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How to Take Care of a New Tattoo

Congrats on the ink. Here’s how to keep those lines looking sharp, according to an expert.

artist drawing tattoo on a hand
South_agencyGetty Images

The first few weeks of a tattoo’s life are critical. How the skin heals determines how bright and, of course, how correct the tattoo looks. But worry not: all you need are a few tips and products to ensure a quick, complete rebound.

We summoned some advice from Carl Kuo, owner of Mission Ink Tattoo and Piercing in San Francisco. He offers ways to build habits that will preserve the ink’s color for years to come.

First, let it heal


While each artist has a preferred method of covering fresh ink, Kuo says that recovery is fastest with an ointment wrap — specifically Saniderm or 3M’s Tegaderm. “Leave it on for three to five days,” he says. “You can shower with it, but remove the wrapping if irritation develops at the edges of the wrap.” In addition, avoid tight clothes and itching or scratching. If you follow these directions, your skin should fully recover in under two weeks.


Saniderm Tattoo Aftercare Bandage


3M Tegaderm Transparent Film Dressing

$9.69 (19% off)

Then you have to wash it


After removing the bandage — and throughout the healing process — wash the area with an unscented cleanser, says Kuo. Synthetic fragrances can be irritating, and you want this recovery to be seamless. Nécessaire Fragrance-Free The Body Wash simultaneously nourishes skin with vitamins C and E as well as omega-6 and omega-9.


Nécessaire The Body Wash


It'll need nourishment


The scent aversion continues with your choice of a lightweight, fragrance-free lotion. Kuo says to follow each wash with this protective, fortifying cream until the wounds have healed (one to two weeks). Verb Body Lotion is his choice, thanks to its soothing aloe vera and its barrier-creating coconut oil, which seals precious moisture inside the skin. Even after the tattoo heals, daily moisturizing will prevent fading.


Verb Body Lotion


Be sure to preserve and protect it


Speaking of color preservation, Kuo says to “avoid sun exposure for at least two weeks.” Ditto for a favorite summer pastime: swimming in salt water or chlorinated pools. All of these things can compromise the tattoo’s vibrance as it rebounds. Then, moving forward, always apply SPF 30+ to your ink for the same reason. Jack Black Oil-Free SPF 45 Sunscreen resists water and sweat for up to 80 minutes.


Jack Black Oil-Free Sun Guard SPF 45 Sunscreen


Behind the Artwork

We teamed up with Chinese-American artist and tattooer Pang for the illustrations found within this story. Their inspiration?


"It's a painting called 搜山图 (sou shan tu), probably translating to something like Erlang Shen Searches the Mountain," Pang says. "It depicts the Erlang Shen, the Divine Immortal of Purity and Decency. He's very beloved — coming down with his army to collect/banish all the beasts on Earth.

There's over a handful of reinterpretations of this painting. I'm not sure what the original one is. I like it because some speculate that since the beasts look all distressed and upset, that the artist actually wants the viewer to empathize with them, instead of the armed deities rounding them up.

This might be a sign of political dissent, pointing out the royal mistreatment of common people, but who knows. Usually Erlang Shen is portrayed in a very positive light, but not exactly in this painting. The monsters I drew are actually Erlang Shen's guards and generals."

Learn more about the painting that inspired this piece by following this link.

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