Maybe this is your very first tattoo or maybe it’s your tenth. Maybe you’ve spent years deciding upon and devising its exact design or maybe you’re getting it within hours of dreaming it up. Every single tattoo is borne out very specific circumstances, and yet the days and weeks that come after having it done ought to look quite similar. No matter the story behind your latest piece, beyond ensuring your tattoo artist used a top of the line tattoo machine, the tattoo must be treated carefully in order to ensure it heals properly — and, within that routine of care and cleaning, are some very important guidelines specifically around getting your new tattoo wet.
What It really means to get your tattoo wet
To clarify from the start, dermatologist Heather Richmond, MD, tells us that there’s a difference between cleaning your tattoo, letting it get a little wet, and completely submerging it in water. Of course, you’ll eventually be able to do all three of these things without worry — but you have to give your tattoo time to heal first.
Within the first few hours following your tattoo appointment, your artist will likely tell you to remove the bandage they applied at the shop and clean it. Doing so will remove any remaining fluid or blood from the area. Richmond says the amount time that you should wait before this initial cleaning may vary, so just listen to your artist and follow their instructions.
Exactly when to wash your new tattoo
She adds that, when you do go to clean your new tattoo, do so with a fragrance-free, antibacterial soap (like one of these choice recommendations) and warm water. Be sure to dry it completely, either using a blowdryer on a cool setting or gently dabbing the area with a paper towel, then apply a moisturizing ointment like Aquaphor (after the first few days, Richmond says you can switch from an ointment to a lotion).
So, you can (and should) clean your new tattoo pretty soon after getting it. But, as far as showering goes, Richmond says to wait 24 hours — and, even then, don’t let the water’s stream hit your tattoo directly.
Keep up that initial cleaning routine a few times a day for two to four weeks while your skin heals. You might start to notice scabbing or crusting around your tattoo, but this is totally normal. A tattoo is like any other wound — it has to scab in order to heal (so resist the urge to pick at it). With that in mind, it’s still very important to keep your tattoo out of direct contact with water during this period.
Richmond explains that your skin barrier isn’t fully intact until the tattoo is done healing, so any possible contaminants in a swimming pool or bath tub could very easily find their way into your skin and cause an infection. In other words, wait until your skin looks healed and free of scabs (depending on the size and location of your tattoo, this might take longer than four weeks) before you think about taking a dip.
Bottom line: Try your best to stay aware of your new tattoo and be cautious of water, sun and cleanliness for the first few weeks. After all, you’ll have plenty (some might say a lifetime) of opportunities to show off your ink at the beach — make sure you give it time to heal now so that it looks its best later.