How to take care of a tattoo

The aftercare for a tattoo is more simple than one might think. It can be painful if you’re doing it right, at least for the first few days.

The object here is not to let your tattoo scab up. The only way to do that is to keep it clean and moist. Your question is how do I do that…

The First Step

Well, first of all, you want to not let any blood, plasma, lotion, or anything else that might be on the tattoo build up, and you for sure don’t want that stuff to dry on your tattoo! A tattoo will leak and have some buildup for the first 12 to 24 hours, and if it goes on longer than that, then that is your first sign that something is wrong! If you apply too much lotion or things like Aquaphor, A&D, or other oil based products, all you’re doing is clogging your pores. Your tattoo and skin have no choice but to sweat and leak, which will cause small amounts of ink to start coming out, making it super hard to keep clean. Many people have their way of doing things, but I can assure you no one has ever had a problem doing it the way I listed above. The Aquaphor can actually be okay when used correctly, but most people don’t use it the way it should be done, so I never recommend it. Most artists just use aftercare that they were told and don’t know why they tell people to do it. I personally have a hundred reasons why I do things like this. It works and it’s hard to mess up. The common mistake is doing too much and caking whatever it is you use on top and suffocating the tattoo and skin. This often leads to ingrown hairs and infections. The longer the tattoo is open, the better your chance of getting staph or anything else.

You want your tattoo to feel like your normal skin. It should not feel or look any different other than it might be swollen or painful like a bad sunburn. A tattoo that is done right will still have all the pores intact and should not be leaking any kind of fluid from it after 12 hours, or sometimes a little more. The first two days are VERY important. After that, you have already done everything you can do for the most part.

What to Use

So, step one is the same day you get the tattoo, you want to have two things: Lubriderm or Curel lotion (water-based with no smelly stuff), and liquid dial antibacterial soap. The best one is the plain orange colored one. You want to uncover the tattoo anywhere from 2-4 hours after you get it. Take a shower (not a bath). You cannot hurt a tattoo with running water, it’s not going anywhere. Take some of the dial soap and clean it just like you would clean your body. I recommend using your hand, but make sure you clean your hands first. Use colder water than normal – remember, it will be just like a bad sunburn. It will burn if you get it under hot water, or the sun for that matter. Using the cold/warm water and dial soap, you want to make sure that you get any blood in the tattoo off of it. It’s hard to see the blood in darker colors; look close at the lighter shades or colors like yellow or white to get a good idea if it’s clean or not. Sometimes you can’t even feel a thin layer of plasma over the top of it.

Shower and Lotion

Step two is getting out of the shower making sure you pat dry the tattoo. Do not rub it with a towel; it can open up a small area and you have basically started over back to square one. Once it’s dry, give it about 5 minutes and just make sure it’s not leaking out any blood or plasma. At this time, you’re going to want to take a small portion of the Lubriderm and rub it in, ALL THE WAY IN! This is important. You don’t want to gob it on there. You’ll make the tattoo sweat, and you should know by now that that is not good, since it will push out ink and it will just make more buildup on the tattoo that has to be taken off later. Or worse, it dries on there and then you have to deal with scabs. So rub it all the way in. You don’t walk around with a glob of lotion on your face so don’t do it on your tattoo. This is where the pain comes in – yes it hurts, and yes it burns, but a few days of this is better than a few weeks of scabs and a touch-up at a later date.

Must Read This Part

All the lotion is for is preventing the tattoo from drying out. It’s not a healing agent!

The first washing and lotion is the worst. It gets better every time you do it. After the second or third time, it will not hurt near as bad. The pictures below are not to scare you; they are to help and show you what not to do.


This is just bad all the way around. You cannot let this happen as a client. Don’t get me wrong, this is as much the artist’s fault as the client’s, but the client did nothing to help out. Don’t just let your tattoo do whatever it wants. (artist unknown)


There is clearly something wrong here. The tattoo was beat up, and the client is doing the right thing by letting it dry out, but it should not have gone this far. This is what happens to suffocated tattoos in hard-to-heal areas. This could be anywhere from 2 – 3 weeks later, and this hurts way worse than the lotion. RUB IT IN! (artist unknown)

You are going to want to repeat these steps depending on when you get your tattoo at least 5 times for the first couple of days. So if you get tattooed at 10:00 am then you are going to want to do this 2 times before you go to bed. If you get tattooed at 10:00 pm then once before bed is good. Both ways, you will want to get up right away in the morning first thing and take a shower again. If you just got a small tattoo where you can do it without a shower, that’s fine, but I recommend the same steps for every tattoo.

Rule of Thumb

A good rule of thumb is to keep doing this same step until your tattoo starts to peel. After that, then no need to wash it any differently than your regular shower. A tattoo that is done right should not really scab depending on the area. Sometimes there is no way around it, but you can still help it out by following these instructions. Any areas that you bend, like the knees, the ditch of your arm, arm pit, shoulder area, or any area where you have cracks/ wrinkles in your skin, are hard to take care of. But by staying on top of it and making sure there is no buildup, you will make it way easier on yourself. Anyone that has had these areas tattooed will tell you that once you let it get out of control, it can take months to heal. Notice all the pictures below have one thing in common: they don’t have a shine and lotion caked all over them. After you get a few tattoos, you should know more about how your body heals, and you can wash and lotion a little more or less. But it is key to not suffocate it.


Another tattoo about to start peeling. A little dry, but not bad. Guessing day 3 or 4. (artist unknown)


Another good tattoo and good job healing. A little heavy, but for a foot, it’s expected. Guessing day 5 – 7. (artist unknown)


Should be about day 5 – 7. Good job on this as well (artist unknown)

Look, this is not rocket science, but you would be surprised how bad you can mess up your own tattoo and how painful you can make this on yourself. To break it down, it’s really simple:

  1. Wash with dial antibacterial soap
  2. Pat dry
  3. Apply small amount of Lubriderm lotion
  4. And repeat. You really can’t do this too many times the first 48-60 hours.

Like I said, you can’t hurt it with soap and water and the lotion. As long as you rub it all the way in and use a very small amount, you are golden.


Don’t forget that to keep a tattoo looking fresh, always use sunblock anytime you are in the sun. One summer in the sun without sunscreen will damage, if not ruin, a tattoo. Protect your investment! It does not hurt to keep it shaved or trimmed for you guys who don’t believe in that sort of thing. Manscaping is not a bad thing, and once you get the hair off of it, add some lotion. It will look like it did the day you got it. Support your local tattoo shop by shaving and adding lotion.

I hope this helps. If you have an artist that does not recommend this way, then he is clearly trying to make money selling you some tattoo goo, or he just does not know why he is telling you different. I would ask you to ask him why he suggests something other than Dial and Lubriderm. I am not asking you start an argument, but maybe you can save the artist from giving any further bad directions, and he or she will look into why they say what they say.