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Our Comprehensive Tattoo Aftercare Guide

If you have any questions or concerns about this guide or the healing process, please call us first. For any urgent matters that fall outside of regular business hours, dial 811 to reach Healthlink, or 911 for emergencies.

Now that you’ve got your tattoo, it’s up to you to ensure that it's given the best opportunity to heal. Oftentimes, tattoos will appear fully healed at around the two week mark. However, the healing process itself occurs in 3 stages which can take up to 6 weeks (always be aware that there is more to healing than simply what you can see on the surface). The level of dedication that you give to your aftercare routine will determine how successfully you heal.

Additionally, your body can only heal effectively if given the proper tools to do so. Following a healthy diet (low in sugar and processed foods), drinking enough water, exercising daily, limiting stress, and getting adequate sleep will all be important determinants in how your tattoo heals.

“NEVER touch your tattoo without first washing your hands. We recommend washing in accordance with your local public health authority's hand-hygiene procedure"

Stage 1: Days 1-6

Despite being a beautiful work of art, your new tattoo is also an open wound that your body aims to heal. In the beginning, your tattoo will weep blood, plasma, and ink (all of which are normal). The amount of this fluid mixture left on the skin should always be kept to minimum as this can eventually lead to scabbing if left to dry (an exception to this would be fluid build-up beneath a transparent adhesive dressing; this is fine and should be left contained until it's time to remove the bandage). Once the tattoo is exposed, remember that you NEVER pick off anything that doesn't come off naturally with a gentle cleanse.

You may also experience mild swelling and/or redness around the tattoo which is the result of an increase in blood flow to the area as the body’s immune response kicks in, this is normal.

1. Keep your tattoo covered, if possible, for the first 5 days following your appointment (for adhesive transparent dressings ONLY). *Only remove your dressing once you're home and/or in a clean environment. If you have a non-adhesive dressing, remove after 3-4 hours.

2. If at any time the edges of the dressing become lifted or dirtied (or if any part of the tattoo becomes exposed within the 5 day period), remove the dressing immediately to prevent any trapped dirt/bacteria from being in prolonged contact with your tattoo. When removing this dressing, gently peel an edge downward OR stretch neighbouring edges outward until the dressing lifts off of the skin. If you're having trouble removing your dressing, hop into the shower and allow the water to run over top of the dressing as you gently peel it off.

3. NEVER touch your tattoo without first washing your hands. We recommend washing in accordance with your local public health authority's hand-hygiene procedure (they know best!):

  • Wet hands with warm water and apply enough soap to ensure all hand surfaces are lathered thoroughly (i.e. two or three pumps).

  • Vigorously rub soap product over all the surfaces of the hands and wrists, including: palms, spaces between fingers, back of hands and wrists, fingers, fingertips, and thumbs for a MINIMUM of 15 seconds. Don’t forget to check under your nails!

  • Rinse hands under warm running water (allowing the water to flow downwards from wrists to fingertips).

  • Pat hands dry with a clean, disposable paper towel (do NOT use a multi-use hand towel).

  • Use paper towel to turn off faucets and discard. (AHS Hand Hygiene. Procedure Level (Document # PS-02-01.

4. Using a mild, unscented soap and clean warm water; GENTLY wash off all plasma and excess ink using the pads of your fingers, in a circular motion.

5. GENTLY apply your aftercare product, ensuring that you rub it all the way in. It's best to use a clean tool [i.e. single use disposable tongue depressor] to scoop out your product if not in a squeezable container. This eliminates the chances of contaminating your product with any residual bacteria that may be on your hands.

6. Gently cleanse and moisturize your tattoo at least 2-3 times daily (more often if you are producing larger volumes of fluid).

7. Avoid soaking your tattoos or participating in activities that might create a prolonged moist skin surface (for at least 2 weeks). Avoid baths, hot tubs, pools, lakes, etc; saunas; sporting activities; and WEIGHT ROOMS. Daily showers are fine (and encouraged).

Please, please, PLEASE also avoid unessential activities that would unnecessarily expose you to dirty/unsanitary conditions (i.e. no camping!!!).

8. Avoid tight-fitting or irritating clothing that may rub over and damage your tattoo. If unavoidable, please discuss with your artist prior to getting tattooed.

9. Ensure bed linens are washed on the hottest setting-daily-for the first couple of days (depends on aftercare bandage used). Do your best NOT to sleep or lie on your tattoo. If you wake up with your bedding stuck to the tattoo, don’t panic! Take it into the shower with you and soak it until it detaches itself.

10. Avoid letting your tattoo touch surfaces you cannot ensure are free from dirt or bacteria (this includes previously worn clothing). It’s also important not to let others touch your tattoo at all during the healing process (remember, they may carry bacteria that could cause an infection if introduced into your tattoo).

11. Keep your tattoo away from any pets or animals (ESPECIALLY cats, reptiles, or livestock), and be wary of surfaces or environments that they may have had access to. Don't allow any pets in your bed until your tattoo has completely healed.

Because of the prevalence of pet/animal ownership, Rocky Mountain Tattoo Ltd. refers to AHS/IH Infection, Prevention, and Control (IPC) resources to ensure that its animal-loving clients be made aware of some of the potential risks that exposure to certain animals and/or animal environments may put them in during the healing process. We feel this is vital because it stresses the importance of strict post-tattoo hygiene, and ensures that our clients are able to make informed decisions about getting a tattoo.

11. MOISTURIZE! Once uncovered, apply a thin layer of your aftercare at least twice daily to prevent excess drying or scabbing. There is such a thing as too much moisture as your tattoo does need to be able to ‘breathe’ in order to heal. By caking product on, you risk 'suffocating' the area, and absorption of too much of the active ingredient could potentially cause pimpling.

After the first couple of days, you may begin to form small scabs or dried flakes over top of your tattoo giving it a faded appearance. This is normal, but the likelihood of it occurring can be minimized by ensuring that you are applying your aftercare regularly. What’s NOT normal is the development of very large/deep scabbing; open areas of skin; redness/swelling/a sensation of warmth that seems to be getting worse; yellow/green oozing (i.e. pus); large raised bumps; and/or a tattoo that just doesn’t seem to be healing.

This can happen for any number of reasons:

  • Growing pain, redness, swelling, warmth, and/or 'yucky' discharge occurs from environmental bacteria that has entered your tattoo. This is called an opportunistic infection and will require a visit to your physician.

  • Excess scabbing is commonly caused by trauma that occurs during any phase of healing (i.e. picking off scabs/flakes prematurely, an incidental scrape or burn to the tattooed area, etc.), infection, or a reaction to the ink (rare, but possible).

  • Large raised lumps (aka red-ink-reaction) can occur in those with extremely sensitive skin or underlying sensitivities to red dyes, in some cases causing unsightly keloid scarring.

  • Lastly, for tattoos that don't seem to be progressing through the expected stages of healing, there may be an underlying health factor causing an impairment in the wound healing process. Causes can range from a complex chronic illness to something as simple as poor nutritional habits.

*This last point is why it's imperative that your artist is aware of any applicable known medical conditions (listed both on our consent forms and online policy section) prior to starting the tattoo.

As a side note, we've found that those who opt to use the adhesive/transparent dressings are much less likely to experience adverse events than those who don't. We will always recommend this option.

Second Skin Bandages

Now considered the ‘Gold Standard’ of aftercare in the tattoo industry; these self-adhesive transparent dressings have been used for years within the field of medicine to protect wounds and ensure that they are given the absolute best opportunity to heal. Unlike cling film these dressings are breathable, meaning that oxygen (a vital component of healing) is able to permeate through to the skin.

Also unlike cling film, these dressings are clean and secure and are therefore able to lock in the body’s natural healing fluids so that the tattoo stays well hydrated without all of the mess or risk of contamination.

Lastly, because these dressings can be worn over a fresh tattoo during nearly the entire first week, there is considerably less risk of damage to the tattoo from elements such as friction/water/dirt/bacteria. Tattoos heal faster, brighter, and more smoothly; which our clients can attest to!


Stage 2: Days 7-14

During this stage, your tattoo will likely begin to look very dry/dull and will begin to flake off bits of skin. To many, it’s also the most difficult stage due to the accompanying ’itch’. There are a few very important things to remember during this stage:

  • NEVER scratch any part of your tattoo. If you're experiencing any itchiness, lightly ‘pat’ or ‘tap’ your tattoo instead.

  • The more stringently that you use your aftercare, the less flaking and itching you will experience. The same goes for scabbing; it's best to prevent scabs from forming in the first place and the best way to do this is to keep the tattoo moisturized.

  • If you do form scabs, leave them be. It is imperative that you NEVER pick off any dried bits of skin or scabbed areas (even if they seem to be hanging on by a thread). Not only could this delay healing but it could also produce scarring. Your body will then need to produce an additional protective layer causing you to lose your ink a second time. As a result, you'll be left with faded areas or gaps in your tattoo that will be recognizable to your artist. Keep in mind that most artists do not guarantee touch ups on tattoos that have been obviously neglected. The best thing to do in this case would be to cleanse the tattoo using the same technique described in stage 1 (to allow the dried bits to wash off naturally), and PAT dry the skin as gently and completely as possible. If your skin is still wet when applying your aftercare, the water trapped between your skin and the lotion could then be absorbed by the scab causing it to become soft and more susceptible to being pulled off accidentally. Take care that none of the scabs have adhered to the paper towel before lifting it off, and then apply your aftercare product.

• Try to remember that your tattoo will NOT look pretty during this stage; but don’t worry, it’s all part of the process!

Stage 3: Days 15+ (Can last up to 6 weeks)

During this final stage of healing your tattoo may still look slightly dull and continue to have some fine flaky bits until the fresh new layer of skin is exposed. Your skin can also look slightly ‘shiny’. This will gradually improve over the next few weeks until your tattoo looks much clearer, brighter, and sharper and your skin texture is back to normal. It will be later on in this stage that you'll be able to tell if any touch-up work is needed. A couple of things to remember:

1. No picking!

2. Continue to protect your tattoo from direct sun or uv light, as well as harsh chemicals.

3. Continue to moisturize (yes, even if it’s shiny).

4. Have patience. Unless you're superhuman, the body can only heal so fast. The transition from a healing to healed skin texture is very apparent so if you're unsure about whether or not you're there, give it some time!

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