How to Take Care of Your Tattoo

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 07, 2021
2 min read

You finally did it. You got the tattoo you always wanted. It’s bright and it’s colorful. But now you have to take care of it to make sure you don’t get a skin infection. So how do you even know what the right steps are? Should you trust the tattoo artist? Ask your dermatologist?

It depends on where you live, really. In the United States there are few guidelines for tattooing, and even fewer for aftercare.

Currently, in the U.S.:

  • Seven states have no regulations at all on tattoos.
  • Six states license tattooists but don't have any aftercare rules.
  • Thirty states license tattoo artists and require written or verbal instructions on aftercare.
  • Only seven states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and North Dakota -- require tattoo artists to provide their customers with aftercare instructions mandated by the public health department.

Dermatologists think this needs to change so that everyone who gets a tattoo also gets instructions on how to take care of it to prevent infections and serious complications.

So, how can you make sure that new tattoo is something you don’t end up regretting? Follow these steps while your new tattoo heals.

  1. Be sure your artist covers your new tattoo in a thin layer of petroleum jelly and a bandage.
  2. Remove the bandage after 24 hours. Gently wash the tattoo with antimicrobial soap and water and be sure to pat dry.
  3. Apply a layer of antibacterial/Vaseline ointment twice a day, but don’t put on another bandage.
  4. Gently wash your tattoo area twice a day with soap and water and gently pat dry before reapplying the antibacterial/Vaseline ointment. 
  5. Keep applying a moisturizer or ointment after you clean it to keep it moist.

You should repeat this process for 2 to 4 weeks. Also try not to wear clothes that will stick to your tattoo, and avoid swimming and the sun for about 2 weeks. And take cool showers. Scalding hot water will not only hurt, but it can also fade the ink. Wear a physical blocker sunscreen with at least 7% zinc oxide sunscreen during the daylight hours and/or cover it up (with clothing, a bandage).

If your tattoo scabs a bit or develops hard layers, don’t worry. It’s normal. But never pick, scratch, or peel it. You could get an infection or remove the color. If you think your tattoo is infected, or isn’t healing properly, go see your doctor.

When you leave the tattoo shop, your ink will look like a million bucks. It will be bright and shiny. That’s not going to last. The tattoo will fade over time. Always put sunscreen on it, especially in the summer, to keep the colors bright -- SPF 45 or higher is best.

And moisturize it daily, especially if it’s on an area of your body, such as your hands, where it can fade quickly.

Show Sources


Mayo Clinic: “Tattoos: Understand Risks and Precautions.”

Inked Magazine, “9 Essential Tips for Tattoo Aftercare.”

JAMA Dermatology: “The Need for Greater Regulation, Guidelines, and a Consensus Statement for Tattoo Aftercare.”


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