Table of contents for Your First Tattoo
So, your new tattoo is finished, and you’ve looked at it in the mirror and you and the artist are both happy with it. Now what?
It may help to remember that you’ve just created a wound in your skin. It’s more attractive than falling down and skinning your knee, to be sure, but it’s still damage done to your epidermis by lots and lots of needle punctures, so you need to take care of it so that it will heal promptly and properly.
Do not let the artist slap plastic wrap over it. This is the most essential thing to remember. Your skin will be weeping fluid and ink and debris, and you do not want that stuff trapped next to the surface where it will provide prime real estate for germs. Make sure you get a bandage or a large sterile gauze pad, and if possible, ask the artist to use paper tape to attach it to your skin. Many people develop allergies to standard adhesive tape, and keeping it away from a fresh opening in your skin is a sensible precaution.
You will be tempted to peel off the bandaging as soon as possible so that you can look at your new ink, but don’t do it. You will have plenty of time to look at it later, and you want it to heal properly so it will look good forever. Many artists advise leaving the bandage on for several hours, then taking it off and washing the skin with a gentle soap or cleaner and warm water. My own recommendation, based on my experiences, is that you want to leave the bandage on till the next morning. Your skin will continue to weep overnight and you don’t want to get stuck to your sleeper or your sheets.
Once the bandage is off (you can soak it in warm water if it’s stuck) then wash the skin very, very gently. Some people recommend liquid skin cleansers or body wash, but I’d go with soap that has the fewest extra ingredients in it. You don’t want to cause any irritation at this point. Pat the skin dry very, very gently with a soft towel. Let it air dry for a few minutes after that.
Then, you will need to apply your artist’s protective coating of choice. Many artists advise against using anything containing petroleum jelly (Vaseline). Some artists take the alternate approach and advise using A&D Ointment. Some recommend a particular brand of lotion. Others call for tattoo-specific aftercare products like Tattoo Goo or Black Cat. (Burt’s Bees Hand Salve contains almost the same ingredients as Tattoo Goo, and I’ve used that very successfully.)
Listen to your artist. He or she has years of experience with the products he/she recommends. Follow the artist’s instructions. You are going to be applying some kind of protective coating to your skin for quite a while, so be sure that if your tattoo is under clothing, it’s clothing that won’t show stains. I went to the thrift store and bought several lightweight, loose-fitting, front-buttoning blouses in highly patterned fabric before I got my back piece done. They did not show ink stains and I could simply discard them when the healing process was complete. This was important, because I had a job that involved meeting the public every day and I needed to look professional and still let my ink heal.
The tattoo will scab over (remember, it’s a wound in your skin). All of us grew up picking scabs. It’s a horrible temptation. But don’t do it. You just paid for all that lovely ink and you’ll be picking it right off. Let the scabs flake off by themselves, difficult as it will be to keep your hands off. The skin will itch as it heals. Resist the urge to scratch. I had some luck with slapping the itchy places lightly. You may get some swelling and some places may be crustier or itchier than others. (We all react to different ink colors differently.) All of this is normal. But if you are concerned about any of the healing process, talk with your artist. He or she can give you plenty of practical suggestions.
Once the skin is healed, I’d recommend using a good quality lotion on it to keep the colors vibrant. And always wear sunscreen when you go outside (good practice anyway, but it will help keep your colors from fading). Show off your ink proudly. You’re now part of the multicolored world!
Next time, I’ll talk about some uncommon reactions.