Tattoo Aftercare: Why Does It Matter?

You finally got to come in for that new tattoo, after months and months of patiently waiting during lockdown. Congratulations! We know you're excited to show your new work off--but unfortunately, you're going to have to wait a little bit longer. Why? Because tattoo aftercare is going to be your focus for the next ten days.

Healed third-eye tiger stomach tattoo by Don Sellers of Paper Crane
Be fierce with your tattoo aftercare!

New Tattoo = Open Wound

Tattoo application involves injecting ink into the dermis, which results in an open wound wherever the needle pierces the skin. Keeping this wound clean and protected is essential, whether you have a small or large piece.


When skin is healthy and whole, it protects us from bacteria by acting as a barrier between the outside world and our blood, internal organs, etc. A cut or abrasion can serve as an open door for potentially nasty microbes.


Have you ever not taken care of a cut and ended up with an angry, swollen scab? Maybe you even have a scar or some discoloration as a result. Now, imagine if this happened with your new tattoo. Just like any other wound, a tattoo can get infected if it isn't properly cared for. Scabbing is totally normal--but an infection can cause thick, weepy scabs that can lead to distortion, color loss, and more.


You can read our full tattoo aftercare guidelines here if you need a refresher, but basically you need to wash your tattoo with mild soap, keep it protected with breathable clothing when you're out, and avoid any activities that might result in bacteria coming into contact with your tattoo. (We'll talk about moisturizer in the next section!)


Balancing Moisturization


During the ten day tattoo aftercare period, you are helping your skin to recover from a major trauma. Part of this involves keeping your tattoo clean and protected, while another part involves keeping your skin supple and smooth. If a tattoo gets too dry, scabs can crack open and bleed, which results in more scabs; this in turn can lead to color loss and scarring. Conversely, if a tattoo is overly moisturized, scabs can become too wet and bubble up from the skin.


We encourage you to NOT moisturize the first day of tattoo aftercare unless your skin is extremely dry. For the next five to ten days, you can lightly moisturize your tattoo two or three times a day--only AFTER washing it.


Think of moisturization in terms of chapstick: The light layer you put on your lips is about the same amount of coverage your tattoo requires.


Tattoo Aftercare for Long-Term Results

The tattoo aftercare period is relatively short when you consider your tattoo will last for a lifetime.


An outstanding artist obviously excels at tattoo design and application, both of which are major factors when considering the end result of a tattoo. But even the most expertly done tattoo requires proper care to heal beautifully.


When you keep your tattoo clean, protected, and properly moisturized, you help your skin to heal smoothly and significantly lower your chance of distortion, ink loss, infection, and scarring. At the end of the tattoo aftercare period, you'll be left with an incredible tattoo that you can show off with pride!


What If I Messed Up?

Maybe you got too much sun on your tattoo, or maybe you overdid it with the moisturization. Hopefully you listened carefully to your artist's recommendations and took your tattoo aftercare seriously--but what if you messed up?


If you have any pus, red streaks, intense soreness, blisters, or bumps, seek medical attention right away.


If you're concerned that you've gotten your tattoo too wet (with moisturizer or water) or that you've let it get too dry, send us an email at info@papercranetattoo.com with pictures or reach out to your artist directly.


Once your tattoo is fully healed, you may have to come in for a touch-up if you haven't followed your artist's guidelines. We can tell if you've picked at scabs or otherwise damaged your piece due to improper tattoo aftercare, so these sorts of touch-ups are not free.


Depending on the severity of the damage, you might just need a quick touch-up--or you might need a more extensive fix. Sometimes improper tattoo aftercare can completely destroy a tattoo--and sometimes it isn't salvageable.


The moral of the story: Respect your new ink, your artist, and yourself by following tattoo aftercare guidelines!