Tattoo Aftercare - Jon Poulson

I’ve been a Professional tattoo artist since 2002 and I’ve been a tattoo collector since 1988. I’ve tried everything in the way of tattoo aftercare, and made plenty of mistakes along the way (with the scarred tattoos to prove it). But with all those tattoos and mistakes, I’ve learned a few things about proper healing of a tattoo.

I started documenting these aftercare instructions in 1998, after a particularly bad healing session. Over the years, decades really, It has evolved and morphed because of all of the mistakes that I’ve personally witnessed and things my clients have done; both right and wrong.

I hope you find this guide insightful. I welcome comments and even a discussion. I know that everyone is different; that everyone has their own techniques to heal their own personal tattoos. But this is a general guideline that I have found to be extremely effective for both the new comer to tattoos with the tiny line, all the way up to the seasoned vet; with both arms sleeved and a back and chest piece. Most people find that their body reacts differently to different lotions and moisturizers. I've found that as long as they follow these general guidelines, I’ve never seen a problem.

So here it is…

Congratulations on your new tattoo!!! Now that the hard parts over; getting your new tattoo, comes the annoying part… healing the tattoo.

The next two weeks are arguably the most important part of the tattoo process. I say that because I want to stress the fact: THE WAY YOU CARE FOR YOUR NEW TATTOO OVER THE NEXT TWO WEEKS WILL AFFECT THE WAY IT LOOKS FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!

By following these simple steps you will greatly enhance the long-term appearance of your tattoo. However, if you are negligent, we assume no responsibility and we will not be able to honor any guarantee. (You will be responsible for any and all touch-up costs associated with fixing it; that is if touch-up is even possible.)

I know this is a long, but please read the following aftercare instructions all the way through, follow them as best you can, and refer back to them as necessary during the healing process, which usually takes between 7-14 days.

1. Remove the bandage/wrappings in no less than 1 hour, but no more than 5 hours and gently wash the entire area with a mild anti-bacterial soap and warm water (avoid hot water). Thoroughly massage the tattoo using only your hands with lathered soap and warm water to remove any dried blood and plasma. Do not scrub. Do not re-bandage.

2. Rinse thoroughly, gently pat dry with a clean paper towel, then allow a few minutes “breathing time” to air dry completely.

3. Apply mild unscented lotion* VERY LIGHTLY and THIN as needed, Usually 2-4 times a day, with clean hands until fully healed. Always wash hands before applying lotion or touching the healing tattoo. (Applying lotion with un-clean hands is the #1 cause of infection. Infection, even a minor infection, can not only harm you, it can destroy a healing tattoo. Germs are everywhere! Always wash hands just prior to any contact. Otherwise these germs will enter the open skin in and around the tattoo. (Not all germs are bad, but the bad ones can destroy your tattoo.)

4. Wash, dry, then moisturize your tattoo 2-3 times a day with the same process as above for about 3 days. (Showering counts as one of those cleanings.) if you chose to use a petroleum based moisturizer, it is best to limit it to the first 3 days. After you stop washing the tattoo daily, switch to a lotion as mentioned above.)

5. Keep your new tattoo dry and clean until healed. Do not touch, pick, scratch or otherwise irritate the tattoo. (Wear clean, lose, unbinding clothing, avoid rubbing or irritating the healing tattoo.)

6. ABSOLUTELY NO soaking the tattoo in baths, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, oceans, pools or any other naturally or unnaturally occurring body of water until fully healed. Or at very least until the tattoo has finished flaking and only new skin remains. Aside from using lotion to moisturize as necessary, keep your tattoo as dry as possible until fully healed. Again, showering is fine. just remember to stop washing the tattoo after day 3. Keep the tattoo out of the water as much as possible while showering to avoid complications. (Remember to gently pat, never rub, the tattoo dry.)

7. Keep the new tattoo out of the sun for at least 4 weeks. After that period use the highest sun block you can to keep your tattoo from fading. Any and all tanning of the tattoo will cause fading and will void any touch-up guarantee. (Tanning beds included.)

8. DO NOT listen to ANYONE but your tattoo artist about the aftercare of your tattoo. Just because something works for someone you know, does not mean it will work for you, or this tattoo. (Obviously we aren’t medical professionals, but we’ve seen enough go wrong that we can point you in that direction if necessary.)

9. Yes, they are going to be there forever, yes they hurt, yes they make you tough, and no they don’t make you a bad person.

10. Contact your artist immediately if you have ANY questions, complications, or concerns.


*PLEASE NOTE: There are many lotions that will work. You will want to use a lotion that your body is familiar with if possible. You want a lotion that is unscented, and contains minimal, or preferably no alcohol. Brands like Curell, Eucerin, Lubraderm, or Noxema (lotion, not cleanser) typically work great. Ideally a new bottle that is travel sized for easy access while out of your home. If you chose to use a petroleum based moisturizer, please apply extremely thin (so thin that your clothes won’t even stick to it), and only use it for the first 3 days. After that, switch to a regular lotion mentioned above. Avoid Triple Antibiotic Ointment (ie…Neosporin or Polysporin). While there are certain antibiotic products that can help a healing tattoo for the first few days if used properly, (Namely Bacitracin); Neosporin (and any other triple antibiotic ointment) is designed to heal a wound not a tattoo, and often pulls ink out of a healing tattoo. Especially if used improperly. It is important to understand that healing a tattoo must be treated differently than healing a wound. Your body’s job is to remove debris embedded in a wound to help prevent infection. But with a tattoo, you want this “debris” in the form of tattoo pigment to remain in tact where it was so carefully, and painfully, placed by your artist.

Once something goes wrong with the healing process, it is nearly impossible to stop or reverse most complications. If the tattoo scabs, then something went wrong and the tattoo got infected during the healing process. (Usually from bacteria transferred from unclean surfaces; ie. hands, lotion, clothing, water, or numerous other un-clean sources coming into contact with the healing tattoo.) It is best to let any scabs that form dry out completely… stop using the moisturizer then let any scab fall off completely naturally. Picking, rubbing or itching any scab on the tattoo will often pull the underlying ink out, along with the healing skin. This often results in bleeding, worse scabbing, and scarring which is often impossible to fix. Ultimately leaving you with something less than ideal on your body permanently.

While some bruising and swelling is common, especially in fleshy areas, sensitive areas, or lower extremities for the first few days, swelling that continues to increase for 3-4 days, develops a red outer edge around that continues to expand, and feels warm, or hot to the touch could be a sign of infection. It is extremely rare to get an infection from actually getting the tattoo. 99.999% of infected tattoos I have seen have come from neglect while caring for the tattoo; either not washing anything that comes into contact with the new tattoo, exposing it to numerous germs; or just ignoring your responsibilities for aftercare and hoping your body does the job. That being said, if it is infected, there is nothing I can do for you…. Could be time to consult a physician. But, keep in mind, most doctors rarely see infected tattoos, and their job is to heal you as quickly as possible as well as scare you so you don’t make foolish mistakes again. Often, their advise and prescriptions, along with the infection, destroy the tattoo in the process. So do yourself a favor, just follow the instructions and all will be well.

You only have one shot at this. Do not over-do it! Simply follow the instructions above, no more-no less and you will have a beautiful tattoo that you can enjoy for the rest of your life.

Again, if you have any questions, concerns or complications, contact me as soon as possible. While I am not a doctor, and cannot offer any actual medical advice, I have seen nearly every complication that can possibly arise from a healing tattoo. While certain complications can be common, as long as you follow the instructions provided, it is highly unlikely that you will have any problems.

A little tip; when your tattoo starts to itch, please don’t scratch it. By doing so, you can easily damage the skin, causing infection, or at very least, pull pigment out of the fresh tattoo causing a vicious cycle that results in scarring. Instead, with clean hands, gently slap the itching area with minimal force. This usually eliminates the itching sensation. Sometimes you will have to slap it a few times. You can itch around the tattoo, but you run the risk of damaging the edges. If it gets bad, try a lotion with lidocaine in it or possibly a lidocaine spray.

Comment on your experience and/or post pics of your tattoo…

Your comments and photos help others make informed decisions about getting a tattoo. And I really appreciate the feedback. ;-)

Jon Poulson

Owner, Artist Aloha Salt Lake Tattoos in Murray, Utah. Clean, Professional Tattoos by top artists.