Tattoos are charming and attractive — but proper aftercare is essential for the best results. One pitfall that people fall into is going swimming before their tattoos heal. When people go into pools, they come into contact with chlorine. Chlorine can even be found in shower/tap water if filters aren’t used. So, what happens if you get chlorine on your tattoos?
Exposing your recent tattoos (which are technically open-wounds) to chlorine can cause several negative complications. The strong chemical can leech ink from new tattoos while drying out skin — resulting in dull tattoos that take longer to heal. The dryness can then lead to itching and flaking.. Even more, a fresh tattoo in a public pool is almost a guaranteed infection.
Swimming in chlorinated water is a big tattoo no-no for several good reasons. Not only can it prevent you from getting back into a pool without worrying, but it can literally ruin your tattoo! There’s no in-between when it comes to chlorine and fresh tattoos — you should always stay away from this combo.
There’s no specific “how long”, but the safest bet is to wait until your tattoo is fully healed. As a general rule of thumb, tattoos will heal anywhere between 2 and 4 weeks. But, that healing time can vary depending on the tattoo location and the size of the piece — taking as much as 6 months to fully heal.
When your tattoo is no longer red, scabbing, itching, hurting, or flaking, then you can consider the tattoo to be fully healed. To get a general estimate of when your tattoo will heal, you can consult your tattoo artist for the most reliable answer.
If you’re unsure about the state of your tattoo, a visit to a local tattoo artist can be a reliable option. They will be able to tell you if your tattoo has fully healed.
Will chlorine affect old tattoos? Fortunately, old tattoos are not affected by chlorine. The ink will have already set into the skin, and your open wound will be closed — eliminating the risk of ink fading and infection. However, old tattoos that have been retouched should be treated just like a fresh tattoo.
Of course, it’s always better to avoid swimming if you can. But, things like physical therapy and rehab may require you to get into the pool.
If you must expose yourself to chlorinated water, there are a couple of tricks to help protect your tattoo and yourself. Here’s what you can do:
- Waterproof your tattoo — Apply a waterproof dressing on your tattoo right before you enter the water. Once done swimming, remove the waterproof dressing as soon as you can. Thoroughly pat down the dressing and make sure that the entire tattoo is covered.
- Clean the tattoo — Pat down the tattoo area, and use mild soap and warm water to clean. If there’s a bandaid protecting your tattoo, remove that first. Always make sure to wash your hands before proceeding on to clean your tattoo.
- Avoid staying in the water for a long time — The shorter you expose yourself to chlorine, the better your health and tattoo will be. When tattoos are immersed in chlorine for too long, a tattoo may degrade. That’s even when you use a waterproof dressing.
You can go into a chlorinated pool if you wrap it, but wrapping and other preventative measures are not sure-proof strategies. If you don’t have to go in the pool, then you really should not. We can’t stress this enough!
If you’ve already gone swimming (or have recently been exposed to chlorine in another way) — don’t panic. Try your best to avoid exposure until your tattoo fully heals. However, do keep your eyes open for signs of trouble.
The main sign that you’ll want to look for is the worsening of symptoms. Pain, redness, and other irritation is normal for the first week or so after getting a tattoo. If these symptoms get worse and you have recently gone swimming, you may have developed an infection.
Other red flags to look out for include:
- Developing skin that feels hot when touched
- Odorous discharge
- Excessive tenderness
- Redness that spreads
If these symptoms appear or worsen after you go swimming, you will want to go see a healthcare provider for further assistance. Certain infections will go away on their own, but it is best to see a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and for the appropriate steps to take.
Is it possible to swim in water that does not have chlorine (when you have a new tattoo)? The uncontested answer is no. The purpose of chlorine is to kill harmful bacteria in your pools, hot tubs, and so forth. Without chlorine, dangerous bacteria run rampant in the water — making the water simply not safe. Swimming in an unchlorinated body of water will almost always guarantee an infection when you have a fresh tattoo.
Just avoid swimming in any bodies of water while your tattoo heals — we seriously mean it.
We love the pool, and I’m sure you love the pool too! Here are some quick and simple tips to speed up your recovery so you can splash and play in no time:
- Moisturize throughout the day — Generally, you’ll want to moisturize 2 to 3 times a day to prevent cracking and dryness. Don’t use heavy moisturizers like Vaseline and stick with moisturizers that are fragrance-free. Listen to your body since you will know when your new tattoo feels dry!
- Hide from the sun — Sunlight has been shown to cause tattoo fading. Even more, new tattoos are quite sensitive to light, and can cause irritation. If you have to go out, wear loose clothes like long-sleeves and pants. Don’t apply sunscreen since they often contain chemicals that will further irritate your new tattoo.
- Clean daily — Even if you don’t come in contact with chlorine, cleaning your tattoo is a great way to proactively fight off an infection. Wash your hands, and then use lukewarm and sterile water to clean your tattoo twice a day. Cleaning more than twice a day will cause your skin to dry out.
- Avoid fragranced products — Whether it’s scented lotion, cleaners, or soap, it’s best to avoid these all together. These products often react with the body and tattoo ink in a negative way. Switching to scent-free products may also prevent allergies from occurring.
- Don’t pick at your tattoo — Scabbing is a perfectly normal process, and is your body’s way of protecting you from infections. Picking at scabs can slow healing, reopen wounds, and may even jeopardize the tattoo itself. If scabs are itchy, use a clean warm compress.
Tattoos are fantastic. Whether it’s a favorite quote, a cute tabby, or a fierce dragon — tattoos are all about expressing yourself (and looking cool while doing so)!
To ensure that your tattoo dreams become a reality, you need to take care of yourself and prioritize aftercare. That means eating healthy, cleaning your tattoo everyday, and no swimming at all. Resist your urges, and you’ll be back to normal in no time. If you’re wavering about getting a tattoo — take a leap and go for it!