This is my preferred aftercare for most of my clients, particularly for larger sittings and more heavily worked areas. This is a less conventional method but tends to work well for larger tattoos, as well as for tattoos in awkward areas that will be covered with clothing, since clothing can cause irritation. If you found that your tattoos have healed poorly in the past, this method may be an effective alternative.
After you leave the studio you will have been cleaned and bandaged; remove the bandage after 3-4 hours and clean the skin with mild soap and warm water. After washing, gently pat it dry with a clean cloth or paper towel, then allow it to air-dry for 15 minutes. When the tattoo is dry to the touch, cover it completely with a new piece of plastic wrap, using small pieces of tape as needed to hold it in place. Do NOT use any healing ointment or moisturizer.
With this method, the tattoo is kept completely covered with plastic wrap 24 hours a day, usually for 48-72 hours. It is important to wash the tattoo every 4-6 hours or after any period of sweating, letting it completely air-dry afterwards, and applying a new piece of plastic wrap each time. It’s also important not to over-wrap the area, unnecessarily covering untattooed skin, which can trap excess moisture.
At this point, the tattoo has done a major portion of the healing process without yet forming a scab. The plastic should then be removed and the skin should be allowed to completely dry out and start the next phase. When the peeling begins after the initial 2-3 days, the tattooed skin will flake like a sunburn. At all costs, avoid picking at the cracked and flaking skin. The area may become dry and itchy and a good quality, fragrance-free lotion can now be used until the skin returns to its normal texture. For most people I recommend the use of Aquaphor, as it seems to greatly improve the experience and work well for the majority of people. You can find this at almost any store near the lotion or baby aisle.
Continue the moisturizing process AS NEEDED; there is no set limit and, depending on what you use, time will vary. I usually recommend moisturizing 2-3 times a day (again, AS NEEDED) so pay attention to your skin and if it dries out, simply reapply. After a few days and when the peeling has finished your initial heal is complete. Moisturizing your skin is not a bad habit so you are welcome to continue as you see fit.
Moisture can be very detrimental to the healing process. Too much plastic wrap on the surrounding untattooed skin—or not changing the wrap often enough—can lead to development of a moisture rash. This will appear as bright red irritation with tiny pimples around the effected area, and will likely feel painful and itchy. If this happens, do not re-wrap the tattoo or try to medicate it. Instead, let it dry completely and peel on its own. Apply lotion to the area once irritation has diminished.
After you leave the studio you will have been cleaned and bandaged; remove the bandage after 3-4 hours. Don’t remove the bandage until you can properly clean the tattoo with mild soap and warm water. Rinse it well, sloughing off as much of the slimy coating that may have formed over the tattooed area while underneath the bandage. Gently pat it dry with a clean cloth or paper towel, then allow it to air-dry for 15 minutes before applying ointment.
Apply Aquaphor ointment or a specialty tattoo-healing product to the tattoo as needed, massaging a very small amount into the skin to keep the tattoo slightly moist, but NOT smothered. Use just enough ointment to make the tattoo slightly shiny, and blot off any excess. For the first day or two, your tattoo may require more cleaning or blotting, as the traumatized skin will still be losing a small amount of fluid. Ensure that extra moisture doesn’t get trapped under the ointment, by blotting and air-drying after each washing.
The healing tattoo should never stay submerged in water. Therefore, limit yourself to only short showers until the tattoo has finished peeling. It’s also important that a fresh tattoo be protected from the sun and dirty environments, as it’s still an open wound at this time. All normal activities involving water or sun exposure can usually be resumed after 10-14 days.
Only apply ointment for as long as it takes for your tattoo to peel, usually 3-7 days. When the peeling begins, the tattooed skin will flake like a sunburn. At all costs avoid picking at the cracked and flaking skin. When the tattoo has fully entered the peeling phase you should NOT apply any more ointment. The area will become dry and itchy, and a good quality, fragrance-free lotion can now be used until the skin returns to its normal texture.
If bubbles form on the surface of the fresh tattoo, stop applying ointment, letting it dry and peel on its own. This bubbling is caused by moisture getting trapped in your tattoo, usually from too much ointment, and could lead to scabbing. If scabs develop, they can remove the color beneath them if prematurely removed. It’s important that they’re allowed to dry out completely, and not get waterlogged at any time. The scab will eventually fall off on its own, and the tattoo should be fine if no deep cracks have formed.
A combination of methods 1 and 2 is NOT recommended. Please only use one or the other.
Remember that until your new tattoo peels, it’s an open wound, and needs to be treated as one. Give your tattoo the time and attention it needs to properly heal. Engaging in actions such as swimming, tanning, removing the bandage early, and general disregard for it, are done at your own peril. If you suspect an infection has developed, please seek medical attention immediately, as untreated tattoo infections can have very serious consequences.