wound care

Tattoo Aftercare – How Much Lotion Should I Use On My New Tattoo?

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Modern tattoo aftercare products offer a bevy of options for the discerning tattoo client – but how often should you use it, and what lotion is best for your new tattoo?

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What does Traditional Tattoo Aftercare say to Do?

hand and lotion being put on it

It’s easy to fall into the trap of a one-size-fits-all application for taking care of your tattoo. In fact, most tattoo shops give out a simple aftercare routine regardless of the individual or their skin type. Most often the aftercare routine says something like this:

  1. Don’t pick your scabs.
  2. Wash your tattoo with antibacterial soap.
  3. Keep your tattoo moisturized with something like Aquaphor. (Don’t use Aquaphor on your new tattoo!)
  4. Don’t go swimming.

These 4 simple instructions are a kind of foundation of care for any wound that is healing. I couldn’t see a rational person picking the hell out of a surgical incision that is healing so, and this may be a stretch given the climate of selfcare in a pandemic state, I want to believe every person out there can assume the first rule of aftercare is a no-brainer.

Here is a video as to why the second isn’t a good idea:

The same goes with the fourth rule and we wrote an article about why it isn’t safe to swim with a fresh tattoo (if you click on the highlighted section above it will take you to the article).

That leaves us with number 2. This is where the entire aftercare routine breaks down.

What Lotion is Best for My New Tattoo?

Realistically, the best lotion is the one that you are already using. Your skin adapts to products that are applied to it. If you have been using a lotion for a while it will take up to a month for that product to leave the cells that make up your skin. Everything you put in your skin literally becomes a part of it.

If you don’t already moisturize your tattoo, you may need to pick up some before the tattoo session. So, what lotion is best for your tattoo?

  • If you use a lot of fragrance in your day-to-day life, pick anything off the shelf that you like and would be willing to use every day.
  • Would you prefer to avoid fragrances because you are sensitive to them? Pick something fragrance free and avoid the aggravation.
  • Do you have really dry skin? Pick a cream instead of a lotion for that extra moisture you crave.

Regardless the recommendation of your artist, you know your skin. Choose something that you know you would be happy to use and avoid their pigeonholed approach to skin care.

How Much Lotion Should I Put on A New Tattoo?

First off, don’t listen to your tattoo artist’s recommendation as to how often you should moisturize your tattoo unless they are a dermatologist. The same goes for your friends and family. No matter what they tell you is “smart” or “good for your tattoo” is most likely wrong. I am not saying Aunt Deb, with her telehealth job and her 6 cats are giving bad advice about how to care for your tattoo but, in all honesty, taking care of a tattoo is so complex that you would need to be a dermatologist to give good advice (If your Aunt Deb is a dermatologist, please listen to her!)

When is comes to skin care there are 3 things that influence the amount of lotion you should use to take care of your tattoo:

  1. What skin type, complexion and tone you have.
  2. Your lifestyle.
  3. Your general health.

Let’s count them down backwards because the first one is the most important factor, and I will probably rant a bit about the industry and why this aspect of aftercare is most commonly ignored (see I am already doing it!)

healing tattoo that is flaky
Photo by massdistraction

#3 – Your General Health – As It Relates to Tattoo Aftercare.

If you are healthy then your body is working properly. wounds heal at the rate your biology dictates, and you are less likely to pick up an infection after a tattoo session. If you have any chronic disease, or if there are change in your body’s general health, a tattoo will heal differently when compared to you being healthy.

Chronic diseases include anything autoimmune related, cancers, substance abuse related deficiencies or anything that isn’t considered transient in the medical community.

Non-chronic changes in your body that can influence the tattoo healing include being on a menstrual cycle, recouping after exertion (think running a marathon), coming back after being sick with the flu or other viruses.

Anything that can affect your body’s ability to heal is going to affect the outcome of the tattoo.

Common sense, right?!

#2 Your Lifestyle

Getting a tattoo shouldn’t change how you live your life. You shouldn’t be quarantined for a week waiting for the scabs to fall off. You shouldn’t be emerging as a newly formed person from a chrysalis of lotion applying boredom, hiding in a closet until the coast is clear. The tattoo should be a part of your life as soon as the procedure is done!

At the same time, if you are a stone mason who likes to work without gloves, getting a hand tattoo at the start of a busy work week may not be the best idea!

When it comes to picking a time or place for your tattoo, think about what you do and how you choose to enjoy life. Plan your tattoo around your lifestyle and it will surely heal much faster.

Now onto the big one – your skin type, tone, and complexion!

color palette skin tones

#1 Your Skin Type, Tone, And Complexion.

Not everyone is the same. Our uniqueness is something that should be admired. So why do tattoo shops give 1 aftercare routine to every person?

I have no idea, but it drives me crazy!

Each person takes care of their skin in different ways. Let’s paint a word picture to start comparing how different we are:

  • Gary is a retired steel worker who rides his hog every day, regardless the weather.
  • Chantal is a style editor for Ebony magazine. 
  • Kay is a mathematician working with the NCBI developing treatment protocols.
  • Steven busks for cash on the west coast.

What picture did you get of each person’s skin? Color doesn’t matter but lifestyle sure does!

I use this example commonly when talking to tattoo artists who are getting training on aftercare products, media literacy, and general shop management training. It’s a simple way to get the point across that people look different. If people look different, they most likely take care of themselves differently. Each culture, society, topographical designation, age, and belief structure influences an individual and how they care for themselves. That is why a holistic approach to aftercare is needed for every client that gets a tattoo, regardless the 3-step-rule to skin care being offered across the western world.

You can read more about skin complexion and tone by following the link to our article:

Skin Color, Tone, and Complexion – What it Means for Your Tattoo?

How You Take Care of Your Skin Influences Tattoo Aftercare.

If you take care of your skin, you can consider it healthy, right?

Like we assumed before, being healthy means you heal at the rate your biology dictates and you are less likely to get an infection. So, what makes for healthy skin?

Keeping your skin moisturized ensures your skin is healthy, most of the time.

People with darker colored skin take better care of their skin. They know what it is like to be ashy, to have to exfoliate, and to use products that ensure their skin stays hydrated throughout the day. Compare that with most light skinned people who refuse (a societal thing for some white dudes out there) to ever moisturize, the health of their skin, as an independent organ, is not as healthy as their fellow humans who have a skin care routine.

Lettuce Head Woman Healthy Skin? How much lotion do you need?

I am not claiming everyone with light toned skin is ashy as all get up (well, maybe….). Lifestyle and general health also go into the mix here! We can make another assumption that if you moisturize your skin everyday but eat McDonalds 3x daily that your skin health may not be as good as a person who never moisturizes but lives with a healthy diet.

Bodies are complex, so why are we giving out a single aftercare routine?

Your Complexion Dictates Which Products to Use.

If you have oily skin, you shouldn’t use an occlusive to heal your tattoo. That goes as well for anyone living in a humid climate, below sea level, or those who have a sensitive skin condition. The same can be said for people who have very dry skin. People with dry skin shouldn’t use a basic lotion once a day to care for their tattoo.

Common sense should take part in the assignment of which products should be used when feeling your skin.

Using these assumptions let’s make a list of how to care for the new tattoo, shall we?

How Often Should I Lotion My New Tattoo?

  • If you take care of your skin, you shouldn’t moisturize more than 1x-2x daily with a lotion that you already use on your skin. Your microbiome, which is established through your everyday activities, diet, and lifestyle doesn’t need to be upended to create a healthy environment for your skin. In fact, introducing another foreign product into your lifestyle can stress your immune system more than help, especially when you are healing a wound.
  • If you don’t take care of your skin often and you don’t live in an extreme climate 2x daily of a regular type of lotion should be good enough. Don’t exceed 3x daily.
  • If you live in an extreme climate or have very dry skin you should use a lotion 1x-2x daily, along with a nightly occlusive (oil based) moisturizer.
  • In all cases –> moisturize the entire body part that has been tattooed, not just the tattoo itself. Example – if you have a tattoo on the inside of your forearm you should moisturize the entire forearm.
  • Don’t touch your tattoo to see if it is dry. Touch the skin about 3″ away from the new tattoo and see how that skin feels. If you are moisturizing the entire area of the body that got tattooed, you can just touch a non-broken section of skin and not introduce bacteria from your nasty ass hands. If the skin away from the tattoo feels dry, then you can add more moisturizer.
  • Don’t over moisturize! Putting on too much aftercare products will make your skin itchy and increase the cellular turnover rate of your skin. It can also increase the chances of you picking up an infection because you keep touching your tattoo. This will make the healing time extend past what is considered normal.

Too Complicated?

Use this widget to find out how any times you need to moisturize after you have found the brand you want to use:

In Closing

You know your skin better than any tattoo artist out there. Trust in your own understanding before being pigeonholed into an aftercare that doesn’t fit you or your lifestyle.