Getting a tattoo is, as everyone has no doubt told you, a very big step. Ink, after all, is pretty permanent, with removal being costly, painful, and not guaranteed to return your skin to its pristine state. First rule of tattoos: never, ever get the name of a significant other inked on your skin, as conventional cynicism says a breakup is sure to follow. Exceptions, of course, can be made for the names of your kids, your pets, or any other close family members, as well as for any loved ones who have passed away. Rule number two would have to be, if you must have a tattoo containing words, triple-check your spelling and grammar, then make absolutely sure your tattooist does likewise. A corollary to this second rule would be, if you don’t know the language, don’t get the tat. Otherwise, your allegedly ancient Sanskrit “peace, love, and understanding” could turn out to be the modern Arabic words for “camel poop.”
After you’ve gotten the tattoo, there’s little you can do about any of the above, except maybe only date people with the same name or develop an affinity for dromedary digestive byproduct. There are, however, certain mistakes you should avoid when it comes to aftercare in order to keep your tat looking tip-top. In order to get some advice on what you should and shouldn’t do with your new tattoo, The List spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Mullans, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Houston’s Uptown Dermatology.
Not taking care of your skin
One thing Mullans says is a real problem with people who’ve just gotten tattoos is that they may not be taking proper care of their newly-needled skin. As she tells us, “Poor aftercare can lead to an infection.” Okay, so what, exactly, constitutes proper aftercare?
Mullans says you should always wash your hands with soap and water before you attempt to clean the tattoo. You should then use unscented antibacterial soap to gently clean the tattooed skin, rinsing well with water. Gently pat your skin dry, then apply a thin layer of either an antibiotic ointment or a protective barrier cream such as Aquaphor to the tattooed area. Mullans also recommends you “avoid baths, swimming, and hot tubs until the tattoo has healed.” Showering should be perfectly fine, although Authority Tattoo does say that some tattoo artists prefer you wait 24 hours after receiving your tattoo before taking that first shower.
Picking at your skin
When you get a tattoo, you’re also going to get some scabbing. Tattoo Goo says that scabbing usually starts at around day three, and light to moderate scabbing is a perfectly normal part of the whole tattoo healing process. Not only will you be scabby, but you’ll probably experience itching and maybe some flaking skin — in fact, you can expect super-sensitive skin in the tattooed area for about two weeks.
Whatever you do, don’t pick at the scabs or peel the flaking skin, and also try your best not to scratch too hard. Mullans says “picking the scabs or peeling dead skin can cause infection … and scarring.” If that’s not enough to scare you, she says you’re also imperiling the integrity of your skin art, adding that irritating your skin in such a fashion can cause “uneven pigment in the tattoo.” Instead, she suggests you use a soothing gel that can take away the pain and itch without harming the skin. One brand she suggests is called Mad Rabbit, while Tattoo Goo and other manufacturers also sell similar lotions and gels specifically formulated for tattoo aftercare. Chances are, the shop where you got your tattoo done will have such products in stock.
If you get your tattoo in wintertime, you may not have the problem of sun exposure — unless, that is, you’ve gotten tattooed on your face and/or neck. In summertime, however, most tattoos stand a chance of seeing some sun, but they shouldn’t have to face it without protection. Mullans warns that “not using sunscreen causes tattoos to fade when [they are] exposed to sunlight.” She recommends that you use a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF, and you should remember to re-apply it if you’ll be out in the sun all day. (We would add “and also after swimming,” but Mullans already mentioned that you shouldn’t be swimming with a new tattoo at all.) She also recommends wearing clothing sufficiently opaque so as to protect your tattoo from the sun.
If you somehow manage to get too much sun despite following all of Mullans’ recommended precautions, what can you do with a sunburned tattoo? Tattoodo says you should apply aloe vera gel ASAP, but you’ve also most likely extended your tattoo’s healing period so you’ll need to take extra precautions against sun damage until it’s entirely healed. You may even need to visit a doctor for some antibiotics should your sun exposure cause a skin rash, and in the event your new tattoo has started to fade, another trip to the tattoo parlor may be in order for some color retouching.
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