male tattoo artist working on creating a new tattoo, with the tattoo gun in hand

Tattoo Aftercare Myths and Mistakes

It’s one of the most important steps in getting a new tattoo, yet far too many people find themselves dealing with unnecessary challenges and complications. Avoid infections, rapid fading and more by practicing proper tattoo aftercare!

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Congratulations! You designed your perfect tattoo, found an artist capable of making it a reality and saved up the money necessary. It’s officially time to get the ink you’ve been craving, and I couldn’t be happier for you!

Whether this is your first tattoo or your fiftieth, getting new ink is always a fun and exciting time. There are a lot of articles out there walking you through the importance of finding the best tattoo artist for the style of work you have chosen as well as spotting clean and safe tattoo studios in order to prevent any unnecessary health complications. However, were you aware that you could walk away from even the cleanest studio and best tattoo artist and STILL wind up with poor healing or an infection simply due to your aftercare choices?

It’s a topic that often isn’t addressed at length. Many people will tell you simply to listen to the tattoo artist that you select and follow their instructions, which is solid advice – until it isn’t. Every day clients walk away from tattoo parlours across the country and around the globe either with misguided misinformation or a lack of information at all!

In fact, after a long conversation with a tattoo artist recently it was pointed out that many well-meaning tattoo artists looking to save their clients time, energy and money may actually be setting them up for problems down the road. How so?

Let’s Take A Look At Some Of The Most Common Tattoo Aftercare Myths And Mistakes:

Dial Soap is NOT the Best ‘Budget’ Option

This is one of the oldest myths in the book. All you have to do is Google ‘best soaps to clean tattoos’ and you will find yourself met with a list of options. Among them is often the ‘Gold Antibacterial Hand Soap’ by Dial. However, recommending this soap could lead to some uncomfortable irritation or worse!

The truth is that, unlike many of the slightly costlier options suggested, Dial brand soaps include a number of harsher detergents that may actually irritate your skin. This isn’t a problem exclusive to those with sensitive skin, either. Don’t forget that you just had ink injected into your skin over and over again over a period of time, so your skin is already irritated. As a result, products that wouldn’t bother you normally may now.

Here are the ingredients of Dial Gold Antibacterial Hand Soap according to the company’s website: “Active Ingredient: Benzalkonium Chloride 0.13% Inactive Ingredients: Aqua (Water, Eau), Lauramidopropylamine Oxide, Glycerin, Lauramine Oxide, Cetrimonium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Zinc Sulfate, Myristamidopropylamine Oxide, Parfum (Fragrance), Dimethyl Lauramine, Tetrasodium EDTA, Alcohol, Dimethyl Myristamine, Cl 19140 (Yellow 5), Cl 14700 (Red 4), Butylphenyl, Methylpropianol, Coumarin, Linalool”

Keeping in mind that, for example, most tattoo artists will tell you to select a fragrance-free product, you will already identify at least one ingredient of concerns. A little research and you’ll find that this isn’t the gentle product you were hoping for!

Avoid Using Bar Soap

Not only will this point impact your decisions regarding tattoo aftercare, but it very well may impact your choice of shower products moving forward! While many tattoo artists will remind you not to use scented products or those with unnecessary dyes and harsh chemicals, many will forget to mention the significant difference between using bar soap and liquid soaps.

Bar soaps are a breeding ground for bacteria, providing them with an ideal environment to grow and live in the ‘slime’ that exists on the outside of the bar. While the level of bacteria found on a bar of soap is generally so small that it won’t get you sick, when you are dealing with a tattoo you are dealing with the equivalent of an open wound. Any unnecessary bacteria contamination is too much!

Related: ’10 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid After Getting A New Tattoo’

Only Purchase Products in a Tube

Speaking of bacteria, consider the packaging of your products when selecting tattoo care products. While many products are sold in tubs or jars, this style of packaging may actually be exposing you to unnecessary contamination. Why? Each time you go to apply the product, you are reaching into the jar and, inevitably, touching not only the portion of the product you are about to use but also some of the product that will remain in the jar when you are finished. The product is also exposed to airborne contaminants during this time.

Instead, select a product that is sold in a tube or pump bottle. This will allow you to take just the product that you need, leaving the rest uncontaminated for later use.

This also goes for sample products that you may receive from your tattoo artist. Your artist may provide you with sample tattoo aftercare products for a number of reasons. They may be partnering up with a specific company, making a commission off the sales of their products and therefore hoping to influence the purchase habits of their clients with free samples. However, they may simply be looking to encourage better aftercare habits, aware that many people will skim over their recommendations in favour of the cheapest or most readily available option after they leave.

If these samples are provided in small single-use packets, rock on! Check out the new products and do your due diligence looking into ingredients, etc. This is a great way to discover new products. If, however, you see your tattoo artist scooping product out of a giant tub into smaller containers you should either politely decline or simply take the product and dispose of it rather than using it after you leave. Why? You don’t know what contaminants that large jar has been exposed to each time it has been opened up. Furthermore, the container you receive is likely a tub-like container leading to more contamination with use. You don’t have to be rude about it, but it’s your body and your job to protect it!

Chemical Products vs. Natural Products

As a society, we have made a significant shift toward reducing or eliminating the use of unnecessary chemical products in our lives. This has come as the result of significant research into not only the impact of these products on ourselves but also on the environment around us as a whole. Contrary to popular belief (and there are many out there that will continue to argue this point), there are some GREAT natural products for your tattoo aftercare. Just because a chemical-based product has been around in the industry for forever, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best!

The tattoo industry includes a whole spectrum of tattoo artists. There will be plenty out there who are open-minded, even going to great lengths to ensure that they are up to date on the newest products on the market. However, there are also going to be plenty of GREAT artists that are stuck in their ways, holding onto the past and the traditions they were raised with. That doesn’t diminish their abilities as a tattoo artist, but I would always do my own research or seek second opinions on the possibility of including new products in your tattoo aftercare routine.

male tattoo artist working on creating a new tattoo, with the tattoo gun in hand with the title tattoo aftercare myths and mistakesJust Leave It, It Will Heal

One of the most concerning pieces of advice that I have heard floating around the tattoo community is that you should simply leave your tattoo and it will heal on its own as long as it can breathe properly. While there is something to be said for letting it breathe, skipping the steps to clean and moisturize the area may not only impact the lasting appearance of your new ink, but it could also set you up for a serious, or even deadly, infection.

In 2017, a Texas man made news after he decided to go swimming in the Gulf of Mexico just days after getting a new tattoo. The result? He developed a serious bacterial infection that eventually cost him his life. While this may be a more extreme example, it is a good reminder that tattoo aftercare isn’t something to take lightly!

In the days and weeks following your new ink, be aware of situations that may expose you to unnecessary bacteria. Far too often people overlook the fact that a tattoo is an open wound in the process of healing! This includes situations where you may be getting overly dirty, waterways, and more. At the same time, it is your responsibility to keep the area clean. This can’t be done by just ignoring it, as everything we do will expose it to potential contaminants – the bedding you sleep on, the clothing you wear, the very air around us. As such, you will need to implement a routine to keep the area clean and moisturized.

Tattoo Aftercare Ends When the Tattoo is Healed

Finally, I’ll leave you with this important myth. While many people who get new ink know to put time and energy into the healing period immediately following their new tattoo, your aftercare doesn’t end there! In fact, if you want to maximize your tattoo’s longevity, proper tattoo aftercare will continue throughout the rest of life!

This doesn’t mean that you need to carefully clean the area with antibacterial soap every day for the rest of your life, the care necessary switches. One key example is the exposure of your tattoo to the sun. Have you ever left a piece of coloured paper or fabric out in the sun for an extended period of time? What happens? The colour fades out significantly! You need to apply this same concept to the art that you are now wearing.

If you are going to be outside, take the time to apply (and reapply for longer time frames) a high SPF sunscreen. While this won’t completely protect you from fading, it will prevent you from burning the skin in that area. Blistering and pealing can lead to your ink rapidly fading or becoming patchy in areas, thus impacting its overall quality. It’s preventable damage – You spent a lot of money on your tattoo, so don’t throw it away!

What myths, rumours and misconceptions have you heard when it comes to tattoo aftercare? I’d love to hear all about your experiences in the comments!

48 thoughts on “Tattoo Aftercare Myths and Mistakes”

  1. I have no tattoos yet I plan on getting some I’m just a chicken lol I feel like I tolerate pain well but that just seems like a whole different type of pain however this is great tips for those who do have them. The after care scares me as well and also just getting a bad job done I’ve had friends that had scarring and stuff after but it’s still on my list of things to do lol

    1. The pain is different, but not necessarily worse. There are a lot of people who do well with tattoo pain but not necessarily other forms. If you’re nervous, start small. Do a lot of research to find someone whose portfolio you enjoy and who you are comfortable with when you visit their tattoo parlor.

  2. Gah! I wish I had known that about Dial soap …even my tattoo artist suggested it. I think several things went wrong with my chest tattoo, including using brown instead of black? Maybe? . .it faded fast and needs some rejuvenating. True, I got it over a decade ago. .but I noticed it fading only a couple of years after getting it. Do you think my color choices could’ve contributed to faster fading?

    1. Colour choices can definitely contribute to fading. For example, I know that in getting a red rose I was asking for faster fading than if I had chosen another colour for my back because red is known for fading faster (although I had an INCREDIBLE artist and it has held up spectacularly over the years). I would suggest finding a local artist that could work with you to revamp it and talk through colour choices with them. Personally, I find nothing holds quite as well as a bold black.

  3. Great info! I don’t have a tattoo but all three of my adult children do. My son has many and continues to add art to his body. I’ll pass this info on!

    1. I am like your son, multiple already and more to come hahaha! While I have been incredibly lucky in that I haven’t had an infection or any form of complication, I look at all the information I have now and sometimes wonder why I was so lucky looking back at my first hahaha

  4. Personally after all mine I used A&D ointment, and never washed my tattoos. I put a thin layer of A&D every time it felt dry or like it just needed it. When I was in the shower I didn’t let soap get on it till like the 3 or 4 days, just letting the soap rinse down my skin. Very good post!

    1. That sounds similar to what I did with the first one, and was honestly the most common advice you would hear from tattoo artists at the time!

  5. I am going to show my sister-in-law’s brother-in-law this post. He owns a tattoo business and I’m curious to see what he says!

    1. I love connecting with those in the industry! I am currently working on a ‘Behind the Ink’ series complete with interviews of various artists across Canada, the US and across the world… If he’d be interested in participating in something like that, tell him to contact me! The idea is that it will share some of their work with my followers as well as a look at the artist behind the work!

  6. Great tips! And I’ll be definitely recommending this post to my friends because I’m too scared of needles to ever get a tattoo myself lol!

    1. You may be surprised. I have a SERIOUS fear of needles, like freaked out when I knew I was going to have to get my shots updated for travel when we went to Tanzania, but tattoos are different when you’re there and in the moment!

  7. Surprising information here. I never really thought about the tube application as opposed to using a vat of cream for multiple uses. And also about using the bar soap. It makes a lot of sense. Thanks

  8. I am not very familiar with tattoos and care which explained why I had absolutely no idea… But I would have been the kind of person to “do not touch it and let it heal” so good to know just in case!

    1. When you really break it down, compare it to any other open wound on your body. If you sliced your hand open in the kitchen (not just a scratch, actually opened the skin) you would take steps to clean it up and avoid infection. That same mindset can be transferred to a tattoo 🙂

  9. Great tips, Britt. I only have a tiny tattoo on my hip (I’m too chicken to get any more) but I don’t recall any specific aftercare instructions other than not to get it wet! Luckily, I never got any infections and I’ve always used an SPF when sunbathing so it’s still pretty bright and sharp. Very informative post, thank you 🙂 Lisa

    1. I didn’t get much in the form of aftercare for one of my smaller pieces, although by that point I knew better. However, I don’t think any tattoo artist should assume they can skip even checking with the client even if they’ve had tattoos before! You never know what artists may or may not have shared previously.

  10. Great post. I have one tattoo and have been thinking about getting more – my problem is I keep changing my mind about the design! This will be helpful if / when I decide to get another one done. I think I got quite lucky with my first one, I went with a friend who already has a fair amount of tattoos and both she and the tattoo artist recommended wound cream (in a tube). To avoid sun and swimming and to not use soap on the area. They also recommended to pat the area dry.

    1. You definitely had some great skilled advice on your side! My tattoo artist gave me some great advice for my first tattoo (not that I listened to it all) but there were some things listed here that I honestly never thought about at the time.

    1. That was the big info for a LONG time, so a lot of artists still share it. There are still some arguments made for covering it up depending on where you are going (I got one and then went camping, so I made a point of keeping it covered with breathable bandaids)

  11. Well this was a timely post! I’m 70 years old and I’ve always said “when I grow up” I want an angel tattooed on my shoulder. I think I’m almost grown up, but still a big apprehensive. You offered excellent information.

    1. If I have learned anything about tattoos, it’s simply that the ‘build up’ is the worst part hahaha!
      I put off my first for a long time and then a friend made an appointment, that was the push I needed lol

  12. I’ve always been told to use nappy cream (Bepathon or similar) in order to properly care for a tattoo. That and keep it covered with film for about a day, and only dapping it when washing and then dapping it dry.

    But that being said, all information on aftercare has been different with every artist I have visited. They never come to me with consistent information. This is where this post comes in; Solid advice from someone who knows!

    Thank you so much for sharing. This will my next tattoo experience easier.

    1. A lot of the information out there was once considered to be ‘the right way’, the problem is that a lot of artists fail to stay up to date as new information rolls in. For example, back when I got my tattoo on my back, all the most ‘trusted’ tattoo care products sold in little tubs and canisters and no one stopped to consider the fact that we were introducing bacteria right into the product each time we used it.

  13. I have two tattoos and the directions I received from the first tattoo artist was a bit confusing but since I already use natural products I knew what to stay away from and how to let it heal properly. Good advice about only using stuff from tubes. You are so right about the bacteria spreading in open containers. This is great advice. I will bookmark this for my next tat.

    1. Thanks! I feel like that’s the least known thing I mentioned on here. People don’t often consider the packaging of their products as long as the product is recommended.

  14. As the proud owner of 4 tattoos, with hopefully more to come, this was an excellent article about aftercare. I’ve been lucky in that I followed great advice after each tattoo and I’ve never had a problem, but it’s so important to actually DO what you’ve been instructed to do.

    I can’t emphasize enough about using sunscreen!!! My colours are still nice and vivid because I pay attention to this rule. Thanks for mentioning it!!!

    1. You hit the nail on the head there, the biggest struggle of it all – actually follow through with the advice that you’ve been given! Your tattoo artist can give you all the tools but it’s up to you whether you use them!

    1. Unfortunately I have heard that too many times before – It’s so important to know how to care for it, and a tattoo artist should be making that information available to you

  15. I remember a friend getting his first tattoo in high school, and he kept it wrapped in plastic wrap for several days. I don’t know if he was cleaning it properly, though. I’ve heard horror stories about tattoos getting infected, but I never would have thought that swimming or using the wrong soap could be a factor in poor tattoo care or that it could lead to death in some circumstances. Really good info. to share.

    1. I think a lot of us overlook the risks associated with tattoos and poor aftercare until we take the time to really sit down and research it… I know I was FAR more diligent with my last tattoo than I was my early ink.

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