Don't Pick or Itch It
The time it takes for your tattoo to fully heal depends on the size and execution of the tattoo, but Carter says it should be around six weeks. (He notes that those with immune disorders might need to consult a physician or dermatologist before getting a tattoo). He also says that tattoos with colored ink take longer to heal than non-colored tattoos, especially if it’s large or on the inside of a joint. “The bending can ‘crack’ the healing tattoo and cause a scab, which can delay the healing process,” he says.
Etched tattoos and link work cause minimal trauma to the skin, so they tend to heal faster. On the third or fourth day, the art will begin to peel, which may be uncomfortable or itchy—but refrain from picking and scratching the design. The area will still be hypersensitive even after the peeling stage, so it’s recommended to keep up with your moisturizing routine. Continue to use unscented soap and lotion without scent, dye, and perfume. No shaving.
Avoid Prolonged Sun Exposure and Wear Sunscreen
As time goes on, it’s natural for a tattoo to go through changes, including fading. “According to new research, tattoo ink stays suspended in the dermis and is held there by a certain type of white blood cell called a macrophage,” explains Lavriv. A fibroblast is another type of cell known to absorb ink particles, so together, the macrophage and fibroblast bind enough ink particles for the tattoo image to stay put and appear on your skin. These cells hang around for years, and eventually, when they die, the ink molecules get reabsorbed by a new macrophage. Your tattoo becomes part of your organism, which involves shedding and change. And just like it’s important to keep your actual epidermis safe from harsh chemicals and sun exposure, you’ll need to care for your tattoo by always making sure you wear sunscreen.
Remember: prolonged sun exposure is damaging to your skin, and, of course, your art. Resist tanning to keep your tattoo looking fresh. "Sun will cause tattoos to fade, especially if you get a lot of sun exposure early on, so make sure to keep it covered or apply SPF 30 or higher regularly if you will be in the sun," Finney says.
Avoid Anything Irritating—Including Hot Water or Swimming
"Avoiding anything harsh or irritating, such as exfoliating scrubs," Finney says, adding that hot water (or even cooler water, for an extended period) is also to be avoided. "I tell patients to avoid swimming or going in hot tubs for at least the first week," he says.
"Be gentle, keep the skin moisturized, and most importantly, out of the sun," Finney says. He recommends applying "petrolatum-based products" at least twice daily while taking care of a tattoo.