Every tattoo artist/studio develops their own aftercare instructions; if you were tattooed at another studio than Ancient Arts please respect and follow your artist's recommendations. We are posting these online for referral purposes; be advised that everyone heals at their own rate and that not every practice or every product is right for every person.
If you feel that your tattoo may be infected, consult a medical professional immediately! Tattoo artists cannot diagnose or treat medical conditions. If you were tattooed at Ancient Arts and have some concern about your tattoo, please feel free to come in and talk to us.
No matter how professional or skilled your artist, your tattoo's ultimate outcome will depend on how well YOU take care of it.
The following are suggestions only, gleaned from common sense, research, and experience. In simple terms: Keep your tattoo clean; keep it moist, and let it have fresh air.
ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE AND AFTER TOUCHING YOUR NEW TATTOO! Thoroughly washing your hands means scrubbing them front and back and each finger and thumb individually, as well as around your wrists with soap and hot water. At a minimum, you should be able to sing the "alphabet song" all the way through at least once while scrubbing. Carry hand sanitizer with you and use it if you will be away from hand-washing facilities. Keep your hands off your tattoo unless you have thoroughly washed them first. This is especially true if you have been touching money, doorknobs, or other people.
Don't let other people touch your tattoo with their dirty hands. You would be surprised how people just want to reach out and touch a fresh tattoo. Remember, a tattoo is an open wound. Hands off!
Washing Your Tattoo
Shower as usual, and gently wash your tattoo using warm water. Don't use a washcloth or a loofah on your tattoo, just your clean hand and a mild soap. There are pros and cons to using antibacterial soaps; they are effective against infection, but they also kill the bacteria that promote healing. Healthcare professionals and tattoo artists use antibacterial soap out of necessity, but it is at your discretion whether you want to use one; it can be harsh on your tattoo. Your tattoo was applied in sanitary conditions using sterile equipment; if you follow basic hygiene, a mild soap should suffice to keep your tattoo nice and clean.
Don't rub your tattoo, just pat it dry, preferably with a paper towel (fabric towels can harbor bacteria). Be gentle.
Don't submerge your tattoo in water - no baths, hot tubs, ponds, swimming pools, lakes, rivers or oceans. Water-borne bacteria can cause infection, and chlorine can bleach out ink. Avoid excessive sweating, including intense workouts and saunas or sweat lodges. If you are a surfer or a swimmer, plan to take time off from these activities, as wearing a wetsuit on a fresh tattoo is not recommended.
The First Two Days
At Ancient Arts, we bandage your tattoo with a non-stick bandage that does not create an occlusive seal. Remove your bandage in 2 hours, wash your tattoo, and don't re-bandage. Do NOT wrap your tattoo in plastic wrap!
For the first two or three days, your new tattoo will occasionally look "goopy." It may ooze some ink, blood, and clear fluid. Wash your tattoo gently and apply your ointment.
Depending on the location of your tattoo, you may want to wear a loose piece of clothing to bed or between your tattoo and your nice clothes, so as to prevent ink and body fluids staining your sheets or clothes.
When you were tattooed at Ancient Arts, you were given a tin of 'Ohana Organics Tattoo Butter. We provide this aftercare product because it is, in our opinion, the best possible ointment to use on your tattoo. 'Ohana Organics Tattoo Butter is organic, vegan, and locally made in small batches. There are numerous products in the skincare market; no one product will be perfect for everyone--if this were the case, there would only be one brand of lotion and the skincare industry would not spend billions of dollars convincing you that their product is the best. We strongly recommend use of 'Ohana Organics Tattoo Butter throughout the healing process.
Products we do NOT recommend for fresh tattoos are: Vaseline or any other petroleum-based product; Noxzema or any other deep cleanser; or any medicated/antibacterial ointment meant for treating skin infections. We also do NOT recommend "dry healing," where no ointment is applied. Any plastic surgeon will tell you that a wound that is kept hydrated will be much less likely to scar.
Wash your hands. Apply the 'Ohana Organics Tattoo Butter after you first wash your tattoo, and then after every washing. You may apply it several times a day, but always APPLY A VERY THIN LAYER, just enough to make your tattoo shiny. Do not put a thick layer of any ointment on your tattoo, as this will clog your pores, prevent your skin and tattoo from breathing, and trap dirt and bacteria. It's better to put on a thin layer of ointment more often than to put on too much at once.
Of course, you thoroughly wash your hands before and after applying your ointment, right?
The First Month
The rate at which tattoos heal varies from individual to individual. It can take a month or even longer for a tattoo to fully heal. Be patient and allow your body time to welcome your new addition. All that being said, you can expect the following in the first month:
After the "goopy" phase, your tattoo may or may not make scabs. Depending on the location of your tattoo, on your skin type, on your general state of health, etc., this may just be a dry crust or full scabs. Do not pick at scabs, as that may make ink come out and cause infection and/or scarring. Wear loose clothing that will not catch scabs and pull them off. Moisturize.
At some point, your tattoo will probably itch like mad; itching is a positive sign of healing. DO NOT SCRATCH YOUR TATTOO. Gently slapping your tattoo will help relieve the itching. Gently rubbing the intact skin around your tattoo may help. Oddly enough, scratching the corresponding spot on the opposite side of your body can trick your mind into thinking you scratched your itch. Moisturizing with a little ointment may also help.
Eventually scabs will come off on their own, usually in the shower. At this point, your tattoo may peel around the edges, a little like a sunburn. This is normal. Keep moisturizing.
Often, at some point in the healing, a tattoo looks patchy, hazy or dull. Lydia calls this the "gray haze" and Damien calls it the "white sheen." It is caused by the epidermis growing on top of your tattoo, a normal part of your skin's healing process. Moisturize.
Finally, your new skin on your tattoo may look a little crinkly. Normal. Moisturize.
Foot, Ankle and Leg Tattoos
If you were tattooed on the foot or ankle, it is important that you not wear shoes or socks that rub on your tattoo for at least two weeks. Plan accordingly.
Because gravity causes bodily fluids to pool in your lower extremities, tattoos on the feet, ankles, and legs may swell, throb and redden alarmingly. Elevating your leg will help reduce this. Put your leg up on the coffee table in the living room or put a pillow under your foot when lying in bed. You can also apply an ice compress (ice in a plastic bag wrapped in a paper towel) to any tattoo that appears red or irritated.
Your Tattoo is Like a Vampire
Think of your tattoo as being like a vampire; sun will kill it. If you are going to be out in the sun, cover your fresh tattoo with clothing or with a loosely-tied bandanna. Do not use sunscreen on your tattoo until it is fully healed, as sunscreen lotions can also remove ink. UV rays can take out up to 40% of your ink, so protect your tattoo from the sun for the rest of your life together. You should always use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher when going out in the sun, but only after your tattoo has FULLY healed.
Don't fly on a plane with a fresh tattoo. Our experience and that of our clients has been that pressure differentials in airplane flights can cause swelling, pain, and squeeze ink out of your tattoo! In addition, be cautious when using any type of public transportation; this increases your exposure to many people and to unsanitized surfaces, which increases exposure to germs and bacteria.
If at all possible, try not to sweat after getting tattooed. Modify your exercise regimen for a few days so that you don't "sweat out" your ink. Also, take excessive precautions at the gym; the bacteria that cause staph infections are rampant in gyms and locker rooms, so avoid these if at all possible.
If You Have Questions or Concerns
Feel free to call your tattoo artist or drop by the studio.
My Friend/the Internet/the Guy I Met in the Bar Says...
Sigh. Please follow the advice of your professional tattoo artist, not that of amateur "tattoo experts" you may meet in bars, over the internet, or even in your own home!
Once Your Tattoo Has Healed
Please come by and let your artist see the end result of their work. Thanks!
Ancient Arts Tattoo Studio & Art Gallery 1065 K Street, Arcata, California, 95521 707-825-TAT2 (8282)