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Getting a new tattoo can be either exciting or nerve-wracking (usually depending on your pain tolerance), but there's nothing better than finally getting the ink that's been on your mood board for a while.
Although it's common to get lost in all the good feelings that come up as your appointment approaches, it's also pretty easy to forget that you're making a big commitment, not just to the piece of art that'll forever be etched onto your body, but also to the amount of care that goes into making sure your tat heals properly.
Meet the experts: Ash Aurich, New York and Miami-based tattoo artist at Uplift Tattoo; Mira Mariah, aka Girl Knew York, a New York-based tattoo artist.
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Anyone who's no stranger to getting tattoos may already be familiar with aftercare, but for those who are getting their first tattoo (or their first in a while), a refresher on the best care practices is a must. The healing time of a tattoo depends on the size and detail, says Mira Mariah, aka Girl Knew York. However, the average healing time is roughly three to four weeks, according to tattoo artist Ash Aurich.
Speaking of which, how long it actually takes for your new tattoo to heal largely depends on how you take care of it. Luckily, WH has you covered with answers to your most asked questions on tattoo aftercare.
How often should I wash my tattoo?
Many tattoo artists will tell you to wash your tattoo twice a day, though this can be very circumstantial, especially in the first few days after getting your tattoo. If you know you'll potentially be exposed to dirt on the way home from your appointment (maybe your route home requires you to ride public transportation, walk around a very busy city, etc.), then you'll want to clean it as soon as you get home, advises Mariah. "If you just got in your car and you drove to the grocery store, you're probably fine," she adds. "I tell my clients 'you know when you're dirty.'"
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Your tattoo artist will wrap your new ink in a protective bandage at the end of your appointment anyway to protect it from dirt and debris, but the type of wrapping you get may dictate how you're supposed to care for the tattoo in the days following.
If your artist gives you something like Saniderm, you'll most likely be instructed leave it on for at least three days before you can remove it and clean your tattoo. On the other hand, with a medical bandage, you can take it off the same day of your appointment and gently wash your tattoo with antibacterial soap and water. Both Mariah and Aurich recommend using Dial soap.
© target.com Clean and Refresh White Bar Soap
Should I let my tattoo dry heal?
This is up for debate. Many prefer to dry heal their tattoos—which is letting a tattoo heal without using the ointments and creams your artist may recommend applying after you clean them—to avoid over-moisturizing, though Mariah recommends keeping them moisturized.
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"I like to either have it dried with a fresh clean towel, paper towel, or air dried and then apply something to help keep it moisturized," she says. One of her go-tos is Hustle Butter, a coconut and mango oil-infused cream that keeps the skin moisturized before and after getting tatted.
© amazon.com Hustle Butter Tattoo Aftercare
Aurich adds that using something like the Aquaphor Healing Ointment after washing your tattoo can help with the process as well.
My tattoo itches. Is that normal?
Yes, itching and even bruising is normal unless you notice other symptoms like secreting or long-term redness, which could signify an infection. The most important thing is that you resist the urge to scratch or pick at your new ink.
Think of it as a scab that you get from a cut. If you mess with it, you risk reopening the wound. It's okay if your tattoo peels on its own, but since tattoos are technically wounds to the skin, the best thing to do is let it be.
What can't I do after getting a new tattoo?
Here's a short list of things you shouldn't do after your appointment:
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- No baths, saunas, or swimming pools for two weeks.
- No working out for at least five days.
- Don't sleep with a pet that sheds hair or is prone to licking near the tattoo.
- Stay out of direct sunlight to avoid fading.
If you're wondering how long you should keep a tattoo out of the sun, the short answer is...well, forever.
"[The sun] really does change the way the tattoos look. And if you're cool with that, that's cool with me," explains Mariah. "You should really know that going into it. I want it to be shielded from the sun. So sometimes, if girls get arm tattoos, I have them wrap a little bandana on their arm."
She also adds that she's not the biggest fan of using SPF because you don't know what chemicals are in the mix and how they can affect the healing process. "I really worry about any not sterile cream going into that new tattoo," she says. © Alvaro Medina Jurado - Getty Images gettyimages-1322535791
Can I drink before or after getting a tattoo?
We've all seen a movie or show where a character gets drunk and decides to get a tattoo, but that's not something you'll want to do IRL—in fact, some artists won't even let you.
Drinking before a tattoo thins your blood, which can result in excessive bleeding. This can throw your artist off and potentially mess with the ink and your final product. Plus, you're not likely to make the best decisions while under the influence anyway. You want to feel your best, so your body can start healing your tattoo sooner than later.
What if I don't take care of my new tattoo?
Hopefully you won't actually neglect your new tattoo, but in the event that you do, you'll most likely be fine. Just keep in mind that the aftercare process helps prevent infection. Aurich also notes that you might not get the results you were hoping for without the right care.
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