. Only apply a thin layer and wait. You can always add more cream. But using too much at first, will create a mess.

Most tattoo aftercare creams don’t soak into the skin like lotions. They act like a barrier coat. So don’t whack a thick layer onto your new tattoo and expect it to be absorbed. Some of the cream will absorb into the skin. But not much. So put on a very thin layer and wait to see if you need to add more.

Mad Rabbit - New Tattoo Repair Soothing Gel
Tattoo aftercare soothing gel.

How long will the tattoo take to heal? 

Your new tattoo will take approximately two to three weeks for the outer layer of skin to heal. And over the course of your tattoos healing process, you will need to constantly wash your new tattoo and reapply the tattoo cream. For the tattoo to completely heal, it may take up to 6 months.

You will need to be extra vigilant during this first 2-3 week period. Never let the tattoo dry out. As it will begin to crack, crunch, rip or tear. If you let your new tattoo dry out before its healed, you will cause yourself added discomfort and may damage your new tattoo.

Once you are beyond this 2-3 week period, you should keep up on the tattoo aftercare. But you can be less vigilant. The skin below a tattoo may take 6 months or more to heal properly. And continuing your aftercare routine can enhance the color and longevity of your new tattoo.

But after the initial healing period of 2-3 weeks for the outer layer of skin to heal, if you miss a day or two of applying lotion, you won’t risk damage or pain. Forgetting to put cream on during the initial 2-3 week healing period and letting it dry out, can cause cracking and ripping on the tattoo surface and feel quite terrible (along with damaging the tattoo).

Once the outer layer of skin is healed (after 3 weeks), you can alter the creams you use to moisturize. You can use your normal moisturizer or continue with the tattoo specific products.

You should use a moisturizing cream that includes a strong sunblock if you’ll be outdoors. For the first 6 months of your new tattoos life cycle, it is far more vulnerable to sun damage. You should always use sunblock when in the sun, but you should be more careful and ensure you always use sunblock on your new tattoo for the first 6 months. 

What should you never do with a new tattoo?

Never scratch or pick at a new tattoo!

Scratching or picking at a new tattoo can damage the design and cause you to need a touch up session. No matter how itchy your tattoo may get, you should never scratch a new tattoo or pick at the flaky skin. Let it fall off of its own accord.

Using a tattoo specific aftercare cream can reduce itching. I’ve used professional tattoo creams and salves on all my tattoos, including on my full black sleeve. They’ve prevented itching and I’ve had no spots that needed touching up.

If your new tattoo is itchy you can lightly tap it. I’ve found in the past, that lightly tapping a new tattoo with two fingers, stopped the itching. And it’s also worth mentioning here that if you’re a heavy sleeper and may scratch your tattoo without realizing while you’re asleep, you should take precautions.

Cover up your tattoo while you sleep and cut your fingernails right back. Try to sleep in such a position that you won’t be tempted to scratch while you’re asleep.

Never expose your new tattoo to hot water!

Hot water can restrict the blood vessels and increase pressure (vasodilation) causing you to bleed more. It can also open your pores. During the first 2-3 week healing cycle for the outer layers of skin, exposing your new tattoo to hot water can damage it.

Until the first 2-3 week healing cycle is complete, you should only use lukewarm or tepid water to clean your new tattoo. 

Never soak your new tattoo!

Never swim or soak your new tattoo until the first 2-3 week healing cycle is complete. And definitely don’t get into a hot tub filled with bacteria, with a new tattoo.

Soaking your new tattoo at a beach, lake, dam, swimming pool, bath or in a hot tub can damage your new tattoo. Until the first 2-3 week healing cycle for the outer layers of skin is complete, you should only shower.

Never expose your new tattoo to direct sunlight!

Never try and get a sun tan while your new tattoo is healing. Avoid excessive sun exposure for the first 6 months of a tattoos lifecycle.

Wait until all layers of skin are fully healed before spending significant time in the sun. Try to avoid the sun for the first 6 months. Always wear a sunblock with a high SPF rating when outdoors. 

man wearing vagabond tee holding tattooed arms out
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