Tattoo Aftercare: Caring For A New Tattoo

Best Tattoo Aftercare

Whether it's an eyebrow tattoo or sleeve tattoo, the best aftercare can prevent problems.
Whether it's an eyebrow tattoo or a sleeve tattoo, the best aftercare can prevent problems.

You finally got that colorful butterfly, heart, or another tattoo you wanted. Now what? Getting a tattoo is very safe these days. But it's still a medical procedure. The tattoo artist uses needles to permanently insert the ink under your skin.

Because the needles and ink go into your skin, you could get an infection or have an allergic reaction to the dye. One way to prevent problems is to visit a licensed and experienced tattoo artist. Another way is to protect your tattoo and keep it clean.

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you care for your new tattoo.


Cover it.

You'll go home with a bandage covering your tattoo. The bandage prevents bacteria and other germs from getting inside the wound.

Ask the tattoo artist when you should remove the bandage. Some artists recommend that you remove it after two hours so it doesn't stick to the tattoo. Others will tell you to keep the bandage on for up to 24 hours. Before you remove it, wash your hands with soap and water.

It's normal to see some blood on the tattoo when you take off the bandage. Just blot it away with a clean paper towel.

Clean it.

Stay out of the bathtub for a few days after you get a tattoo. Clean the tattoo and the skin around it in the sink or shower.

Wash the tattoo gently with mild soap and warm water. An antibacterial soap will kill any germs on your skin. Avoid harsh cleaning chemicals like hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. These can irritate your skin.

When you wash your tattoo, be gentle. Don't scrub. After you wash, pat your skin dry with a clean towel or paper towel. You can leave the tattoo uncovered.

Moisturize it.

Apply moisturizer to the tattoo several times a day to protect your skin while it heals. Use a moisturizer that's mild, water-based, and dye- and perfume-free. Eucerin and Curel are brands that fit the bill. Avoid petroleum jelly-based creams. They could fade your tattoo.

Clean and moisturize your tattoo up to 6 times a day for 2 weeks. This routine will prevent dryness and infection.

Give it time to heal.

Care for your tattoo every day until it's fully healed, which should take about 2 weeks. During that time, wear soft, comfortable clothes that won't stick to your new design.

Things to Avoid

Don't pick!

It's normal for your skin to peel and scab a little bit. These are signs that your tattoo is healing. Even if the scab itches, don't scratch or pick at it. You could cause an infection or leave a permanent scar.

Avoid the sun.

Stay out of the sun and away from tanning beds for a few weeks. UV exposure increases your risk for skin cancer anyway. And it’s no good for your new tat either. It fades tattoo ink and can sometimes cause a reaction with the ink.

When you do go outside, apply a broad-spectrum, waterproof sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

Stay out of the water.

You can take a shower as long as you don't let the water run directly over your tattoo. Stay out of the bathtub, pool, lake, hot tub, and other bodies of water until your tattoo has fully healed.

Know When It's Time to Call a Doctor

Some redness, swelling, and flaking are normal with a new tattoo. You may even see a clear fluid oozing from your skin.

Call a doctor if your tattoo doesn't look like it's healing or you have signs of infection like these:

  • Excess soreness, redness, or bleeding
  • Increasing pain
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Yellow or green drainage from the tattoo

Some people have an allergic reaction to tattoo dye. The reaction can start hours, days, or even months after you get the body art. Signs include:

  • Itching
  • Redness and swelling
  • Red bumps
  • Blisters
  • Crusty or flaky skin
  • Watery fluid leaking from the tattoo

Rarely, do people have a life-threatening reaction to a tattoo. Call for immediate medical help if you have emergency symptoms like these:

If you got your tattoo on a whim or the design didn't turn out as you expected, don't panic. A dermatologist can make it go away.

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American Academy of Dermatology: "Caring for Tattooed Skin," "Tattoos: 7 Unexpected Skin Reactions and What to Do About Them."

Columbia University: "Tattoo aftercare."

James, SR. Nursing Care of Children -- E-Book: Principles and Practice, Elsevier Health Sciences, 2014.

Mayo Clinic: "Tattoos: Understand risks and precautions."

San Mateo County Health: "Tattoo Aftercare."