Updated: Feb 2, 2020
What Happens in the First 30 Days of a New Tattoo?
The size of your new tattoo can determine how long it will take to heal. A big tattoo can be intricate and may cause more trauma to your skins surface compared to a small tattoo that normally repairs faster. A grey tattoo, line tattoo, dot tattoo and portrait cause less trauma to the skin compared to a full-colour tattoo. For this reason different tattoos require different aftercare and every tattoo artist has a slightly different way if taking care of fresh tattoos. Always get advice from your tattoo artist asking what you can expect regarding the size and healing time of your artwork.
Your tattoo is brand new, fresh and vulnerable. It may also feel a bit warmer than usual but that's nothing to be concerned with at this stage. Now you have arrived home with your new tattoo complete with a protective bandage, saran wrap or second-skin. Leave the wrap on for 24 hours for best results (minimum 6 hours). Do not uncover it before the time recommended by you tattoo artist. Generally speaking, the longer you can leave your original tattoo wrap on (applied by the tattoo artist) the better. It will preserve brighter colours and be more vibrant. Leave it on (at least) overnight as your new tattoo may stick to bed-sheets or stain them. Make sure your sheets remain clean and freshly washed throughout the healing process. Your tattoo artist may have other recommendations specific to you and your tattoo regarding the best time to remove his original wrap. If you are impatient (at your own peril) you can re-wrap in cling-film but it is not recommended. Additionally, there are some restrictions: no swimming, no working out at the gym and no hot tubs, saunas or excessive sweating. Oh! … and avoid the sun.
60-70% of a tattoo's fast and successful healing is the direct result of the quality of your tattoo artist. If an artist goes too deep or works an area too much it will damage the skin, scab, scar and take longer to repair. This is when you find out if you chose your tattoo artist wisely.
30-40% of the healing process is up to you. Wear loose clothing over fresh tattoos. Bra straps, waist bands, the neck of business shirts, tight wristbands and shoes can create healing complications.
IMPORTANT: If at any time you feel there is excessive redness, plasma production, irritation or issue, consult your doctor and tattoo artist.
Be very careful when taking the wrap off! When you take the wrap off there is normally some blood, plasma and a bit of excess ink all over it. You will need to wash the tattoo with luke-warm, clean water and soap. Thoroughly clean your hands first and under your nails. The best soap is a chemical-free antibacterial soap with no fragrance, beads or scrubs.
Cleanse the tattoo very, very gently … lather soap into a foam in your hands and super softly clean the tattoo's surface in a circular motion until all of the tattoo artist's healing product has gone and the blood, lymphatic fluid and excess ink has been washed away. Rinse and wash again, gently. Use a paper-towel to gently 'pat' the tattoo area dry. Do not use towels, sponges, loofahs, cloths or anything even slightly abrasive that will 'rub' or 'drag' the skin in any way. You can use a hair drier on a 'cool' setting only without over-drying. Some people say at this stage their tattoo looks a little dull and outlines appear not so sharp. This is all part of the healing process. Don’t worry about any colour washing from the tattoo in the gentle cleansing process as this is only excess ink.
Some tattoos (depending on style and size) may 'weep' during the healing process for the first couple of days. This is the plasma and ink forming a natural thin protective layer on your new tattoo. Excessive weeping can also be an indication of a artist that has over-worked an area or gone too deep under the skin's surface. If this is the case for you, you may need to clean the new tattoo 3 to 6 times during the day. Sometimes merely dabbing a clean paper towel will suffice; do not wipe the tattoo. Some colour on the paper towel is normal and is excess ink be sloughed from the surface.
Let the tattoo dry for 2 to 3 days without anything on it; nothing … let your body do what it is designed to do naturally.
DAY 2 to 3
Some tattoo artists recommend moisturising straight away; sighting the tattoo risks drying out and scabbing. Consider their recommendation as it may pertain directly to the 'style' of tattoo you have received, the location or another reason. Never use petroleum-based products or gels of any kind. You have to think about this process in terms of 'healing a wound successfully'. The skin needs to get the opportunity to develop a natural barrier on top of the new tattoo to seal itself. This means not putting anything man-made on it. Your tattoo is not completely protected from germs and bacteria until it has completely finished peeling.
At around 2 to 3 days the skin will appear dry (slightly wrinkly). This is when you can go back to life as normal; no more gentle cleansing. Back to regular showers! Still treat your tattoo with care when cleaning it by not rubbing it or using anything that might drag it; like a face-washer, cloth to towel. Always dab and blot to dry.
DAY 3 to 4
Use a very small amount of 'natural', chemical-free tattoo oil. Apply very gently. If you prefer an ointment/balm/wax/salve, make sure you warm it up so it softens because you need to avoid 'dragging' the skin and aggravating it. Use a very fine thin layer twice a day (morning and night).
Generally, less is more – use the thinnest layer of the best tattoo aftercare product you can find. You are trying to help the healing process, not stifle it by smothering layers of heavy product that your body will fight with. Your body may over-compensate by over-producing much sebum (scabbing). Scabbing can pull colour from a tattoo in some cases. There's also temptation to pick at scabs which can stall the healing process, cause fine scar tissue, damage the tattoo, make fine lines less defined or increase the chances of infection.
Continue to gently clean, dry and moisturise the tattooed area.
DAY 5 – 14
This is when your tattoo will become fully healed depending on the style of tattoo.
Once your tattoo has 'sealed' and healed, you can use a very thin film of tattoo lotion. Note: Using tattoo lotion whilst the new tattoo is fresh and unhealed may cause an acne-like appearance if used too often (twice a day, morning and night is recommended).
Fine flaking (like sun-burn) is normal to develop healthy new skin cells and the flakes will fall off when it is ready to reveal the new delicate skin. Scabbing is a sign of lower-quality tattooing but is sometimes normal dependent on the style. Tattoos with a high concentration of colour can experience two or three stages of peeling and can take longer to heal than a single colour tattoo. DO NOT PICK OR SCRATCH YOUR TATTOO! Continue to gently clean, dry and moisturise the tattooed area.
Start maintaining your new tattoo so it remains as vibrant and clearly defined. Choose a high quality, pure, natural, chemical-free tattoo aftercare product with no fragrance.
If you naturally gravitate towards the sun … protect your new tattoo! Use white zinc oxide/titanium dioxide cream as it is inert and does not absorb into the skin. It forms a complete barrier against the sun's searing rays; blocking and protecting from the full spectrum of UV rays that fade tattoos. Fresh, new tattoos and the inks they are made of are vulnerable to the sun; especially in their early days.