How to Care for Your Tattoo So It Always Looks Great
The art of tattooing has been around for centuries, and getting a tattoo is as popular as ever. In fact, one in five Americans now has at least one tattoo. Whether you have an arm full of ink (called a sleeve) or you’re fresh from the tattoo shop with your first, taking care of your tattoo can keep it looking fresh and vibrant for years to come.
Having a great tattoo means keeping an eye out for your safety right from the start.
“When you get a tattoo, a special machine with a needle penetrates your skin, leaving small droplets of ink,” says Rachel S. Lee, M.D., primary care physician at Henry Ford Health System. “What makes them permanent is that the ink settles into the deep layers of skin.”
Choosing the right shop and tattoo artist can lower your risk for complications, like infections. If you’re thinking of getting a new tattoo, Dr. Lee suggests approaching it the way you would a medical procedure: Ask a lot of questions.
“You should feel comfortable asking a tattoo artist about their experience and how they go about sterilizing their equipment,” she says.
You should also look to see if the shop displays state licensure. These documents are a good sign of high cleanliness standards such as requiring artists to wear single-use disposable gloves any time they touch your skin. These standards also include helping you learn how to take care of your new tattoo while it’s fresh and not yet healed.
When you first get a tattoo, some of the ink rests in the outer layers of your skin, closer to the surface. This causes the borders and colors to look hazy. However, as the tattoo heals, these outer layers slough off, leaving behind crisp lines and vibrant colors – if you follow aftercare instructions.
“Taking care of a fresh tattoo is like taking care of a wound: You need to protect the skin and give it time to heal,” Dr. Lee says.
It can take two to four weeks for a tattoo to fully heal. One of the most important rules during this time is to not scratch or pick at your tattoo – which is often easier said than done because the skin can be itchy and sensitive, Dr. Lee says. Applying moisturizer and A&D ointment (medicated cream infused with vitamins A and D) helps most people get relief.
Experiencing some discomfort as your tattoo heals is normal. But it’s also important to know the signs of a possible infection. You should see a doctor if you experience:
- A burning sensation
- Pain that doesn’t get better in a few days or pain that gets worse
- Pus or swelling
- Fever or chills
Maintaining a great tattoo goes beyond aftercare. Tattoos age just like you do, and things like sunlight exposure can cause tattoos to fade over time. It’s also really important to protect your skin from the sun because you can still get skin cancer in tattooed skin.
Other skin care tips include using good quality moisturizers to help you maintain a clear complexion. Great skin care allows the details of your tattoo to really pop against your skin. You can also moisturize from the inside out by drinking plenty of water.
Make an appointment by visiting henryford.com or calling 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Rachel Lee is a board-certified family physician and sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Harbortown in Detroit.