I guess I just don't understand why tattoo artists don't/can't agree on the best way to care for a new tattoo. I've been to three different shops (and at one of those I was inked by two different artists) and they've all given me slightly different instructions. That said, the shop where I was inked more than once - a place called Body Graphics in Windsor, CT - gave me by far the best instructions. The tattoos I got there, and the tattoos I received afterward and cared for using the instructions I got at Body Graphics, were the ones that healed best and faded the least over the years.
I also understand that everyone's bodies are different, but between the three of us my sisters and I have something like 20+ tattoos. They learned their aftercare from me, and the only tattoos any of us have that didn't heal properly are one of mine, which was simply in a bad place (and also has a lot of blue ink in it, and apparently my body rejects blue ink and only blue ink), and one of my youngest sister's, which was also in a bad place but on top of that I wasn't around when she got it and she followed crappy aftercare instructions to boot because of that. Bad big sister, I know.
So without further ado...here are the best tattoo aftercare instructions I can possibly give. Enjoy ;)
1. First, I suppose you have to get your tattoo. ;)
For future reference, this one is on the upper front of my thigh and it's the one that healed badly (lots of fading/loss of ink). I do think the artist should have told me up front that the extremely tender skin in that area was not not NOT good for tattoos, but neither he nor I had any way of knowing that my body would reject the blue ink the way it did (and this was my 8th tattoo!) and it was a combination of those two things that led to the tat not healing well. The picture above was taken literally minutes after it was finished, by the way.
2. The artist should put some sort of bandage over the tattoo - sometimes an actual bandage, sometimes just some paper towels taped over it, sometimes just some Saran wrap. Leave that bandage on for I'd say at least 3-5 hours.
3. When you do remove the bandage, do so carefully, peeling it back slowly, blah blah blah. I think this should be obvious, but still, it's worth being repeated. If the tattoo is in a hard-to-reach area, get someone to help you remove the bandage.
4. Once you've removed the bandage, wash your new tattoo gently with warm water and an anti-bacterial soap.
Personally I always use the regular old orange bar of Dial; I feel this is best because it doesn't have any weird scents or stuff in it that could irritate the skin. I have super sensitive skin and have never had a problem using this soap to wash a new tattoo. DO NOT USE LIQUID SOAP.
5. You can let your tattoo air dry after washing it, but I prefer blotting gently with a soft towel so that the tattoo doesn't remain wet for too long.
6. Once your tattoo is dry, gently dab a *thin* layer of Tattoo Goo or Burt's Bees hand salve over it.
A lot of artists will tell you to use A & D ointment, but to this I say no No NO. A & D ointment is petroleum based. It is too...thick, or something, and it doesn't let the tattoo breathe enough. I used the stuff once and will never, ever do so again. Seriously, do yourself a favor and invest in some Tattoo Goo (the last time I bought it, it was only about $5 for a small tin) or some Burt's Bees hand salve ($8-ish for a large tin, and you can usually find it at Target, Walgreens, etc.)
7. I would only wash your tattoo once on the day that you get it, but if there is quite a bit of time between that first washing/goo application and when you go to bed I do suggest applying a second thin layer of the goo or hand salve before going to bed.
8. After that first day, wash your tattoo as instructed above at least 2 times a day, 3 if you feel it is necessary, continuing to apply the goo or hand salve immediately after washing and blotting it dry.
The picture above was taken a couple of days after I received that tattoo, but before it started drying/peeling/scabbing.
9. AS SOON AS YOUR TATTOO STARTS DRYING/PEELING/SCABBING - STOP WASHING IT MORE THAN ONCE A DAY, AND UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU CONTINUE APPLYING ANY SORT OF GOO/HAND SALVE/OINTMENT/LOTION TO IT.
(As a note, depending on where the tattoo is located and how much damage it did to your skin while you were getting it, it will likely start scabbing somewhere between 48 and 72 hours after the artist finishes.)
I seriously cannot express how important the above instruction is. I've actually seen websites (one was a shop site, another was a site with instructions based on someone whose first tattoo healed badly, and a third may have been a wiki or ehow page) that specifically say to continue using lotions/ointments etc. even after the tattoo starts scabbing. Again, do not do this.
I actually know someone who ignored my advice because his tattoo was itching (duh, that means it's healing) and because he'd seen on the internet that he could use a lotion on it to calm said itching (I want to say it was like Eucerin or something) he did so. And the tattoo not only healed badly, but also got infected, because it wasn't being allowed to heal/breathe the way it should have been. (And no, it definitely wasn't this person's body/skin or anything to do with the needle/artist as this person had numerous tattoos before and after this one, and not only him but others I know had been to the artist without any issues.)
10. Again, once the tattoo starts drying/scabbing, along with not applying the goo/hand salve any more, cut down to washing it just once a day when you shower, continuing to do so gently and continuing to blot it dry. Do not rub it dry. DO NOT SCRATCH AT IT. Obviously. It *will* itch - you need to just suck it up.
Honestly I've taken to gently pressing against the skin around the healing tattoo with my fingertips to help ease the itching; it's better than nothing and better than scratching, I suppose ;)
11. If the tattoo is in an area that is constantly covered with clothes, make sure to wear loose-ish clothing over the tattoo while it is healing (until most of the scabbing is gone, if possible).
12. No soaking in bathtubs, no pools, no hot tubs, no tanning booths, and no direct sunlight exposure (if you can avoid that last one) until the tattoo is completely healed (minimum two weeks, three weeks is good, I'd say go as long as 4 or more if you can).
13. In fact, try to avoid direct sun/tanning bed exposure for at least 6 to 8 weeks, and after that make sure to always put sunscreen on your tattoo when it is going to be exposed to the above :) - but only put sunscreen on it after it is completely healed, not while it is scabbed/dry!
Just an example of how great my tattoos look even after many many years. The oldest of the ones you can see in this picture is from January 2001; the "newest" is from either the fall of 2002 or the fall of 2003, I can't recall which. I actually just got the sacred heart on the back of my right shoulder covered up, but that's another story for another post ;)
Sorry for the smoochy photo, but this is the most recent close-up picture I have of any of my older tattoos. Again, they not only healed well but survived well thanks to proper aftercare!
Soon to come...a post about that sacred heart tattoo, why I covered it up, and what I covered it with ;)