How to care for a new tattoo

tattoo_blog_largeA tattoo can be a special way to mark an important milestone in your life or simply to express your personal style, but if you don’t take good care of your new tattoo, it can easily become infected.

“The first five to seven days is the golden time of healing,” says Richard Schlanger, MD, of the Comprehensive Wound Center at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Schlanger says the basic tenants of tattoo aftercare are simple but very important.

  • Keep it clean – use soap and water, preferably a medicated or antimicrobial soap daily
  • Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment until the wound is completely healed
  • Cover it with a dressing to protect the area

If you've done your research and chosen a good tattoo artist, you should get detailed instructions on how to care for your new tattoo. Follow these instructions carefully.

As your tattoo heals, you can expect peeling and flaking to occur, similar to a sun burn.

Activities to avoid

A tattoo, in basic terms, is a puncture wound filled with ink, and there are activities you should avoid in the first few weeks of healing.

Schlanger advises against going into the ocean or lakes, and says to avoid sweating excessively for the first few days. “You want to avoid soaking the wound because the salt and bacteria on your skin can get into the wound,” he says.

Light exercise is fine, but stay away from gym environments that are known for germs that could get into your tattoo and cause an infection like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). While most of these infections aren't serious and can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics, some can be limb or life threatening.

Other things to avoid:

  • Tight or restrictive clothing on the area with your new tattoo, especially at first.
  • Direct sunlight. The sun's harsh rays can cause your skin to blister or bleach the colors of your tattoo.

If you’re vigilant in the care of your tattoo, it’s likely that it will heal without any problems. “Use common sense, be smart,” Schlanger says.

Warning Signs

If you do experience any of these symptoms after the procedure, Schlanger says don’t be afraid to call a medical professional.

  • Increased redness around the tattoo (some initial redness is normal)
  • Worsening Pain
  • Drainage
  • Fever
  • Tattoo distortion