Australian Ink – Authentink Article – February 2010
By Kian ‘Horisumi’ Forreal
Ok.. holidays are over, hangovers are gone, credit cards are maxed out and everything is back to business as usual, thankfully! Now I want to set the record straight on a subject that I talk about everyday at the shop. Be advised, this is by no means the ‘definitive’ be-all-end-all treatise on the subject.. but after 17 years in the chair I think I can weigh in on the subject of tattoo aftercare with some authority.
Every artist has his or her own way they like to tell their clients to heal their work and everyone recommends the kind of cream they think works best for them, and fair enough, this isn’t meant to contradict anyone else’s method or protocol or say anyone else is wrong. This is just my way. This is what I tell my clients every day… so if you’re interested, listen up!
There are two types of healing methods I use, one where the tattoo is re-bandaged and the other where the tattoo is left open after the initial bandage has been taken off. We’ll start with the open method first, which I recommend for outlines only, smaller tattoos in places where there isn’t much contact with clothes or shoes rubbing on them and people who are just going to chill for 4-5 days while their tattoos heal.
After being tattooed you’ve either been bandaged with cling film or a gauze type covering most likely, take this off after 2-12 hours, whatever is most convenient, it doesn’t make a difference in the early stages.
Wash your hands first before washing your tattoo, everytime.
FOR THE INITIAL WASH ONLY use a face cloth or corner of towel and give your tattoo a good washing with warm soapy water and get all the blood, Vaseline and ink off it.. it should feel nice and smooth after this washing.. if it feels slimy then keep washing. Once this has been done then pat it dry with a clean towel and let it air out.
For the first 2 days I don’t recommend putting any cream on it. Wash it gently everyday, morning and night using warm soapy water and your fingertips, no cloth at all. Pat it dry, no cream.
A lot of people will balk at that, but it makes it heal faster to let it breathe, the body heals fine on its own.. the cream is just to prevent dryness and cracking and if overused will suffocate the tattoo and make it goopy and scabby and leach color from it. This is bad. That said, sleep with clean sheets in the case of your fresh tattoo coming into contact with your bed, alternatively (as an example) wear a clean t-shirt to prevent your arm tattoo from sticking to the sheets and use the water from the shower to slowly unstick your tattoo from your shirt in the morning.. don’t pull it off, that’s what causes scabbing.
Day 3-7. When it starts to feel dry and tight you can apply a small amount of cream to it, rub it in gently until it disappears and use a paper towel to dab off the excess if there is any left after 5 minutes. A lot of people recommend Bepanthen Cream, its ok, but I don’t use it, I find it too greasy and unnecessary. I prefer Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion in the Vitamin E flavor. This is a very light, easily absorbable cream that doesn’t cause pimples or color leaching. I like it and my clients like it. In my experience using it 1-3 times per day for 5-10 days after the initial couple days usually suffices. Use as little cream as possible. Once the tattoo has flaked off and the skin is dry and milky you can use as much as you like, this is good for the tattoo at this point.
Its that easy, now the other way. I advise my clients to re-bandage their tattoos when we’ve done large coverage or the tattoo is in a place where it has constant contact with clothes rubbing on it throughout the day.
Follow the above instructions, as everything is the same as the first method up until the point of letting it air out. At this stage on Day 1-3, after the tattoo has dried out some, then re-apply a fresh piece of cling film to cover the tattooed area. Do not apply cream to the skin beforehand, it’s not necessary. Just wrap it up and tape it in place and put your clothes, shoes, pants whatever over the bandage and don’t worry about it! And makes it easy to sleep with as well, no sticking to the sheets.
Morning and night you should remove the bandage, clean your tattoo as outlined above, dry it, and re-apply a fresh piece of cling film. On the morning of the 4th day after getting tattooed you can remove your bandage for the last time and not apply another one. Just let it air out after washing and drying it.
You can follow the same instructions for the application of cream as above as well, give it day or 2 after removing the last bandage or until your tattoo feels dry and tight. And that’s it!
Simple things to remember and follow: No Sun at all, ever, for the first 3-4 weeks on your new tattoo. It will destroy it. Do not apply sun block to your tattoo for the first 4 weeks.
No Swimming for the first 7-10 days, longer for chlorine pools. The tattoo must have totally flaked off and be smooth before being submerged in the water for any amount of time. Showers are ok, baths and spa’s are not.
No picking, rubbing, scratching or ‘helping off’ of scabs or fresh tattoo areas. Very important, this will result in color loss.
Go easy on training at the gym while healing, constant expanding and contracting of the tattooed skin area will certainly cause scabbing of your tattoo.
Don’t listen to tattoo experts in bars or clubs for at least 1 month.
Other creams people recommend are paw paw, sorbalene, neo-sporin, aloe vera gel, vaseline, assorted specialty tattoo aftercare products to numerous to list etc etc. They can all work for some people some of the time, and cause unnecessary problems just the same as much of the time, the biggest one being color loss. In the end its up to you whether you want to gamble messing up your tattoo.
That covers most areas of tattoo aftercare, you can check the section on my website for more info and if you are really in a bind send me an email through my website and if I can help you I will!
All the best for 2010
Kian Forreal is a professional tattoo artist with 17 years international experience and specializes in traditional Japanese tattoo work. He has worked all over world and has studied under some the leading tattoo artists of today. He is based in Sydney at Inner Vision Tattoo in Surry Hills. His website is:
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