Every artist is going to tell you something different when it comes to taking care of your tattoo, and I'm very much of the mind that every body is different- there is no one magic way to take care of your tattoo! However, I do think there are some guidelines that everyone should follow while their skin is healing.
Only non-scented products!!
Use lotion 1-3 times a day (unless your usual routine is less than that)
No need to wash the tattoo any more often than regular showers (unless the area has gotten dirty)
No submerging the tattoo! (No swimming, hot tub, sauna, etc)
No itching, scratching, or other abrasive contact with the tattoo
None or limited direct sunlight
No heavy exercise
DO NOT reapply a covering or bandage once the first one has come off, even if it's before the recommended time. Just keep the tattoo clean and you will be fine :)
These are products that either I have used or someone I know has used that I would recommend! However, like I said above, every body is different and some things might work for one person and not for another.
That being said, if you're taking the care to moisturize your tattoo and not using allergenic or perfumed products, you can be confident in your tattoo's healing regardless of what you use!
Regardless of what you use, it's very important to only use just enough lotion to cover the skin. You don't want to have any excess lotion sitting over your tattoo, which could potentially risk a breakout. If you're not sure how much to use, too little is better than too much!
The First Day...
The day of the appointment, the tattoo is essentially a fresh cut or wound. The skin is open, and needs to be protected from infection!
I always offer my clients "second skin"- this is a bandage made for tattoos, also called tegaderm in the medical field. It's a little like a bandaid, but completely see-through and breathable for your skin. Normally I recommend leaving this bandage on for around 3 days, however if it is removed before this point, it's no big deal :)
With the bandage on, you can shower, you can sleep- you can essentially continue on with your day as usual! Just be careful not to scrape or scratch the area of the tattoo, even with the second skin.
If the bandage has come off on the first day, if you're still able to come in to the shop I'd be happy to replace it for you! If this is not an option, it's not a huge concern to have the tattoo open, even on the day of the tattoo. Take extra care to keep the tattoo clean, very occasionally washing it gently with scentless anti-bacterial soap. The tattoo might leak excess plasma and ink overnight, especially if it has areas of heavy shading, so I do recommend having something covering the piece overnight. It is very important to make sure the wrapping is sanitary, so while I recommend using plastic wrap for this, I advise against using some that you might already have in your kitchen, and instead using a new or unopened roll. You can take off this wrapping the following morning, and there should be no further need to wrap it again after this!
If you notice your skin becoming red or irritated underneath the second skin, go ahead and take it off early, working it off gently under running water. Occasionally people will have mild reactions to the adhesive of the bandage, and almost always these reactions will go away on their own- if it persists please reach out to me as well as a doctor or dermatologist if possible!
The Third Day
Once around three days have passed, your tattoo will have scabbed over and will no longer be open, and there is no longer any need to keep a bandage over the area!
Some people, especially those with heavily shaded pieces, will notice an "ink sac" that forms under the second skin. This is totally normal, it's just excess blood plasma and ink that exits the tattoo as it heals. I recommend taking the bandage off in the shower, as this ink will stain clothing and towels!
If your second skin has stayed on this long, gently work it off in the shower under running water. You don't want to rip it off like a band-aid, as this can damage the scab underneath (and will cause unnecessary pain lol). You may notice a thin film of adhesive remains over the tattoo, this is not a concern! It will work itself off on its own over time, don't try to scrape it off yourself.
Once the tattoo is uncovered, you can start moisturizing it. My recommendation is usually once a day as a starting point, however everyone does the frequency of application a little differently. For example, those with particularity dry skin might apply lotion up to 3 times a day. It is possible to have breakouts due to over-application of the lotion, so if you notice this or have noticed it in the past, I recommend to apply lotion less often. I personally have had this issue, so for my tattoos I apply when the area feels especially dry or itchy, every few days.
Once again, everyone is different and as you continue getting tattoos, you will feel out what routine works for you!
The First Week
During the first week, you'll notice your tattoo will start to appear flaky and crusty. This is totally normal! You're just seeing the scab develop as the skin heals. It's very important to keep this scab intact, as it is what is now protecting your ink! Do not pick at or mess with the scab at all, and let the flakiness come off on its own.
During this time, you'll also notice the tattoo getting itchy. Once again this is a totally normal, albeit annoying, part of the healing process. No matter what, as itchy as it gets, you do not want to scratch the tattoo! Some methods people use to manage this are either gently tapping or hitting the area (with clean hands), gently rubbing the area, or applying lotion to try to soothe the skin. These should help mitigate the itchiness somewhat, and I also like to recommend using ice packs to numb the area if it does get bad, especially overnight.
Continue to apply moisturizer regularly according to your routine! Keep the tattoo as clean as possible day-to-day, but there's no need to wash it any more often than just taking regular showers. Be gentle with the area as you clean it, and avoid scrubbing it with things like washcloths or loofas! Like the lotion, be sure to stick to non-scented soaps.
While it heals, there are some things you want to avoid day to day-
Submerging the tattoo
No swimming, hot tubs, baths, saunas, etc. This is a super easy way to get an infection! (Showers are still totally okay as it is running water, not stagnant)
Direct sunlight on the tattooed area
Direct sunlight can damage the ink and cause discomfort as the tattoo heals. If you're out in the sun for a long time, it's a good idea to cover up the tattooed area. Do not use sunscreen on your tattoo while it's still healing.
Tight clothing over the tattoo
Try to only wear loose clothing over your tattoo! Constricting the area with tight clothing with cause further discomfort and itchiness
Heavy exercise and sweating
Sweat will irritate your tattoo as it heals, it's best to avoid exercise and working out while it heals. Over extension of skin can also case the scab to tear open.
The First Month
Your tattoo should be pretty much healed after around a month! The scab will have smoothed out, but will still have a slightly scary appearance for a few months.
Up until this point you should still be moisturizing regularly and keeping it clean, as well as avoiding the activities listed above, but as time passes you can let yourself be less and less vigilant as the tattoo will be mostly able to take care of itself. Congrats on your healed tattoo! (and pretty please send me a healed picture through email or instagram) ;)
Once the tattoo is healed there's not much more you need do to take care of it! If you'd really like to go the extra mile and improve the longevity of the tattoo, it's generally a good idea to moisturize and exfoliate your skin to keep it healthy!
The most important thing to keep in mind would be that direct sunlight will degrade your ink- the uv light from the sun is actually what causes tattoos to fade! If you'd like to keep your art darker for longer, when you're out in the sun for a long time it's a great idea to apply sunscreen to protect it!