1. Remove covering (if any) after 2 hours.
2.a Wash your hands well, FIRST!!!
2b. Wash your tattoo with luke-warm to cool water and mild soap. Remove all coagulate by scrubbing gently with your hand. (I prefer you use Noxema, or Ivory. Please avoid Antibacterial soaps except on your hands before washing your tattoo, also avoid deodorant or perfumed soaps/cleansers) Do not re-bandage tattoo.*
3. Blot dry with a clean paper towel. (Do not use your bathroom's cloth towel as it contains bacteria).
4. Air dry for 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Apply a thin coat of ointment.** (Thin is the keyword here) Repeat three to four times a day for the first 3 or 4 days, and as needed thereafter.***
NOTE!!! I cannot stress this enough! Although ointment is good to help you heal, in the first few days you must NEVER reapply ointment without washing your tattoo, first. Ointment, although protecting your tattoo also acts as a dirt and germ magnet. If you don’t wash the old stuff off before applying new you are rubbing these contaminants into a fresh wound.
6. Don’t touch or play with your tattoo while it is healing, and don’t let anyone else get their dirty hands on it, either. It needs to stay clean to prevent infection. Only your attention and care can guarantee this. Do not pick at scabs or dried skin while tattoo is healing. Do not scratch or abrade. (If it itches terribly, a quick, stinging slap will alleviate the itch for awhile)
In general I do not recommend that you rebandage after this point. There are only a few times when you may need to cover the tattoo. The most critical one being just before bedtime. If your tattoo is still oozing when it comes time for bed, you will want to protect your sheets as well as your tattoo. If feasable, cover the
tattoo with a clean item of clothing before hitting the sheets. If, like me, you just have to sleep naked; change the sheets. Dirty sheets are full of icky old skin, dust mites and bacteria.
While your tattoo is healing you will also need to cover it during any work in which you're in an environment where there is a risk of your tattoo becoming infected. Any dirty work such as construction, auto mechanics, welding, asbestos removal, ditch digging, spray painting, etc. If you’re not sure whether the tattoo should be covered it probably should be. A teflon coated bandage is best here, because clear plastic hold in too much moisture. Loosely bandage and cover with clothing!!
Remember that a fresh tattoo is an open wound and the ointment is a medicine. I generally recommend Tattoo Goo for the first 48 to 72 hours, and H2Ocean Foam and/or lotion thereafter. For relief from pain and itching, and for a fast hael for many clients, I recommend Rxeme. This product does contain some lanolin, but the good of this one by far outweighs the bad.
In general avoid products that contain lanolin or petroleum jelly as these two products have been known to leach ink out of the skin as it heals. Do not use NeoSporin, Alo Vera gel or alcohol.
Don't over saturate the skin with ointment. It is not needed and does more damage than good. A thin, conservative coat is all it needs.
If you find you are having a reaction to a particular product, stop using that product immediately and either consult your physician or a knowledgeable pharmacist.
***As the tattoo heals it will form a scab over the surface of the tattoo. It may look like a regular scab as seen on a scraped knee or it may look like flaky white skin. However it looks the tattoo should be kept fairly well moisturized without keeping it wet. What this means is that as the tattoo heals a small amount of ointment should be used that will work into the skin without leaving a greasy or slick feel. The skin on and around the tattoo should be moist, not dry or tight. The scab should also feel moist but avoid it getting soft and wet feeling. This will only prolong the healing process.
Your tattoo should heal in about two weeks, although it will not be fully integrated as part of you for 3-5 months. Different people have different physiology. With this in mind you should understand that you may heal quicker or slower. Some tattoos require a lot more work to be done to the skin. The more damage your skin receives, the longer it may need to heal.
If a deep scab begins to form it is important that you don’t allow it to grow and crack. This will cause loss of color and possibly scarring. I recommend soaking the scab in a solution of hot sea-salt water to soften the scab. At this poin, the concern is not so much loss of ink, but avoidance of scarring. Most shops/artists have a reasonable touch up policy.
Wrapping things up:
Avoid chlorinated water (such as swimming pools or hot tubs) until your tattoo is fully healed. Keep your tattoo out of direct sunlight, and be sure to cover it loosely if you will be doing dirty, dusty or wet work.
If at any time severe redness, swelling, yellow or greenish seepage occurs, or if your new tattoo is very hot or painful when it’s not being touched or irritated, call your artist and/or see your personal physician immediately.
Remember that this tattoo will be with you forever. Don't start off by short cutting the healing process.
Once your tattoo is fully healed, you will want it to remain beautiful forever. Although age and weight can affect your design over time, for the most part your tattoo’s worst enemy is the sun. It hasn’t really been conclusively proven whether or not the sun impacts your tattoo pigment, or just your skin, but either way it’s bad news for your art. Use sunscreen. A 50 SPF stick works well to apply just over the design, to avoid lighter splotches surrounding your ink where you might want a little tan.
Exfoliating, shaving, and hot or cold wax hair removal will not damage your tattoo; in fact, removing dead skin and regular moisturizing will keep your skin healthy, which will keep your tattoo looking bright and beautiful.
These aftercare notes are my professional instructions to my clients, and are offered as general information or in addition to information given you by your tattoo artist. Many artists have different approaches to aftercare, so do follow your tattoo artist's instructions, or talk these over with him/her.