What Happens If You Don’t Moisturize Your Tattoo?


Getting a tattoo causes trauma to the skin as the needles pound ink into your body so a majority of professional tattoo artists recommend cleaning and moisturizing any new tattoo, essentially treating it like an open wound. As hard as it may be, it’s important to treat your new tattoo as an wound to ensure it does not get infected and heals properly. Moisturizer is an important piece of the healing process and helps your skin, from cracking and bleeding during the healing process.

Keeping new ink clean and moisturized is super important for several reasons. These reasons include:

1) Reducing the risk of infection

As mentioned above, tattoo machines work by piercing your skin with needles of ink. This creates open wounds in your skin that can allow bacteria into the body causing an infection. Infections can also occur if you happen to be allergic to the ink and your body starts to reject it. 

It is normal to experience some redness, itching, and flaking of the skin. However, you can usually tell a tattoo is infected or becoming infected if it is swollen, bumpy or red and lasts more than a few days. Other indications could be if you have a fever, chills, increased pain or swelling of the tattoo, and/or if the tattoo has pus draining from it. 

If your tattoo becomes infected, especially accompanied by a fever, it could be a good idea to contact your doctor for a course of antibiotics.

2) Relieving itchiness

As your tattoo begins to heal, you will certainly experience some itchiness and flaky skin, everyone does because it is part of the natural healing process. However, it is supercritical not to scratch and itch your tattoo. This could damage the tattoo and open the skin up to a bigger risk of infection. Using a good moisturizer will help relieve some of the itchiness that accompanies a new tattoo.

3) Preventing scabs that scar

It is fairly normal for new tattoos to experience some scabbing as it heals and properly moisturizing the area will help heal the scabs without causing any scars or deforming the tattoo in any way. 

When to worry about scabbing: 

  • If the scabs get thick or dense
  • If the skin around the scabs are red and swelling
  • Excessive oozing of pus coming from the scars
  • Excessive pain
  • Bleeding

4) Allowing the Tattoo and Your Skin to Heal Properly

Our skin is the first layer in defense in keeping us healthy, and when we choose to get a tattoo we are deliberately choosing to cause trauma to the skin, so ensuring you take proper care of your skin not only leads to a well-healed and long-lasting tattoo, it keeps you healthy from other germs and infections. 

In general, keeping the skin hydrated is a healthy habit to get into, whether you have tattoos or not. Especially, if you spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun. It will help prevent damage to the skin as you age, help fight off wrinkles and acne, it keeps your skin young and elastic, helping it heal faster from cuts or scrapes. 

How Often Should You Apply Moisturizer?

Typically a tattoo artist will send you home with your tattoo already wrapped with cream on it. Most places suggest to leave the covering in place for at least 24 hours. A good number to aim for is at 3 times a day for at least two weeks. However, before putting ointment or lotion on it, you have to clean and dry the area. Basic care instructions are:

  1. After removing the bandage from your tattoo, gently wash the area with warm water and unscented antimicrobial soap.
  2. Dry the area with a clean towel.
  3. After cleaning and drying your tattoo, apply unscented ointment or cream, just enough to cover the area without having to rub excess in. 
  4. Do not recover your tattoo, let it air out.
  5. Clean and moisturize your tattoo 3-6 times a day. 

What Happens If You Over Moisturize Your Tattoo?

It is possible to over-moisturize a tattoo. This happens by adding too much at one time, you don’t want globs of lotion over your tattoo, just a thin layer is sufficient. When you add too much ointment or lotion it can cause premature scabbing and shedding of skin layers, taking out ink and ruining your tattoo. If you apply too much moisturizer during an application, you can wipe the excess off with a towel. If you follow the 3 times a day rule, you should be safe from being at risk for over applying. 

What Can You Use As A Moisturizer?

When you first remove the bandage from your tattoo it is highly recommended that you wash the area with warm water and antibacterial, unscented hand soap making sure you gently remove all the blood, ointment, or any other gunk that formed under the bandage.

For the first 3-4 days, tattoo artists recommend using an ointment. Favorite ointments include Bacitracin and Aquaphor. Once your tattoo has started peeling, also a normal, you can switch to an unscented lotion. My favorite called Hustle Butter. You can find it here (Amazon Link). 

What is the difference between ointments and lotions? Ointments are typically made up of 20% oil and 80% oil. Lotions and creams are typically 50% oil and 50% water with creams being slightly thicker.

It is imperative to use unscented ointments and lotions because chemicals that are in scented lotions will typically irritate the tattoo, possibly damaging it.

Some tattoo shops today also carry a product called Saniderm (Amazon Link). Saniderm is an adhesive bandage that protects your tattoo from dirt and germs but still allows the tattoo to breathe. The bandage is also flexible and helps heal tattoos faster.  Originally made on a large scale for hospital patients with burns, cuts and road rash, Saniderm has now been scaled down and made specifically for tattoos. You can leave Saniderm on for several days.

When Should You Stop Apply Moisturizer?

Never! Even after your tattoo has healed you should use lotion on your entire body. You should always use a moisturizer with an SPF in it any time you are outside to keep your tattoos from fading and really just to protect your skin from harmful rays coming from the sun.

What Else Should Can You Do To Ensure Proper Healing?

  • As much as you can, avoid sleeping on your tattoo until it is healed. This will help keep clothing or linens sticking to it and keep you from staining your sheets with ink. If you happen to wake up with your sheets or clothing sticking to your tattoo, just wet the area with some water and it should come apart.
  • Avoid submerging your new ink in any body of water for at least two weeks. This includes the ocean, lakes, rivers, bathtubs, pools, and jacuzzis. Obviously continue to shower, please.
  • While you shower, gently wash your tattoo. 
  • Let your tattoo breath, this includes wearing loose clothing around the tattooed area so that it doesn’t stick. Tight clothing can also rub against the tattoo causing it to scab and flake prematurely and similar to your sheets, you can stain clothing with new tattoo ink as it is healing.
  • Always avoid the sun while a tattoo is healing, once it is healed always use sunscreen on it.
  • If you exercise regularly, keep in mind that excessive sweating can also damage your tattoo.

Additional Tips

  1. Always make sure the tattoo shop is clean, regulated, and using clean needles and equipment.
  2. Don’t go to get a tattoo if your skin is sunburnt and don’t get sunburn while it is healing.
  3. Take care of your skin beforehand by drinking plenty of water and moisturizing the area you are getting tattooed.
  4. Don’t take any ibuprofen or aspirin the day before, they are considered blood thinners and could make you bleed more.
  5. Don’t drink the night before.
  6. Continue to take care of your skin once it is healed and your tattoo will always look great.

Is It Okay To Not Put Anything On A New Tattoo?

Can you elect to not apply any moisturizer to your new tattoo? Absolutely. Many people do it, it’s called “dry healing.” Some people choose to go this route because their skin is very sensitive and they don’t want to risk the lotions and ointments to cause irritation.

The risk you run by not applying anything to your tattoo (outside of soap and water) is the risk of increased peeling, scabbing and itchiness. If you have experienced allergic reactions to lotions or creams in the past, then I would suggest looking into all natural moisturizers that are on the market. One of the most popular is this one (Amazon Link) made by Ora’s Amazing Herbal.

Is Aloe Vera Good For Tattoos?

There are a lot of mixed opinions on using Aloe as a moisturizer on tattoos. Many people love using it because it’s a natural product and does a great job on helping the healing process for injuries such as burns.

Even though it’s a great resource for other injuries, many people in the tattoo industry feel that it can actually cause damage to a new tattoo. Some people have complained that their tattoo has faded due to the use of aloe vera. Personally, I have stayed away from using aloe due to the various concerns I have read. I can’t tell you if these claims are accurate or not. I’ve not seen anything that convinces me that aloe does do damage. I just choose to go the safe route and buy tattoo specific creams and lotions to avoid any risk of damaging my ink.