Tattoo Aftercare to Promote Healing and Prevent Infection

You’ve finally gotten the tattoo you’ve always wanted…now what? A tattoo is actually a medical procedure, so you’ll need to carefully follow aftercare instructions to promote proper healing and prevent infection.

According to Greg Symenow, PA-C, BetterMed Urgent Care’s Director of Clinical Operations, “The most important steps to keep your new artwork looking its best are to keep it clean and not scratch at it.  Following the recommendations of your specific artist for care and maintenance is best.”

See how to care for your new artwork to keep the design crisp, the colors vibrant, and to protect the ink of your dreams from nightmarish side effects.

Tattoo Aftercare

You’ll leave your appointment with your new tattoo wrapped in a bandage, and with aftercare instructions from your tattoo artist. These might include the following:

  • Don’t rewrap your tattoo. Your artist will tell you how long to keep their bandage on (typically between 3-6 hours), after which time you should leave the artwork uncovered to promote healing.
  • Keep it clean. Your body will treat your new tattoo just like any other wound, so it’s important to keep it clean while it heals. Don’t touch your healing tattoo with dirty hands (your own, or anyone else’s!), wash gently with lukewarm water and an antibacterial fragrance-free soap, pat dry.
  • Moisturize. Your artist will recommend an aftercare product, which may be a specific tattoo formulation or an over-the-counter drugstore product. Whatever they recommend, be sure to follow the instructions for how much and how often to apply – remember that the wound needs to be exposed to oxygen in order to heal, so don’t smother it in a thick layer of product.
  • Don’t pick or scratch! Just like any wound, a tattoo will flake and scab as it heals, and it will probably also be itchy from time to time. Resist the urge to scratch or to pick, as you might introduce infection or leave a scar in the middle of your new artwork. For intense itching, washing and reapplying your moisture product may help – if not, consider taking an over-the-counter antihistamine like Benadryl.
  • Limit certain activities. Swimming, soaking in a bath or hot tub, saunas, steam rooms, sun exposure, alcohol consumption, and vigorous exercise too soon after getting a new tattoo can interfere with your healing and possibly dim the colors and crispness of your tattoo. Live your life, but if you can resist any of these activities during your initial healing, you’ll reduce your chance of infection and protect your tattoo investment.

In Case of Infection

When your skin has received thousands of needle punctures, there’s going to be a distinct possibility of infection. Follow aftercare instructions to limit your risk, but be aware of these signs of infection:

  • Rash, or red, bumpy skin on or around the tattoo
  • Fever, feelings of being hot and cold, shivering
  • Swelling around the tattooed area
  • Red lesions or streaking around the area
  • Large amounts of pus leaking from the tattoo (almost all new tattoos will produce some level of drainage, but excessive amounts can indicate infection)

If any of these symptoms appear and last for more than a day or two, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention from your primary care doctor or at an urgent care like BetterMed. Your symptoms might turn out to be just a normal part of the healing process, but with potentially serious complications like hepatitis, tetanus, and staph infection possible, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Symenow adds, “Should the tattoo become infected, you should be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible to have it treated!  This will prevent scarring and keep the tattoo looking its best.”


Once the surface layer of your tattoo finishes healing, your artwork will continue to settle for another couple of months as the lower layers of skin continue to heal. Keep up with your moisturizing routine to nourish skin from the outside, drink plenty of water to hydrate skin from the inside, and gradually return to normal activities like swimming and sweating.

Once you’re fully healed, the lines and colors will return to the vision that you and your artist first dreamed up, and you can go out to flash that new ink!