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How To Properly Care For Your New Tattoo

How To Properly Care For Your New Tattoo

So you’ve got a new tattoo. Congrats!

A new tattoo is exciting. You'll want to wear clothes that show it off, hoping people will  notice and perhaps strike up a conversation to ask you about it or pay you a compliment. A tattoo is forever, so getting acquainted with yours can be a fun process. 

But it’s important to know how to properly care for your skin post-tattooing. Many tattoo artists recommend Aquaphor Healing Ointment for new ink, but unfortunately, this is not a vegan product. 

Thankfully, there are many vegan tattoo aftercare creams that’ll protect your body art, preserving it for years to come!

Are Tattoos Vegan?

Most inks nowadays are free from animal byproducts—but not all of them, so if you want to keep it vegan, you’ll need to do a bit of research.

Ink can sometimes contain ingredients such as bone char, animal fat glycerin, hoof gelatin, and beetle shellac (bugs and hooves and bones, oh my!). In addition to that, the standard transfer paper used by artists—which leaves temporary lines on the skin that they trace over—contains lanolin, a byproduct of the wool industry. The brand Spirit currently makes the only vegan transfer paper.

To ensure you’re getting the full vegan experience, ask the tattoo artist which brand of inks and which transfer paper they use before booking an appointment. Or, you may be lucky enough to live near a vegan tattoo studio or artist that can accommodate your preferences. A little Googling never hurt anyone! 

The tattoo healing stages

Before we get into the how to's of tattoo care, it’s important to understand how your skin will heal.

A tattoo isn’t just art: it’s an open wound created by tiny needles that inject ink under the first layer of the skin. Once the tattoo session is complete, the artist should apply antibiotic ointment to the fresh ink and wrap it up with a bandage or plastic wrap. This is to help prevent scarring and infection, which could prevent your skin from healing properly. 

Your new ink will go through several stages while it’s healing, and how long each stage takes depends on the size of the tattoo. 

Bigger, full-color tattoos will typically take the longest time to fully heal. On average, the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) will heal in two to three weeks, but it can actually take about three to four months for the lower layer—where the ink actually is—to heal up. A tattoo will go through several stages while it’s healing:

Days 1 to 3

Once it’s safe to unwrap your tattoo, the area might be swollen and sore. You might also notice that it’s oozing—this is a mixture of blood, plasma, and ink. Don’t worry—this is normal for fresh ink. 

If oozing and blood persists or gets worse after around day three, you should contact your tattoo artist or physician. 

Days 4 to 14

This is the stage when the top layer of skin begins to scab, peel, or flake. Your skin will likely feel itchy—this is entirely normal.

Under no circumstances should you give in to the urge to scratch your tattoo, as it could disrupt the healing process and damage the look of the tattoo. 

Allow the scabs and skin flakes to fall off naturally. Don’t pick! 

Days 15 to 30

Most scabs and skin flakes should now be gone, but it’s normal for a few stray flakes to remain. Still refrain from scratching or picking! 

During this final stage of healing, your tattoo may look dull and feel dry, but that’s natural too and it won’t be permanent as long as you take good care of your skin.

Days 30 and Beyond

By the third month, your body artwork should look as bright and vibrant as the artist intended. While the tattoo may look fully healed at this stage, the recovery process will continue below the top layer of your skin for up to six months. 

How to Take Care of Your New Tattoo

Once you have your tattoo, there are a few things you should do to nourish and protect your skin so that your new artwork will look its best for years to come. Your artist will make recommendations based on the size and location, but here are a few general guidelines that apply to any new tattoo: 

Keep it covered

Your tattoo should stay covered for as long as your artist recommends. This is usually about two hours. Remember, a new tattoo is an open wound, so keeping it covered helps prevent infection by lowering the chances of bacteria getting into your skin and causing trouble.

Cleanse

Unwrap your tattoo as per the instructions. With clean fingers and lukewarm water, wash your tattoo using a gentle, fragrance-free soap. Dab away excess moisture with a soft, clean cloth, and then let it air-dry. If you’ve been told that it needs to be covered for longer, redress the tattoo at this point. Wash it once or twice a day throughout the healing stages.

Moisturize

Apply a thin layer of fragrance-free, alcohol-free, dermatologically-tested moisturizer after every time you wash your tattoo. Keeping your skin moisturized will help your body art heal properly and retain its appearance. 

But don't overdo it. Only as much moisturize as you need. According to Authority Tattoo, excess moisturizer can actually prevent the tattoo from properly healing and make the skin more prone to infection. But use too little, and your skin will risk cracks and scabs, which can prevent the tattoo from healing up. 

Tattoos are a little bit like Goldilocks searching for her perfectly-warm porridge. But your artist should be able to advise you on the proper amount of lotion to use.

Use sun protection

The sun’s UVA and UVB rays aren’t good for your skin generally, but they’re especially bad for fresh ink. If you’re a regular sunscreen wearer (and we hope you are!), you might be surprised to learn that you should never apply sunscreen while your tattoo is healing. Instead, cover it with loose-fitting clothing (tight garments may damage it) and avoid direct sunlight. 

After about 30 days, when the new tattoo is no longer scabbing, you should begin applying broad spectrum sunscreen—meaning it will protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays—with at least SPF 30 to keep your ink looking good for years to come. Generally, sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before you go outside. Reapply it every two hours, especially if you’ve been swimming or sweating. But we’re sure you already knew that! 

The Best Vegan Tattoo Aftercare Products

Tattoo aftercare can be intimidating, especially because you want to protect your lifelong investment as best you can. But, barring any medical reactions, it’s mostly a matter of avoiding the sun and sticking to a solid cleansing and moisturizing routine. 

Here are some of our favorite vegan tattoo aftercare products:

Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Pure-Castile Liquid Soap

You should use only the gentlest, unscented cleanser on your new tattoo because fragrance can irritate the sensitive skin as it heals. Dr. Bronner’s unscented castile soap is formulated with organic hemp seed oil and organic olive oil to prevent the skin from drying out. 

Ohana Organics Whipped Tattoo Butter

This lightweight whipped tattoo butter by Ohana Organics sinks right into the skin, making it ideal for hot, humid weather. Organic shea butter, organic olive oil, and vitamin E gently moisturize the skin. This vegan cream is handmade in small batches and it’s packaged in a glass jar, so it’s good for the planet and your skin. Opt for the unscented version of this butter.

After Inked Tattoo Moisturizer and Aftercare Lotion

This rich moisturizing cream from After Inked is formulated to help the skin through the recovery process and to help preserve the color of the ink. Grapeseed oil, shea butter, and jojoba seed oil work together to make skin soft and keep itchy post-tattoo skin at bay.

Kat Smith is a New York City-based writer and editor who loves digging deep into sustainable fashion, beauty, food, and other lifestyle-related topics.
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