POV: You just got your first tattoo. But not so fast. The process doesn’t end after going under the needle. Now there’s recovery and aftercare. We spoke with Dan Hunter, owner and chief editor at tattoo and piercing resource Authority Tattoo, to find out the best way to take care of your new ink while it heals.
How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?
Short answer: It varies. Factors like the size, type of ink, and location of your tattoo will influence how long it takes to heal.
It typically takes two to three weeks for the skin’s outer layers to heal. But it can take up to six months for its deeper layers to fully recover, according to Hunter.
“This makes it all the more important to look after your tattoo as best as possible,” said Hunter.
Do tattoos take longer to heal on some body parts than others?
Definitely. Areas on the body that have movement or have friction against other body parts generally take longer to heal, said Hunter.
According to Hunter, areas like the elbow, knee and knuckles will almost always have a little extra TLC time.
What can I expect during the tattoo healing process?
Itchiness, dryness, and swelling are all common side effects during the healing process. According to Hunter, other symptoms can include:
Redness (during the first week of healing)
Flaking of the skin (during the first two weeks of healing)
Oozing of blood and clear liquid, aka plasma
“You should also expect the appearance of your tattoo to get worse before it gets better,” he added. “Your tattoo will likely look wrinkly and cloudy for a couple of months before the fresh skin beneath the damaged layers rises to the surface.”
But you should also be on the lookout for any potential infections. These symptoms include:
Small blisters or bumps
If the tattoo begins to have foul-smelling pus, or if you begin to have chills or a fever, then you need to get medical care immediately. These can be signs that you’re experiencing sepsis, which can be life-threatening.
What steps should I take for tattoo aftercare?
Make sure to let your new ink breathe. “Don't smother it in thick lotion or wear tight-fitting clothing over the area,” said Hunter. To care for your tattoo, Hunter’s Authority Tattoo also recommends:
Avoiding petroleum-based products like petroleum jelly and antibiotic ointments, which can trap bacteria and moisture. But you can use products such as a light and unscented lotion or coconut oil.
Keeping it out of the sun
Refraining from pulling or picking at any scabbing or flaking skin, which can delay healing
Cleaning it at least twice a day with warm water and an unscented and alcohol-free soap
Not exposing it to any water except when cleaning it or showering — and even then, keep showers short and only wash the area with an antibacterial soap
Pat (don’t rub) the area dry
Proper aftercare is the key to a (nearly) painless tattoo healing process. So be gentle with your new ink after you leave the shop, and it will be ready for that "new tattoo" Instagram post in no time.
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