Congratulations! You found the right artist, you co-designed an amazing piece, and you got the tattoo of your dreams.
But your journey to a tattoo you’ll love for a lifetime doesn’t end there: Aftercare is a crucial part of the process. No matter what a gorgeous job your artist has done, you can inadvertently ruin your new tattoo if you don’t properly care for it, especially during the first couple of weeks.
We always take the time to go over aftercare with you at our shop, but we know that it can be a lot to process when you’ve just finished up a tattooing session. So today we’re breaking down our approach to aftercare, to help you have a happy healing experience.
No Peeking at Your New Tattoo
When you leave Paper Crane, you’ll walk out with a bandage covering your tattoo. We know, we know: You want to show it off right away! You might be tempted to peel that bandage off, even for just a quick Instagram picture, but please resist the urge. Leaving the bandage on overnight both protects your tattoo and helps sweat our excess plasma.
In the morning, you can go ahead and unwrap your tattoo. Hop right in the shower—and keep the water warm, not hot! If the bandage is stuck, you can let the water run over it until it falls off on its own. We suggest an unscented antibacterial liquid hand soap to wash your tattoo—very gently, using only your fingertips. Once you’ve gotten it fully clean, blot it dry with a clean cotton or paper towel.
After your tattoo has air dried, you can apply a small amount of Aveeno Daily Moisturizer or Aquaphor. When we say small, we mean small—don’t soak your tattoo. If it still feels wet after you’ve massaged the lotion in, you’ve used too much.
For the next ten days (or until your tattoo has completely peeled), wash your new piece daily and reapply lotion three times a day. This will speed up the healing process and help with any itchiness.
Although you should not re-bandage your tattoo after you’ve unwrapped it, it’s important to keep it protected. Wear comfortable, nonrestrictive clothing—clean clothing, as you’re dealing with a fresh wound. Cotton is preferable, but be sure you’re not wearing anything abrasive that could damage your tattoo or otherwise irritate your skin.
Leave That Tattoo Alone!
Your tattoo will start to scab, flake, or peel after about four days or so. We know it’s hard to resist, but DO NOT PICK AT YOUR TATTOO! The scabs and flakes you’re seeing are part of your body’s natural healing process—yes, even the scabs that remain after the initial peeling. But if you pull at the flaking skin or scratch off the scabs, you’ll prolong the healing process. Moreover, you’ll potentially pull the color right out of your tattoo, essentially flushing your money and your artist’s work right down the drain.
Just keep up your lotion regimen. If your tattoo gets really itchy, you can gently slap it to get some relief. But again, do NOT scratch or pick!
Remember: Your new tattoo is essentially an open wound. Your skin has been pierced many, many times with a needle and injected with ink. Scabs are your body’s way of protecting you and of healing. It’s totally normal to see scabs for up to two weeks after your session, and you will be re-opening the wound and starting from step one if you pick those scabs off. Not only will you risk losing color, you’ll also be exposing yourself to potential infection (neither of which is the responsibility of your artist).
Baby Your Tattoo
We’re in the last days of summer, but if you live in a sunny clime like Long Beach, you get to enjoy summer just about year round. That’s great when it comes to getting a nice tan on the beach or practicing your high dive at the pool—but if you’ve just gotten a tattoo, you’re going to need to re-think your plans for the next ten days.
Whether in a pool or a hot tub, the sea or a river, swimming is absolutely a no-go when you have a fresh tattoo. Pools and hot tubs are full of chlorine, which is extremely caustic. When that chlorine hits your new tattoo, it can cause it to get extremely dry and flaky—or it can even cause it to break out in red bumps or an itchy rash. This can wreak havoc on the healing process and ultimately ruin your tattoo.
Have a friend with a private pool that doesn’t use chlorine? Again: DON’T DO IT! Without chlorine, the water is host to a slew of bacteria and germs that can cause infections.
So what about the ocean? Although salt water has healing properties, it is too drying for a new tattoo and can lead to skin irritation. Moreover, the ocean is full of bacteria—and whether it’s naturally occurring or from a man-made source like a sewer, that bacteria can turn your new tattoo into a disaster. The same goes for rivers and lakes, which can feature anything from animal excrement to man-made pollutants.
Sunbathing is also out during your healing period. The UV rays of the sun break down the pigment in your tattoo as your skin absorbs them, which can cause your tattoo to fade prematurely. We recommend using SPF sunblock AFTER your tattoo is fully healed to prevent this. But while your tattoo is healing, we suggest keeping it out of direct sunlight for a full two weeks. This doesn’t just mean keeping it covered at the beach: Remember that you get daily sun exposure just from walking around outside, so keep your tattoo shaded until it is fully healed. At that point, you can start using a quality sunblock with a high SPF and show it off wherever you go.
We hate to limit your fun, but keep in mind that you’re going to have your tattoo for a long, long, long time. By being careful for a couple of weeks, you give your tattoo the best possible chance to heal beautifully.
In that vein, we recommend avoiding ANY activities or environments that could harm your tattoo for the ten-day healing period, including (but not limited to) camping, gardening, tanning, working out (especially at a public gym), swimming, or any particularly strenuous activities. Don’t let people or pets rub up against a new tattoo, and while you’re at it avoid unclean surfaces, dirt, chemicals, abrasive clothing, standing water, and your own unwashed hands.
Ask Our Tattoo Artists for Professional Advice
If you think you’ve damaged your tattoo or have an infection, don’t hesitate to get professional input. You can always stop by the shop to have our founder Mikey Vigilante or your artist take a look. If you notice red streaks, increased soreness, puss, bumps, blisters, or a foul odor, you might be dealing with an infection and should seek medical attention immediately.
Whether you get tattooed at our studio or elsewhere, your artist will go over aftercare with you and typically provide a care sheet. Keep in mind that they might have their own unique approach that differs slightly from our guidelines (such as a preferred brand of lotion), but one thing is universal: We want you to reach out if you have any questions about your healing process.
Think of yourself as the curator of your own personal art collection. Aftercare is a way of protecting your investment and of ensuring that your tattoo is a work of art for years to come. Happy healing!