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You’ve thought long and hard (or not) about your tattoo design and found a pro artist to get the job done — now it’s time to ensure your ink looks as good as the day you got it. That’s why we’ve asked four professional tattooists to explain exactly how to care for your tattoos.
Sang Bleu creative director and tattoo studio founder Maxime Plescia-Büchi (who’s inked likes of Kanye West and FKA Twigs) says that while post-needle care is key, first and foremost it’s crucial to go to an artist who works in a professional and sterile environment. There’s “no formal education” on tattoo after-care, and advice varies among industry professionals, who were early adopters of healthcare procedures in the studio, the Los Angeles-based artist tells Rolling Stone.
Katrina Jackson, owner of Enigma Tattoo in Beverly Hills (clients include Idris Elba, Faith Evans, and Young MA), also stresses the importance of choosing a professional shop. “If the client’s tattoo is done properly and professionally, you shouldn’t experience too many issues during the healing process,” the L.A.-based artist says. “We keep our tattoo shop extremely clean and our artists follow safe procedures to avoid infections.”
Regardless of differing after-care directives, all professional parlors in the U.S. must abide by cross-contamination guidelines and other safety measures outlined by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
How to Care for Your Tattoos and What to Look For
Raised in a family of doctors and medical professionals, Plescia-Büchi applies the medical knowledge he’s gleaned towards his craft. Contrary to popular belief, “a tattoo [is not like] an open wound. It’s a relatively minor abrasion of the skin in terms of how it should be treated and the risks associated with it,” he says. He treats tattoos the same way that a doctor might care for deep burns: “The more you manage to prevent scabbing, the more you prevent scarring. That’s the process you should try to avoid.”
Hawaro Juul Petersen and Rasmus Cort Hansen, co-owners of Denmark- and L.A.-based tattoo studio Iron & Ink, created their dermatologist-tested brand, Sorry Mom, specifically to address the lack of tattoo care products for artists and clients. The line includes everything from film and stencil transferring solution, to lotions and balms that are safe for all skin types. “For a fresh tattoo to heal up nicely and hassle-free, it is important to always keep it clean and moist,” says Petersen. “When leaving the tattoo shop, it is important that the tattooed area is safe, sealed, and protected.”
Read on for more tattoo care instructions, the issues to look out for, and the best tattoo after-care products recommended by each of our experts.
First and foremost, follow your tattoo artist’s advice: As Plescia-Büchi mentioned, after-care advice varies among professional tattoo shops. When it doubt, follow the routine that your artist recommends.
Keep your ink covered: Tattoo artists will cover your body art with a film to keep it protected after you leave the shop. “My style in tattooing is very soft and smooth, so when it comes to healing I always tell my clients that less is more. I wrap the tattoo when I finish, and I tell them to leave the clear plastic wrap on for no more than an hour.
Wash the tattoo with water and mild, fragrance-free soap: “Once the wrap is taken off, rinse the tattoo with fresh hot water, and let the tattoo breathe for the first couple days,” says Jackson.
Keep your tattoo dry and clean: After you remove the wrap and rinse the tattoo, Hansen suggests that clients pat the area dry with a clean fabric or paper towel, then apply a “regenerative and protective” balm.
Avoid the sun and dirty situations, if possible: In addition to avoiding prolonged sun exposure, Plescia-Büchi always recommends a “common sense” approach: “Don’t rub dirt or work with very dirty clothes,” for example. “As long as you’re mindful, [your tattoo] will be okay.” Iron & Ink’s Hansen also advises against sunbathing, swimming, and exercising just to be on the safe side. “It’s important to avoid stressing the skin when healing a new tattoo,” he says.
Always wear sunscreen: Wearing SPF is always recommended, and it’s especially important to protect your tattoo by using sunblock. “The sun fades [all] pigment,” says Plescia-Büchi.
Don’t irritate or scratch the skin: As your tattoo is healing, avoid scratching or rubbing your skin — that includes using any exfoliants. If you notice any flaking or scabbing, avoid picking at the skin as that could remove the ink or result in fading.
Issues to Look for After Getting a Tattoo
Soreness: After-procedure aches are common, says Jackson. “The tattoo will be sore for days, but the soreness will decline and so will the redness, so you should feel better over time.”
Scabs: “Scabbing peels a deeper layer of skin which may cause the pigment to fall out,” says Plescia-Büchi.
Itchiness or redness: “If you get very red, itchy, or warm you should seek help,” Jackson suggests.
Infections: If your tattoo does get an infection, it may be because “hygiene is not up to standard,” says Jackson. Plescia-Büchi also notes that body art can get “a superficial infection, [but] it’s not a deep cut in the fleshy layers of skin. There are different layers of skin, so unless you really get beyond the dermis itself, there’s a skin barrier that filters a lot of germs.” When in doubt, it’s best to get medical attention.
Oozing: “I’ve had clients whose tattoo could be healing perfectly fine, and once they start using a ton of ointment on it, they will notice the tattoo starts to ‘ooze’ to the surface of the skin, making the tattoo heal very light,” Jackson says. “This is why I recommend that ointment is not used until the tattoo is almost completely healed, after about two weeks or so.”
Peeling: “You want the tattoo to heal flat and smooth, [so look out for] peeling, similar to when a sunburn starts to peel,” says Jackson. If that’s the case, she suggests using a light ointment such as Aquaphor to keep the skin moisturized.
The Best Tattoo After-Care Products
If you just got a tattoo (or want to revive your existing ones) here’s what the experts recommend picking up.
1. Eucerin Healing Lotion
“After the second day or so, I tell my clients to get a fragrance-free lotion like Eucerin or Lubriderm and apply a couple of times a day. A lot of people think you have to over saturate the tattoo with a ton of heavy ointment, but this only causes the tattoo to heal lighter,” Jackson tells Rolling Stone.
Designed for sensitive and extremely dry skin, this scent-free lotion’s thick formula helps to lock in moisture while protecting the epidermis.
2. Lubriderm Daily Moisture Lotion
Another top recommendation from Jackson, the dermatologist-developed brand’s unscented daily lotion is packed with vitamin B5 to keep normal to dry skin moisturized, soft, and smooth.
3. Aquaphor Healing Ointment
A top pick of Jackson and Plescia-Büchi, Aquaphor’s light ointment is ideal for reducing any itchiness, avoiding any scabbing, and keeping the tattoo moisturized.
“I only recommend a light ointment, such as Aquaphor, after a couple of weeks of healing if the tattoo is scabbed up or shiny,” Jackson says. “Tattoos with a lot of color might take a bit longer to heal, just because the tattoo process is a bit more harsh. If your tattoo starts to develop a hard scab, then you want to apply [this] to the area that has scabbed.” She also recommends using the product on peeling skin.
4. Spenco 2nd Skin Moist Burn Pads
While Plescia-Büchi still uses “the old-school Saran plastic wrap,” he prefers to use 2nd Skin’s products — which are designed for burns, bites, and scrapes — whenever he can.
5. Sorry Mom Tattoo Film
“The film is a transparent, breathable barrier that protects and helps the healing process the first 24 to 48 hours after getting tattooed,” says Iron & Ink’s Petersen. The waterproof and easy-to-apply wrap comes in 6-inch by 6-inch sheets (pack of five) or in larger sheets measuring 6.5-feet by six inches or 33-feet by six inches.
6. Viking Revolution Tattoo Balm
Designed to protect the skin from itching and irritation, the dermatologically-tested balm features an anti-bacterial formula that helps with protecting and healing the tattoo.
7. After Inked Tattoo Lotion
This tattoo after-care lotion contains grapeseed oil, shea butter, vitamin E-rich jojoba, and beeswax to help keep the skin nourished and hydrated. It’s also dermatologist-tested and safe for daily use. A little bit of this goes a long way towards helping your tattoos look healthier, and prevent colors from fading.