Tattoo Aftercare Instructions: Complete (Day by Day) Guide

Now that you’ve got an awesome, brand new tattoo, what comes next? Taking good care of it for the years to come.

You might be surprised to know that aftercare is the most important part of getting a tattoo.

Although a tattoo is just a cosmetic procedure, its effects go much deeper than your skin. For this reason, aftercare is essential not only for keeping your tattoo looking fabulous, but also for your overall health.

How fast your tattoo heals depends on your age, health, hygiene, and where on your body you get it.

There is a lot of misleading information out there about tattoos and aftercare, so we’ll go through what is true and false.


Navigating the steps of tattoo aftercare doesn’t have to be overwhelming and committing to your artist’s instructions will ensure your tattoo looks fantastic for years to come.

Follow this complete tattoo aftercare guide for a stunning, healthy tattoo. 

5 Important Tips Before Getting a Tattoo 

  1. Sleep well. 
  2. No alcohol/drugs before or - especially - during the session. 
  3. Eat well. 
  4. Bring food if it’s going to be a long session.  
  5. Stay hydrated.  

Tattoo Aftercare Instructions (Day by Day) 

Your tattoo artist will provide you with exact instructions about how to care for your tattoo. They are the experts, and you should always listen to them when it comes to caring for your new tattoo.

These instructions are for your own good and will keep your tattoo clean and looking radiant.

Here are the basics, day-by-day tattoo aftercare instructions: 

Day 1 

  • 3-4 hours after leaving the tattoo shop, gently remove the bandage your tattoo artist put on. Your new tattoo needs to breathe.  
  • If your artist used specialized tattoo film, keep it  for the first 3 days.
Tattoo film
    Professional tattoo cleanser
      • Put new wrap for the first night only. Remember to make sure the wrap is well placed, to avoid it being exposed on your sleep. 
        
      Some artists might recommend you keep the initial bandage on for the first night to prevent rubbing or leaking.  
       
      • If you plan to have your tattoo covered, just be sure that you use tattoo film that is breathable.   
      Tattoo professional cleanser
        • Use clean sheets & towels when sleeping. Use clean old sheets you don’t care much about in case you move on your sleep and stain them. For your health and for the sheet’s sake! 
        • It’s also good practice not to dry your tattoo with a shared towel. These first 2 days the tattooed area is like an open wound, so we have to be extra careful to avoid infection. 

        Day 2

        • Remove the wrap, and don't use it anymore. 

        • Wash the tattoo with water and cleanser or soap 2-3 times a day – not more-.  

          TIP: When washing the tattoo, do it with your hands gently, but firmly. 

          Day 3

          • Gently remove the tattoo film. 
          • Wash the tattoo with water and cleanser or soap 2-3 times a day - not more   

          • Ideally, start using regenerative balm after the 3rd wash of the third day, before going to sleep. Some people heal faster, and their skin dries rapidly; in that case, you can apply the balm before (2nd wash).   

          We recommend balm with regenerative, protective, and anti-bacterial qualities, and also soothes itchy skin. 
          • When applying ointment, don’t use excessive amounts. A thin, consistent layer should be enough. Rub it in so that it isn’t clumped on; you should have a very thin, even layer on your tattoo.

          Example of thin, consistent layer:
          Tattoo balm sorry mom thin layer

          Example of too much ointment:

          Sorry Mom tattoo balm layer

          • Gently wipe off any excess.

          Cleaning tattoo

          Days 4 to 15

          • Repeat the same washing routine as the days before. 

          • Keep applying balm after washing the tattooed area. 

          NOTE: Bigger tattoos might require longer to heal, therefore increasing the washing routine one week more is recommended. 

          REMEMBER:   

          •  Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your tattoo. You should treat it like an It’s an open wound for the first two days, susceptible to all sorts of germs and bacteria, so you should always practice good hygiene.  

          • Use cold to lukewarm water when washing your tattoo. Hot water could potentially harm the tattooed area.   

          • Use only your hands to wash your tattoo. Towels, washcloths, or loofahs are too harsh and will exfoliate your raw skin. Do not scrub.  

          • If you are going to dry your tattoo, make sure you use soft fabrics or kitchen/toilet paper.   

          • Use one balm for one tattoo, so there won't be crossed infection between different tattoos.

          IMPORTANT: Your tattoo is not safe from germs or bacteria until after it’s scabbed and peeled, and even then, it is still important that you keep up with aftercare. 

          Things You Need to Know About Tattoo Aftercare

          • When you first remove the bandage your tattoo artist put on, you should expect your new tattoo to look swollen, red, bloody, and sometimes bruised.
          These are normal, temporary, bodily reactions to trauma, so don’t worry!
          Tattoo machines pierce the skin up to 3,000 times per minute, so yes, a little bit of blood and swelling should be expected. 
          • Your new tattoo will ooze all sorts of fluids the first few days including blood, clear plasma, lymphatic fluid, and ink. These are signs your body recognizes the trauma, and is sending cells to repair it. 

          Your tattoo might not look so great the first few days, but you’ll have to trust the process. 

          • Expect scabbing, itching, and flaking. Scabs are a protective layer that covers a wound on your skin, aka, the tattoo. It keeps out debris, bacteria, and germs.
          If scabs are forming, that’s a sign that your tattoo is healing properly and your body is doing what it can to repair itself.
          The downside to this protective layer is that it may itch a bit, but this should only last a few days. 
          • Your body may feel under-the-weather for a couple days, especially if you got a bigger tattoo. You might even feel like you’ve got a cold, which is surprisingly normal.

          The stress that you’ve put your body through can affect your immune system, and increase your chances of getting sick, but in a few days you should be feeling good as new!

          Keep in mind, the more often you get tattooed, the easier the process will be. 

          Stages of Tattoo Healing 

          Everyone’s healing process looks a little different, depending on their age, hygiene, and tattoo placement.

          Some places like your ribcage, where there isn’t a lot of fat or muscle, might take longer to heal than say, a bicep. Either way, everyone goes through similar healing processes. 

          This is an outline of a typical tattoo healing process:

          • Days 1-6: Your fresh tattoo will look red, swollen, and will still be oozing blood, plasma, lymphatic fluid, and ink. This is the messiest time during the healing process, but the oozing should subside after a few days. Scabs will begin to form over your tattoo.  

          • Days 7-14: The scabs might become itchy, and your skin will start to flake off. This is one of the most important parts of the healing process, because scabs and dead skin falling off will reveal new, healthier skin underneath. 

           Your tattoo will appear dry and dull during this time. Keep it moisturized.
          • Days 15-30: After the scabs and dead skin have flaked off, your tattoo is now fully healed. You shouldn’t experience any more swelling, bleeding, or ink leaching.

          Don’t fret if your tattoo still doesn’t look very crisp and bright; the deeper layers of your skin still need to repair themselves, which is why aftercare is still important even after your tattoo is healed. 

          Help Your Tattoo Heal With These Tips  

          Here are some tattoo tips you can follow to help your healing process along: 

          • Plasma that oozes from your new tattoo is what causes wounds to scab. Gently pat away wet plasma to keep it from forming big scabs that could dry out and crack. 

          • Use cold to lukewarm water to wash your tattoo. Water that is too hot can open up your pores and cause ink to leach out.   

          • If your skin is extra sensitive and hurts to pat dry after washing, you can use a hair dryer on a cool setting to dry your tattoo instead.  

          • Use old clean bed sheets that you don’t care about the first few nights after getting your tattoo. Your new tattoo will probably leak blood and ink, and stain your sheets.  

          • Make sure your tattoo is completely dry before you apply ointment. If not, it could trap moisture between your skin and the ointment, causing scabs to swell or become gooey.  

          • If your tattoo is really itchy, you can apply a cold compress. It’ll take away the itchiness immediately, without having to scratch. This should only be done after your skin’s top layer has completely healed.  

          • Drink LOTS of water. Your tattoo only looks as good as your skin. The more you hydrate, the better, and more vivid your tattoo will look.  

          • Do NOT listen to the advice of friends or family. A lot of people might say they know ways to quicken your tattoo’s healing process, but always stick to your artist’s instructions. 

            Tattoo Myths Busted 

            Although tattoos are becoming more commonplace, there are still troubling myths out there.

            It’s important to identify what is fact and fiction when it comes to tattoos:

            • “Donating blood with a tattoo is not allowed” 

            FALSE - You CAN donate blood one year after being tattooed.  
            • “You can’t get an MRI with a tattoo” 

            FALSE - Modern ink no longer has high levels of metals that used to react in MRIs. 
            • “Applying more ointment makes a tattoo heal faster” 

            FALSE - Applying more ointment can actually hurt the healing process because your skin won’t breathe properly.
            • “Getting in a chlorinated pool fades your new tattoo” 
            FALSE - Chlorine cannot cause the colors to leak or fade, because the ink is not in the top layers of your skin. The issue with chlorinated pools is that they expose your new tattoo to bacteria and germs that could cause infection. 
            • “Drinking alcohol or taking aspirin before a tattoo will help with the pain” 

            FALSE - These will thin your blood and cause even more bleeding while being tattooed. 
            • “The tattooing process ends when your artist finishes the tattoo” 

            FALSE - Aftercare is one of the most important parts of getting a tattoo. Skipping steps can cause the tattoo to lose color, shape, or get infected. 
            • “Tattoos will turn green and blue when you’re old” 

            FALSE - This used to be the case because of the quality of ink that was used decades ago. Now, inks are much more high-quality and durable. It’s still important to get touch-ups, though. 

            What NOT to Do After Getting a Tattoo

            There are many ways that tattoo healing can go wrong, and it could result in an infection or even a ruined tattoo.

            You should avoid the following to maintain a healthy, fabulous-looking tattoo:   

            Do NOT... 

            • Scratch, peel, pick, rub your tattoo 
            • Let your tattooed skin dry out 
            • Soak in a hot tub or go swimming 
            • Expose your tattoo to the sun for the first 2-3 weeks 
            • Wear tight clothing over your new tattoo, like bra straps or waistbands 
            • Exercise the first few days 
            • Shave on or near your new tattoo 
            • Wait to see a doctor. If your tattoo feels or looks infected, see a doctor ASAP 

            Signs of Infection 

            Differentiating what is normal tattoo healing versus what you should seek medical attention for can be tricky.

            Lucky for us, infections from tattoos are very rare these days, with only 0.5-6% of tattooed adults experiencing one. However, they are still a real possibility.

            If you experience the following, seek medical attention and contact your tattoo artist. 

            Here is a list of things that are NOT normal:  

            • Intense pain 
            • Worsening swelling 
            • Pus draining 
            • Firm bumps (granulomas) 
            • Excessive bleeding 
            • Photosensitivity (sunlight is painful) 
            • Fever, chills, sweats 

            How to Avoid Infection 

            To avoid the risk of infection from bacteria or a virus, it starts with picking the right tattoo shop.

            • Only trust places that are fully licensed, hygienic, and experienced. Do-it-yourself kits, stick and poke tattoos, or improper aftercare products could all cause serious infections, especially if they’re not done in the safety of a hygienic facility.
            • Cheaper is not always better, and sometimes paying a few extra bucks can make a big difference.
            • If you have a preexisting condition like eczema, diabetes, HIV, Hepatitis, or Hemophilia, you should disclose this information to your tattoo artist. These conditions could increase your risk of complications or infection.

            This isn’t to say the tattoo artist will turn you away, but they’ll need to take extra safety precautions when tattooing you. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to assessing the risks of getting a tattoo and avoiding infection. 

            • If you’re on medications like Accutane or blood thinners, consult with a doctor beforehand.

            Final thoughts

            Tattoo aftercare can seem daunting and overwhelming at first, but if you can sit through the pain of a tattoo, you can pretty much conquer anything.

            Follow your tattoo artist’s instructions diligently, and don’t skip on washing or moisturizing.

            Staying committed to your tattoo aftercare is essential for maintaining a healthy, spectacular-looking tattoo. 

            Follow this step-by-step guide and tips, and you’ll be healed and showing off your fresh ink in no time! 

              Our mission is to inspire and educate the tattoo community. We have combined our many years of experience in the industry and our love for tattoos to create useful and enlightening content. Join us in this exciting journey in the beautiful art of tattooing.
              Welcome to Sorry Mom.

              - Rasmus Cort Hansen, CEO & Founder