A tattoo is much more than just a piece of body art that asserts your personal style. Whether we like to think about it or not, It’s actually a medical procedure, because the artist uses a needle to puncture and insert the ink underneath your skin.
Tattoo aftercare and bloodborne pathogens is something that is rarely discussed, but because any time you open up the surface of the skin, you leave yourself vulnerable to scarring, bloodborne pathogens and other types of infections, it should be of critical concern.
Why aftercare matters
The entire tattoo procedure can place both client and artist at risk of exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens. You can check out the following articles for more information on what the OSHA CFR.29 1930.1910 Bloodborne Pathogens Standard covers and how it affects tattoo artists and studio owners. But today we will take a closer look at tattoo aftercare.
Caring for a tattoo can prevent these possible complications and ensure that it heals properly, and looks good for life.
Both the artist and the client play equal roles in this process. Along with going to a licensed and reputable tattoo artist, the client needs to take care of the new tattoo at home.
Deciding on the best way to care for a tattoo can be tricky, though. Many US states don’t require their tattoo artists to provide aftercare instructions. And among the states that do require it, the studio or individual artist often decides which information to provide based on their own experience and research.
Keep reading for a guide on the best ways to care for a tattoo, tips on which products to use, and more.
How to care for a tattoo
Aftercare begins as soon as the tattoo needle stops for the last time!
The tattoo artist should apply a thin layer of petroleum ointment or other approved product over the entire surface of the tattoo, and then cover the area in a bandage or plastic saran wrap.
This covering prevents bacteria from entering the skin and stops the tattoo from rubbing or chafing on clothes and getting irritated.
Leave the dressing on for 2 to 3 hours or until it’s time to take a shower. It will help absorb any fluid or excess ink that bleeds from the tattoo.
After a few hours, remove the wrap. Wash your hands first with water and soap. Then gently wash the tattoo. Some artists recommend using fragrance-free soap and water, others recommend the first wash is with water only. Either way, give the tattoo a good wash to ensure any leftover plasma and ink are removed properly
Pat skin dry with a soft towel or cloth, don’t rub it.
Some artists recommend leaving the fresh tattoo as is overnight and not using any product until the next morning, others prefer to apply a small amount of petroleum ointment or aftercare product to the tattoo.
Tattoo aftercare: Day by day breakdown
How quickly a tattoo heals depends on the size of the tattoo and the design, amount of ink and colors involved, etc. Generally, larger tattoos will stay red and swollen longer, because they cause more skin trauma. Here is the day by day procedure that many artists recommended to ensure a quick healing tattoo.
The artist will put a bandage over your tattoo. After a few hours, you can remove it. You should ask your artist for specifics about how long to wait.
Once the bandage is removed, you’ll probably notice fluid oozing from the tattoo. This is blood, plasma (the clear part of the blood), and extra ink. It’s normal. Your skin will also be red, swollen or raised and sore. It may feel slightly warm to the touch.
With clean hands, wash the tattoo with warm water. Leave the bandage off so the tattoo can heal.
Days 2 and 3
The tattoo will have a duller, cloudy appearance by now. This happens as your skin starts to heal and scabs begin to form.
Wash the tattoo once or twice a day, and apply a light coating of fragrance- and alcohol-free moisturizer. The aim here is to stop the tattoo from drying out completely and aid the healing process, not swamp it in moisturizer, so remember that less is more.
Days 4 to 6
The redness should start to fade and some light scabbing will begin to form over the tattoo. The scabs shouldn’t be as thick as scabs you get from a cut, but they will be raised.
To avoid scarring, resist any temptation to pick at the scabs.
Keep washing the tattoo once or twice a day and applying light coats of moisturizer.
Days 6 to 14
The scabs have hardened and will begin to flake off. Don’t pick at them or try to pull them off, let them come off naturally to avoid pulling out the ink and leaving scars.
At this point, the skin may feel very itchy. Gently rub on a moisturizer several times a day to relieve the itch.
If the tattoo is still red and swollen at this point or feels warm to the touch, there is a possibility of infection or other infectious disease caused by the tattooing process. Seek medical attention immediately.
Days 15 to 30
In this last stage of healing, most of the big flakes will be gone and the scabs should be going away.
The tattooed area might still look dry and dull so keep moisturizing until the skin looks hydrated again.
By the second or third week, the outer layers (epidermis) of skin should have healed. It may take three to four months for the lower layers of the skin (dermis) to completely heal. By the end of your third month, the tattoo should look as bright and vivid as the artist intended.
Tattoo aftercare products
Always use a mild, fragrance-free soap or a specially formulated tattoo cleanser to clean the area. Your tattoo artist can recommend a tattoo-specific cleanser.
For a tattoo specific ointment there are many choices. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s fragrance-free and doesn’t contain additives, such as colored dyes.
Potential side effects and complications
For the first few days after the tattoo, the skin may be red, sore, and itchy. There may be excess ink, along with blood and fluid, leaking from the skin. This is normal.
If you begin experiencing symptoms of any of the following complications, see your doctor:
A tattoo that isn’t properly cared for can get infected. Infected skin will be red, warm, and painful and it may ooze pus. Another sign of infection is enlarged area swelling, this is more common in bigger tattoos, particularly if lengthy work was done around joint areas such as the ditch (inner elbow), outer elbow and knees.
If the equipment or ink the artist used was contaminated, you could get a bloodborne pathogen related infection such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C, tetanus, or HIV. There have also been reports of other infections, like nontuberculous mycobacterial skin infections being transmitted through the tattooing process
Damage from the tattoo needle, or from picking at the healing tattoo, can cause your body to produce scar tissue. Scars can be permanent.
Long-term tattoo aftercare tips
Though you don’t have to specifically care for a tattoo after three or four months, there are things you can do to prevent ink from degradation.
- Keep it clean. Wash your skin daily with a gentle, unscented soap.
- Stay hydrated to keep your skin moisturized.
- Wear SPF clothing so the sun won’t fade your tattoo. Avoid scratchy fabrics, such as wool, which can damage the tattoo.
- Avoid excess weight gain or loss. This could stretch out or distort the tattoo.
While your tattoo heals:
- Wear sun-protective clothing whenever you go outside
- Call the tattoo artist or doctor if you have any signs of infection or other problems
While your tattoo heals:
- Cover your tattoo with sunblock until it’s fully healed
- scratch or pick at the tattoo
- wear tight clothing over the tattoo
- Swim or immerse the body in water.
Tattoo Aftercare is extremely important to ensure you avoid bloodborne pathogen related and other types of potential infection from a new tattoo. All tattoo artists should be aware of the latest advice and OSHA standards. If you are an artist looking for OSHA compliant BBP training take our course free now!
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