How to care for your tattoo

The healing of your tattoo is the final aspect of your art piece.  The opinions and advice given are endless, and there are more experts out there than tattoos. Since we guarantee our work we ask you to follow our advice and not your buddy’s that has three tattoos. Just as with a psychiatrist, you’ll probably never get the same advice or instructions from different artists.  But after many years of combined experience, you will find this information very beneficial in healing your Unique Ink tattoo.

A tattoo normally takes anywhere from 7 to 14 days to look fully healed, depending on the type, style, size and placement.  The truth is that it can really take up to a month for a tattoo to be fully healed below the surface of the skin and for your body’s natural healing abilities to lock the ink in completely. Yes, all of these things can and will make a difference.  There is no “idiot proof” method, but if you take the time to read the following, you will stand a much better chance of healing your tattoo without any problems to ensure that it looks as good as possible.

The Bandaging

When your tattoo artist finishes your tattoo they will clean off your tattoo with some green soap, water, and maybe even a little witch hazel prior to taking a picture for you. Then they should apply a very thin coat of A+D® Ointment or some type of clear anti-bacteria ointment.  Then they will bandage you, hopefully with a sterile absorbing pad.

A word of caution:  If you see the shop using paper towels, Scotch tape, or masking tape in the bandaging process, RUN!!!!

Sometimes your tattoo can be in a difficult spot or too large to use a standard bandage, so clear plastic film is used.  There are some pros and cons to this practice.

  • The Pros:  Plastic wrap won’t stick to your new tattoo, it works for large pieces, and you won’t have to keep taking off the bandage to show all of your friends your cool new tattoo.

  • On the Con side of things:  Your tattoo will continue to seep bodily fluids and will leak and can become messy. It forms a barrier on your skin and it will cause it to remain moist, wet and hot.  These are the perfect things necessary for the growth of bacteria to start an infection!

If plastic wrap is used, remove it ASAP, meaning that you really don’t want to go over a couple of hours with it on.  Your bandage will be held in place using medical tape.  If you are a person that has allergies to the adhesives make sure that you let your tattoo artist know or bring your own tape.

A+D® Ointment: is what most tattoo artists will use during the tattoo process.  Many ladies will tell you that it is used quite often for diaper rash, so it is an excellent product to start with.  It starts the healing of your tattoo, it also works as a lubricant for the tattooist while working on you but it can have some side effects.  One thing is that it is very thick and needs to be rubbed all the way in.  If you are getting a large tattoo and you use it for an extended period of time, it can produce an adverse reaction from overdosing due to the skin absorbing too much of the active ingredients.  The skin can break out in a rash or get pimply. If this happens, stop immediately!!  If you use A+D® Ointment, we would recommend only using it to start the healing process for 1 to 2 days and then at that point switching to a non-medicated, non-scented lotion.

How long do you have to leave the bandage on?

The answers are wide and varied.  Almost everyone wants to take it off to show your friends right away, but this is a bad idea. Resist the temptation and wait.  Your tattoo will continue to seep bodily fluids for an hour or two depending on the size and location.  This time period is critical and it needs to be protected.  So, how long?   2 to 4 hours is the most common answer, but it’s not uncommon to hear 6 or 8 hours but never go over 8.  If an artist tells you 2 weeks, that is only so they have time to get out of town before you see the mess on your arm!!!

After the 2 to 4 hours, it’s time to remove the bandage and show all of your friends and loved ones the new art that you have collected.  Well, you might want to clean it off first.  The only thing that you want to use is a non-scented liquid anti-bacterial soap!!   (What we recommend is the clear liquid anti-bacterial Dial.)   When washing, you want to make sure that you are only using your clean hand to do the washing, and no scrubbing with anything.   You want to make sure that you get all of the dried fluids and any ointment that is left.  If you have to use a soft washcloth, make sure that you just pat it and do not scrub.  If you are washing in the shower, make sure that you are using luke warm water and not hot.  DO NOT let the water beat on your new tattoo, let the water hit above it and run off for a short period of time.  The idea is to get in and get out.  NO soaking in the tub as well!

A cautionary note:  Hot water will not feel very nice, and heat and/or steam will open the pores and can leach out some of the coloring of your tattoo and cause an un-even or blotchy end product.  It can also make it much easier for germs to get into your skin.  Many artists actually recommend at the end of showering or washing that you use cold water or dripping cold compress on the tattoo for a minute or so to close the pores as much as possible thus effectively sealing it.

If you have left your bandage on too long or the tattooist used an improper bandage and it is stuck to your skin, DO NOT pull it off.  Get in the shower and soak it off with cool or lukewarm water.  Doing this will minimize any damage to the skin and the tattoo itself.

Once the washing is complete, use a soft clean towel to gently pat the tattoo dry.  Now it’s time to show off your masterpiece.  Allow your tattoo to remain dry for awhile exposed to the air.  This will help the healing process.

An additional word of advice:  Don’t go leaning on things with your new tattoo.  Many folks are out for an evening of fun, but restaurants, bars, tables and walls are all full of dangers!  Your new tattoo shouldn’t come into contact with anything.

What to put on your new Tattoo

Again, here is one of those times that there are a thousand recommendations. Don’t take the advice of your buddy who knows everything and has three tattoos.  At the same time there are many supposedly professional tattoo artists who don’t know their machine from a jackhammer and will have their clients doing all kinds of crazy things like using Preparation H.   I even heard of one telling a client to but rubbing alcohol on their tattoo and nothing else.

We recommend one product only during the healing process:  H2Ocean (sold at our shop) This product has been time-tested and proven over years of experience and history itself!! 

On the other side of the coin, you will hear of all kinds of other products to use like Neosporin, Curel, Cocoa Butter, Noxzema, Bacitracin…. the list goes on and on.  While some of these products will work, many have special considerations and potential problems. The other thing is that, if you start giving people too many options then they might think that it is ok to use something close and end up using something wrong and thus causing some sort of problem for their tattoo.

A word of caution about Neosporin: many will recommend this for the healing of tattoos and it sound like a good idea.  The problem is that it may do too well of a job!   I have seen lots of tattoos that were healed with Neosporin and they had lots of color loss or light spots, not all of the time, but way too often. The thing is that Neosporin has a lot of zinc in it and it also contains petrolatum which promotes the healing too fast and it helps pull the ink particles out of your skin instead of allowing your body to lock in the ink at the cellular level.

It is simple…. Lubriderm or Aquaphor.  THAT IS IT!!!!!!  We guarantee our work, but if you use something other than these two products, then you use it at your own risk and void our guarantee.

How often and how much to use

Let me remind you here that basically you have an open wound, and while it’s a good-looking wound, it’s still a wound and you need to treat it as such.  First, wash your hands before applying lotion!!   Think of all of the things that you have touched and who and what has touched that object.  Kids and animals are HOTBEDS for germs, disease and bacteria.  It’s very easy to transfer some serious bug from a handle, switch, etc. to your nice new tattoo.  (Which, don’t forget, is a nice open wound with direct access to your blood supply.)

All that you are trying to do is to moisturize your skin and keep it clean.  Take a small amount of Lubriderm or Aquaphor and gently rub it all of the way in.  Your tattoo should have a slight sheen to it, meaning a very thin coat!!  Do Not cake or gob it on!! Your tattoo and skin need to breath to heal properly and quickly.  You should reapply 3-5 times daily depending on the size, location and condition of your skin.  If it looks dried out, then put a small amount on.  REMEMBER… More is not better!

One exception to the Rule:  In certain areas, like joints, (backside of the knee, the bend of your arm at your elbow) anywhere the skin is very thick or stretchy, it can be tough to heal. Your body is trying to form a scab and you are constantly bending that area and the tattoo/scab keeps cracking.  At those points you are probably better off using more lotion and keeping it slightly more moisturized from the lotion or ointment.

Caring for your tattoo over the first week

The first week of taking care of your tattoo is the most important, especially the first 2 to 3 days.  You now know what to put on it, but there are a few other things that you can do to ensure that your new tattoo looks great for many years to come.

  1. SLEEPING:  The first thing to consider is your first couple of nights sleep.  Many tattoo enthusiasts have a separate set of sheets for when they get tattooed.  Many wake up in the morning to find a fresh imprinted stain of their tattoo on those expensive nice Egyptian sheets, that won’t come out.  It is important here to remind you that you shouldn’t re-bandage your tattoo! Again, your skin needs to breath to promote and speed the healing process.  So, if you get a tattoo on your back, you need to sleep on your belly for a few days or visa-a-versa.  If you can sleep with your tattoo exposed, that would be best.  If not, you can place a clean thin towel between you and the sheets. If in the morning your sheets are stuck to you, follow the same instructions as a stuck bandage, don’t peel the sheet off, take the sheet with you to the shower and wet it off with cool or lukewarm water.

  2. DON’T PICK SCABS:  Over the next couple of days, your tattoo will look good and any redness should go away. Then you will notice that it will start to look duller and can even form a little white haze to it. This happens typically to larger or solid color or tribal pieces. You may see some scabbing form as well.  This is all normal.  Heavy scabbing is not normal and needs to be watched closely!!!  One of the most important things to remember…. DO NOT pick at any scabbing, PERIOD!!!!!!   I don’t care how small or little it is, let it fall off over time and/or during the gentle cleaning process.  Picking can SCAR your skin and ruin the tattoo or at the very least, cause light spots that will have to be touched up.You will see the skin begin to peel some, like a mild sunburn. This is normal. You may also experience some color coming off while putting ointment on or during the cleaning process; again, totally normal and nothing to be concerned about.  This whole scenario can last over the next 4 to 10 days. You will then see the color coming back clean and clear and your tattoo will be in the end stages of healing.  By day 14, your new art piece should look fully healed.  You will want to continue to put your lotion or ointment on until there is no shine to the skin at all.  (This is also the indication that tattooists look for when doing multiple sessions on larger tattoos, signaling that it is ok to tattoo that area again.)

  3. CLOTHING:  Clothing can be a big factor in your healing process as well. Depending on where you get your tattoo, you will need to wear loose fitting clothes. Ladies, you are the major offender of this problem. Remember what I have said a hundred times already, your tattoo needs to breathe!  Tight fitting clothes keep that from happening.  There is another issue:  If your tattoo is forming a light scab and you have some tight fitting clothes rubbing on it, that can cause problems in the healing. It can cause scaring and/or light spots in the tattoo.  Bikini lines and bra strap areas are prime examples of this. Foot tattoos are another example, ladies. You will need to go shoeless for close to a week.  Socks, shoes, and boots are breeding ground for bacteria, and rubbing is a big issue as well.  Your clothing can be a big help with issues at work or the sun.  Remember you really don’t want to re-bandage a tattoo, but if you are in a working environment that risks contact with harmful chemicals, a germ-filled situation, or just things coming in constant contact with your tattoo, loose fitting clothes can be your best friend.  If that isn’t possible, then a loose bandage, put on at the last moment and removed at the earliest possible moment may be the last ditch option.  If you do have to take this route, make sure that you wash the tattoo after removing the bandage, let air out to dry for a little while and re-apply your lotion.

  4. THE SUN:  The sun is probably the single worst enemy and destroyer of tattoos!!  During the initial healing process, you absolutely need to keep your new tattoo out of the sun, as it will damage the skin further and can cause all sorts of problems from scaring your tattoo to lightening it up, uneven healing etc. This comes back to the early comments about clothing, if you are in a job that keeps you outside. Use loose fitting clothes to keep your tattoo out of the sun, and as a last resort use a sterile non-stick bandage. Ladies, this also applies to those tanning beds that you love so much. DON’T DO IT!!!  Once your tattoo is fully healed and there is no shine to it whatsoever, then you can relax some, but you have just paid a lot of money for that new piece of art, and wouldn’t it be nice to keep it that way for many years to come. Keep them covered, but if you must expose them to the damaging UV rays, then get the strongest SPF sun block that you can find and keep it handy (minimum of 30 SPF).  For the tanning beds, cover them or use the sunblock as well. We have all seen the old bikers whose arm tattoos look less than desirable from years of riding in the sun.

  5. OTHER ACTIVITIES: You really want to avoid swimming of any type as well. The ocean, lakes, rivers are full of creepy crawlies, amoebas, and bacteria that you don’t need an infection from.  Swimming pools are full of chlorine, which again is not good for the tattoo. Highly strenuous activities and contact sports would be another example of things to avoid for your initial healing time.  Excessive sweating, saunas, steam baths, and gym workouts all need to take a back seat for a little bit. I hope by now you have got the picture, and if you don’t, then maybe you should refrain from getting tattooed.

  6. INFECTIONS:  This is probably the last thing that we should talk about and maybe one of the most important. While this isn’t very common, it is possible and you need to be knowledgeable about it. The first thing is not get a tattoo from someone claiming to be a professional but doing it at someone’s house. There is probably a reason they aren’t working in a shop. Their equipment is not being inspected by the Health Department, the list goes on and on.  But heck, they’re cheap or better yet, free…right.  It’s your life and I guess that you are willing to accept the risk of HIV, Hepatitis, MRSA, Staph. infection, Mycobacterium Haemophilum or Chelonae, it goes on and on, all to save a few bucks.All of our equipment is autoclaved and spore tested to ensure your safety, and all of our artists have attended Communicable Disease Certification courses.  If you walk into a parlor and it’s not clean, turn right back around and walk out!How can you tell if a tattoo is infected? Some key signs of an infection are a red haze surrounding the tattoo after a few days and it may be accompanied by a white haze over the tattoo, extreme scabbing, yellow or green oozing or puss, bad smell, heat in the area, excessive swelling, indentations in the surface of the tattoo, or lines of red or black running away from the tattoo.The best way to avoid an infection is to follow the guidelines that I provided for you. That being said, it is possible for you do everything right and your tattooist to do everything right and you can still find yourself getting and infection. Heck most of us have had a friend or relative that was in the hospital or went and had something done at the doctors office and got an infection, but you can minimize the dangers by being diligent with keeping your tattoo clean and following the previous advice.If you are unsure or in doubt about having some sort of problem, be sure to contact your tattoo artist right away! Your artist is not a doctor, so if you feel like you have a problem, then consult you physician immediately for diagnosis and get some antibiotics.

  7. RED DYE REACTION:  There is also a small percentage of people that can get something called “Red Dye Reaction.” This is generally for people that have high skin sensitivity.  If you are allergic to cheap metal jewelry, this can be a sign of a potential problem. The reasoning is that cheap metal has a lot of nickel in it and the red tattoo ink has nickel in it as well. What happens is the red ink does not like to heal very well and I have even seen where craters formed in that area looking like a bad infection. If you feel that you have a nickel allergy and fall into this category, then let your artist know, and choose a different tattoo ink color or do a very small test spot and wait to finish your tattoo until you have healed.

In Conclusion

I hope that these instructions have helped you, and that you follow them to heal your new piece of art work and that you will have something special to show off. You need to remember that the good Lord has made us all different, and as such, all of our skin is different, and therefore we heal differently. You know your body and how it heals better than anyone else, and while one thing may work for you, it may work differently for another. These are simply guidelines that will help you should you decide that they make sense to you. I thank you for your time and look forward to seeing you at Unique Ink Tattoo in Jacksonville North Carolina for your next piece of art that you add to your collection.

Remember —  Unique People Deserve Unique Ink !!!!