Caring For Your First Tattoo

A few weeks ago I finally took the plunge and got my first tattoo. You can read about what it means and why I did it here, but for now I just want to talk about the process of caring for a new tattoo! Caring for your tattoo will vary slightly based on size and the colors used in your tattoo, but at the heart of all tattoo aftercare are two core principles: keep it clean and keep it moisturized!

Immediately following your tattoo, your artist will cover it with a bandage and advice you to keep the bandage on it for a certain length of time. For small tattoos this may only be 30 minutes. For really large ones, this may be closer to a few hours. A good tattoo artist will tell you how long to keep it on. My own advised me to keep it on about 30 minutes. I ended up leaving it on for an hour just because I had a few errands to run after I got it.

After removing the bandage, your next goal is to keep it clean and moisturized. Using warm/very warm water is best because it soothes the discomfort from your tat while also encouraging healing. To wash your tattoo, use a gentle, fragrance free soap and warm water, carefully allowing the water to do most of the washing. Gingerly wash but do not scrub your tattoo.

Scent free charcoal soap I use.

After washing your tattoo, tenderly pat it dry with a paper towel. You can use a regular towel I suppose, but I like the cleanliness of a paper towel myself. Once you’ve allowed it to dry, add a very thin, even layer of lotion to the tattoo. Again, we want to keep it moisturized. My artist recommended Luberderm so that’s what I grabbed. This formula isn’t scent free, but scent free is ideal. Some people can have reactions to scented moisturizers so unless you know for certain you won’t, opt for scent free.

I don’t/didn’t have a reaction to the slightly scented Lubriderm, so I grabbed the Lubriderm Advanced Therapy lotion. It did a great job keeping the tattoo moisturized and feeling/looking good.

My tattoo was sore for the first 48 hours after. I got it on a Saturday afternoon and by Tuesday morning I no longer experienced any discomfort at the site. My artist told me to expect some itching by Day 3 and he was right. By about Day 3 or 4 your tattoo will be scabbing over. I noticed the scabs on Tuesday and sure enough by Wednesday it itched.

Raised scabs from the tattoo.

The itching is easily dealt with however. Running warm water over it helped reduce the irritation, using the lotion helped too, and gently tapping it felt amazing. DO NOT PICK THE SCAB OR SCRATCH AT IT. Allow it to heal. The scab will flake off when it’s ready. Trust the process.

By the week and a half mark, the scabs had all fallen off and the itching was almost completely gone. For a much bigger and more involved tattoo, I would likely still be scabbed over and very itchy, but the size and simplicity of this tattoo made it a quick heal. I was still washing it at least once a day and keeping lotion on it just because I know that it is still healing underneath what I can immediately see with the naked eye.

Tattoos take several weeks to heal and some websites have suggested the full healing process takes up to 6 weeks. So when you get your tattoo, be prepared for the aftercare required.

There are a few things to look out for after you get a tattoo that will warrant a visit to the doctor.

If your tattoo and the skin around it develops a rash, go to the doctor. You could be experiencing an allergic reaction to the ink or it might have an infection. Oozing, redness, swelling, and rash are all signs of infection and all will require medical intervention. These kinds of infection are very serious and not to be taken lightly. As you heal be very vigilant in checking your tattoo and the skin surrounding it for signs of infection.

Most people don’t have these sorts of reactions and if you’ve gone to a reputable tattoo artist at a parlour with an excellent health grade, everything should be sterile, the work space and needles should have been new, and your risk of getting an infection from the artist and parlour will be very low. But, all the same, be mindful and be vigilant.

My artist wore gloves and a mask over his mouth and nose, before he brought me in I watched him sterilize my chair, the armrest, and his entire station, and then, after I sat down, he prepped his gun by using brand new needles and ink he opened in front of me. As he did this he showed me everything he was using was brand new and single-use and explained to me why, even going so far as to tell me the model of gun he was using.

These are all signs of a good tattoo artist and a good tattoo parlour. I knew immediately my skin was safe and how beautifully it has healed is due in part to how safe and sterile the environment was and how meticulous and cautious my artist is.

Three weeks in, almost completely healed. No longer raised, no scabbing or flaking.

And that’s pretty much it. Start your aftercare by choosing a reputable and safe tattoo artist and parlour. And then just keep it clean, keep it moisturized, and be patient! Allow your skin to heal at its own pace and you will be so happy with your results!

If you’re in North Alabama, I recommend Lucas Buckley of The Pulse in Athens, Alabama. He did my tattoo and we’re already planning for my next one.

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