Your Guide to Tattoo Aftercare | Painful Pleasures Community

Your Guide to Tattoo Aftercare

Find out how to take care of any tattoo. This is your complete guide to successful tattoo aftercare for great healed results.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: October 24, 2022

Tattooing has become so popular nowadays, it’s almost a rite of passage. You can find talented artists everywhere — there’s probably one close by who can nail a style you love.

But before getting tattooed, it’s important to do your research. That’s because getting tattooed is technically a medical procedure — you’re going to take trauma to your skin (no pain, no gain, right?) So, make sure you’re looking for a certified tattoo artist who follows OSHA-approved, sterile procedures. If you have any health concerns at all, talk to your doctor before artist shopping.

After your tattoo, it’s critical to follow a healthy aftercare process. Being patient with the tattoo healing process prevents infection and keeps your tattoo looking amazing. In this tattoo aftercare guide, you’ll learn exactly how to care for a tattoo so you can get the best healed results.

Understanding Tattoo Recovery

Tattoo client having her bandage removed

The tattoo healing process varies from person to person. It all depends on your skin type, diet, hydration, the products you use, any previous skin damage you might have — and, yes, even the weather. It also depends on the size and the placement of your tattoo. You’ll find that a palm-sized banger off a flash sheet heals much more quickly than a full back panel. No matter the size of your tattoo, here are a few artist-recommended tattoo aftercare rules:

  1. Consult your tattoo artist for tattoo aftercare tips.
  2. Hydrate your new tattoo with high-quality aftercare products.
  3. Keep your new tattoo away from direct sunlight for at least one week.
  4. Try not to touch your new tattoo (and definitely don’t scratch).
  5. Avoid submerging your new tattoo in water for at least two weeks.
  6. 2–3 weeks after your tattoo, only expose it to sunlight if you’re wearing tattoo sunscreen.
  7. Be patient… the end results are worth it.

Recovery with Tattoo Ointment versus Tattoo Aftercare Bandages

Your tattoo aftercare strategy is up to you and your artist. You may decide to use a premium tattoo ointment. On the other hand, you might choose a tattoo aftercare bandage, like Recovery Derm Shield or Saniderm. Bandages like Recovery Derm Shield have really exploded in popularity these past couple years.

When it comes to ointment versus aftercare bandages, there’s no one right answer. It all depends on what’s best for you and your tattoo. Just be sure to listen to your artist’s professional advice!

Using Ointment or Lotion

Bottle of Tattoo Lotion by Recovery

You’ll find plenty of premium tattoo aftercare ointments on the market. Recovery Tattoo Salve, help moisturize and protect your tattoo from infection.

If you’re using ointment, first remove the initial bandage your artist has put in place with clean hands. Then, wash your tattoo with a specialty aftercare soap, like Recovery Tattoo Soap. Finally, pat (do not wipe) your tattoo dry, then apply a small amount of your tattoo ointment.

Note: It’s important to apply your tattoo ointment about 3–4 times a day throughout recovery. Be sure to use a small amount. Tattoo artists will typically recommend a pea-sized dose every time you apply. Over-moisturizing can clog your pores and even increase your risk of infection. Your artist will also advise you on how often you should wash your tattoo with aftercare soap.

Using A Bandage 

Using a tattoo aftercare bandage can be just as effective as tattoo ointment. In fact, if you think you’ll forget to apply ointment regularly, a bandage might be your best bet.  

 Bandages like Recovery Derm Shield lock in all the fluid and natural moisture that comes out while your tattoo heals. A bandage also protects your tattoo from harsh elements or chafing against fabric. 

If you’re using a bandage, start your recovery process just like you would with ointment. First, take off the initial bandage with clean hands. Second, wash your tattoo with aftercare soap. Lastly (after patting your tattoo dry), you’re set to put on your aftercare bandage of choice.  

Be gentle about applying your bandage and follow the aftercare instructions on the product packaging. With bandage recovery, you’ll keep your tattoo covered 24 hours a day for at least four to seven days. Based on your artist’s recommendation, you may remove the bandage every four to six hours for cleaning with aftercare soap. Change your bandage every time you wash your new tattoo based on your artist’s professional advice.

The 5 Stages of Tattoo Care and Recovery

So, you just got tattooed. First, your tattoo artist will clean your tattoo with a skin-friendly agent like Green Soap or Dr. Bronner’s. After snapping a photo, they’ll wrap up your tattoo with professional tattoo film, plastic wrap, or soaker pads.  After that, it’s up to you to stock up on quality aftercare products. Here are just a few we recommend: 

  1. Recovery Derm Shield 
  2. Saniderm 
  3. Recovery Tattoo Salve 
  4. Redemption Aftercare Lubricant 
  5. Hustle Butter
  6. Recovery Aftercare Soap 

Your artist may have some of these items in stock at their shop! No matter which aftercare products you choose, the tattoo healing process is divided into five stages. Check out each stage below. 

Stage 1

Bottle of tattoo aftercare soap

In stage 1, your tattoo starts freshly bandaged… and a little bloody. You may be excited to show off your glossy new piece but leave the first wrapping on for a few hours. Your artist will advise how long before you can remove it. After you take the bandage off, don’t be surprised by blood, plasma, or excess ink. That’s all a normal part of your skin’s recovery. Just be sure to wash the tattoo site as gently as possible. We recommend avoiding antibacterial soaps like Dial or Dove. These soaps can have a harsh, drying effect. So, stick with soaps that are specifically designed for new tattoos, like Recovery Aftercare soap… Then, pat dry with a paper towel or clean cloth.

If you’re using ointment, it’s safe to apply your first dose about 20 to 25 minutes after washing.t.

If tattoo ointment isn’t your thing, put on your tattoo bandage instead. Derm Shield is light and breathable, which gives your tattoo plenty of air. Ventilation is super important for a healthy recovery. So, let that beautiful body art breath!

Stage 2

Three containers of Recovery Derm Shield

How you care for your tattoo during the next two to three days is crucial. You’ll notice redness, swelling, and sensitivity. You may also notice your tattoo looks dull. Don’t worry about any of these symptoms – it’s all just part of the process. The vibrancy will return.

The key is keeping your tattoo moisturized during this stage. So, continue using your preferred tattoo ointment three to four times daily. Remember: You don’t want to over-moisturize the tattoo site.

You’ll also want to continue washing your tattoo with specialty tattoo aftercare soap or unscented Dove soap based on your tattoo artist’s instructions. Remember to always pat your tattoo dry after washing.

If you’re wearing Recovery Derm Shield or another protective bandage, just leave your tattoo alone. Your skin is very sensitive during this stage. It doesn’t want to be touched after, you know, being punctured by needles.

The Skinny on Ink Sacs

Attention, bandage-wearers: You also may notice ink sacs in stage 1. Ink sacs are bubbles or pockets full of ink and plasma under your tattoo aftercare bandage. They can show up as soon as 45 minutes after you put your bandage on.

This is 100% normal. It’s a build-up of fluid under your bandage during recovery. Most artists will recommend replacing your tattoo bandage if your ink sac gets bigger than a quarter. So, simply remove your aftercare bandage, wash the tattoo site with aftercare soap, and put a fresh one in place.

Stage 3

Open tub of Recovery Tattoo Salve

If it hasn’t already started, stage 3 (days four through six) is usually when the dreaded itch settles in. You’ll desperately want to scratch — but resist the temptation (we know it’s hard). Abrasions and scabbing are common during this stage. If you scratch or pick at a scab, it can pull out some of the color and damage your healed results. You can give your tattoo a slap for some relief if the itch gets really bad.

Also, keep applying your specialty tattoo ointment in small amounts once or twice daily. A good tattoo ointment like Recovery Tattoo Salve conditions the skin and prevents infection. This should make the recovery process faster. Hopefully, it’ll give you some much-needed relief from the itch we all know and hate.

Bandages like Recovery Derm Shield should be removed after four to seven days. So, if you’re wearing a tattoo aftercare bandage, this is usually the stage where you can take off your first one. After that, it’s time to wash with aftercare soap — you’ll notice a lot of built-up lymph, fluid, and ink trapped under the bandage. Scabbing still happens even if you’re wearing a bandage. So, after taking off your bandage, wash gently with aftercare soap and don’t pick at any scabs.

Next, you might have to apply another bandage to finish recovery. You can also switch over to tattoo ointment for the next two recovery stages. Just remember to ask your tattoo artist what’s best for you and your tattoo.

Stage 4

Gloved tattoo artist hands opening a small container of salve

Finally, the scabs start to fall off on their own!

During this stage, days seven through 14, You might still notice some itching. Keep on moisturizing sparingly with your tattoo ointment to prevent infection and ease the itchiness.

If you’re wearing a new tattoo bandage, there will be less fluid build-up in this stage, since your tattoo isn’t as fresh. Stage 4 is typically when you can remove your second bandage (if four to seven days have passed since you put it on). As in stage 3, give your tattoo a good wash with aftercare soap after removing the bandage. 

Stage 5

Freshly healed butterfly tattoo

Days 15 through 30 after getting tattooed, your tattoo is mostly done flaking. But while it may look 100% recovered on the outside, there’s more than meets the eye.

The bottom layer of your skin still needs to heal. So, keep cleaning with specialty aftercare soap, and applying your tattoo aftercare ointment for moisture. If you’re still wearing a tattoo aftercare bandage based on your artist’s instructions, this is the stage where you can safely remove it for good.

By the end of the third week after you’ve gotten tattooed, the colors will start to look bright and bold again.

Tattoo Care and Recovery by Body Part

Tattoo care and recovery aren’t all about the five stages. There are also things you can do before your tattoo to make the healing process smoother. We always recommend eating a nutritious meal, staying hydrated, and avoiding coffee. This helps get your body ready for needles, trauma, and well-done body art.

You’ll also want to consider the placement of your new tattoo. For one thing, the right placement can make a killer tattoo even better. For another thing, each part of the body heals a little differently.

Check out our guide for tattoo aftercare by body part below, including tips to bear in mind during tattoo healing.

Head Tattoos

Client with a sickle tattoo on his head

Heads up — head tattoos can be sensitive, itchy, and delicate. (Scythe tattoo above done by Jake Karamol @jakekaramol)

  • Aftercare: Gently wash your head tattoo with a cleanser like Recovery Aftercare Soap and sparsely apply tattoo ointment to help any scabs fall. Being gentle is key, because new hair follicles make your new tattoo extra sensitive.
  • Extra Tips: You might notice dandruff-like flakes coming off your head – this is to be expected. Just stay diligent (and gentle) with your aftercare treatment.

Neck and Throat Tattoo Aftercare

Tattoo client with raven tattoo on throat

If you recently got a neck or throat tattoo — congratulations, you’re a champion! Neck tattoos are famously painful because the skin of your neck is so thin. (Raven tattoo above done by Bobby Douglas @bobbydouglas)

  • Aftercare: Consistently apply tattoo ointment or wear a tattoo aftercare bandage. A bandage is a great way to protect your neck and throat from chafing against your shirt collar.
  • Extra Tips: If your hair is long, tie it up so it doesn’t irritate your tattoo. We also recommend Recovery Derm Shield in black if you’re getting tattooed during sunnier months. The black bandage keeps your neck tattoo safe from sun rays.

Stomach Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with stomach tattoo

A stomach tattoo is a unique placement that can turn out lookin’ fire. Just prepare for some discomfort in the belly. (Stomach tattoo above done by Jesse Smith @jessesmithtattoos)

  • Aftercare: This is another body part that does really well with a tattoo aftercare bandage. A premium bandage like Recovery Derm Shield or Saniderm prevents friction between your tattoo and your shirt. If you prefer ointment, be gentle and consistent about applying it. Also, make sure to wash regularly with aftercare soap and pat dry afterward!
  • Extra Tips: Avoid a lot of bending or sitting. There are plenty of loose muscles and skin folds in the stomach that affect your tattoo when they move too much.

Lip Tattoos Aftercare

After taking the plunge and getting a lip tattoo, it’s time to watch what you eat.

  • Aftercare: If you’re rocking an interior lip tattoo, avoid using tattoo ointment, cream, or lotion inside your mouth. Stick to an alcohol-free antibacterial mouth wash instead. Give yourself a rinse after every meal to prevent infection. If your lip tattoo is on the outside of your mouth, it’s safe to use tattoo ointment. 
  • Extra Tips: Sorry, spice lovers. You’ll want to avoid spicy or acidic food that can inflame your new lip tattoo. Stick to milder flavors — and know the healed results will be worth it. 

Hand and Finger Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with smoking bulldog tattoo on hand

Hand tattoos and finger tattoos are everywhere – just look at any pop celebrity! And they can be beautifully done. But it goes without saying… your hands touch everything. (Bulldog tattoo above by Christian Naccari

  • Aftercare: Be sure to wash your tattooed fingers with something like Recovery Aftercare Soap three to four times a day. This helps prevent infection. You’ll also want to use your Recovery Tattoo Salve, Hustle Butter, or other premium tattoo ointment to keep your finger hand or tattoo moisturized.
  • Extra Tips: Bear in mind that hand and finger tattoos can spread or become blurry over time. Use sunblock in direct sunlight to slow this process.

Butt Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with butt tattoo

It may not come as a surprise to you that butt tattoo recovery can be tricky. This is largely because – well, you’re constantly sitting on your butt. (Butt tattoo above done by Jesse Smith @jessesmithtattoos)

  • Aftercare: Apply your preferred tattoo ointment regularly and wash frequently with aftercare soap. A bandage is an excellent choice here to prevent friction between your butt and your pants.
  • Extra Tips: Sitting causes rubbing or chafing, which can irritate your tattoo. Try lying on your stomach as much as possible and wearing loose-fitting pants. This can speed things along – but be patient! Butt tattoos may take a while to heal.

Calf Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with black and gray skeleton tattoo on calf

The calf is a great place to show off a new tattoo. Nonetheless, it’s also exposed to the elements. (Skeleton tattoo above done by Autumn Hudson @autumnhudson.tattoos)

  • Aftercare: Keep your tattooed calf covered with clothing or a high-quality tattoo aftercare bandage like Recovery Derm Shield. This is one of the best ways to protect your body art from dirt, water, or rain during the healing process. If you prefer tattoo ointment, stick to long, loose-fitting pants.
  • Extra Tips: Avoid walking barefoot and keep away from unsanitary walking environments as much as possible.

Foot and Ankle Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with neotraditional tattoo on foot

Foot and ankle tattoos are easy to show off and just as easy to keep hidden. Recovery for these tattoos can be easy if you do it right. (Third eye tiger tattoo above done by Jake Karamol @jakekaramol).

  • Aftercare: You can opt for tattoo ointment or a bandage here. However, a bandage might be difficult to apply to the top of the foot or the bony ankle. Go with your artist’s recommendation depending on the size of your ankle or foot tattoo.
  • Extra Tips: It goes without saying you should avoid walking barefoot, especially outside. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting shoes or flip flops if you can (but avoid direct sunlight!) Ideal environment for foot and ankle tattoo recovery? Feet up on the couch, away from the sun.

Knee and Back of Knee Tattoo Aftercare

It’s edgy. It’s bold. And it’s also extremely sensitive. Not only is the knee painful to get tattooed, but it requires plenty of care during the recovery process.  

  • Aftercare: Consistently wash your knee with aftercare soap based on your artist’s recommendation. And don’t forget to consistently apply tattoo ointment! Knees can get pretty dry, so you’ll want to keep it moisturized. 
  • Extra tips: The skin of your knee is sensitive and thin – and it’s constantly moving. Try not to bend your knee frequently two to three weeks after your tattoo. Lay supine, watch Netflix, and relax.

Quads and Thighs Tattoo Aftercare

Tattoo client with skull and sword tattoo on thigh

The almighty quads and thighs! Maybe you didn’t know they’re surprisingly sensitive with soft muscles. (Skull tattoo above done by Harlan Kantner @harlankantner)

  • Aftercare: Consistently clean your thigh with aftercare soap and use your preferred tattoo ointment according to your artist’s instructions. A tattoo bandage is a great idea to protect your thigh from chafing against your pants.
  • Extra tips: If it’s summertime, wear longer shorts, skirts, or pants to keep your quad tattoo covered and concealed from the sunlight. You might experience stabbing pains when walking, but if you take good care of your quad tattoo, those will pass. Depending on the size of your tattoo, recovery can be discouragingly slow for the first few days, but don’t worry — it’s worth the wait. You can expect your thigh to take at least a month to fully recover.

Forearm Tattoo Aftercare

Tattoo client with sparkly pink whale tattoo on forearm

The sturdy, strong-muscled forearm is one of the most popular tattoo sites. That’s because it hurts a whole lot less than other arm tattoos, AND it’s a highly visible canvas. (Sparkly whale tattoo above done by Amanda Graves @amandagravestattoo).

  • Aftercare: Big or small, use aftercare soap and lukewarm water to clean your forearm tattoo for the first three weeks. You’ll also want to use your preferred tattoo ointment at least three to four times a day for the first three weeks.
  • Extra Tips: The time it takes for your forearm tattoo to recover depends mostly on the size. A flash piece is going to heal much more quickly than a tattoo that takes up your entire forearm.

Back and Spine Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with full back panel tattoo in Japanese Traditional style

Back and spine tattoos can be amazing, since there’s so much space for your artist to create a killer design. But this one might hurt. Your back body is hyper-sensitive to pain, particularly in your low back, where your love handles grow. (Full back panel tattoo above by Teresa Sharpe @teresasharpeart). 

  • Aftercare: A tattoo aftercare bandage like Recovery Derm Shield or Saniderm is a smart option here. Usually, spine and back tattoos are large, and bandages give plenty of protective coverage. You may need to use a few to cover it completely.  
  • Extra Tips: To stay as comfortable as possible, try sleeping on your side or on your stomach if you can. It’s safe to sleep on your back during the healing process, but it might not exactly be a peaceful night’s sleep. We also recommend keeping your back covered to avoid sunlight, especially if you’ve gotten your back tattooed during summertime. That means no walking the boardwalk topless, no matter how badly you want to show off your new piece. 

Elbow Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with hyperrealistic black and gray flower tattoo on elbow

Your elbow is a unique, eye-catching site for your tattoo… it also doesn’t get too much air circulation. (Black and grey floral tattoo above by Christian Naccari

  • Aftercare: The elbow can also be a relatively dry tattoo site, so tattoo ointment to keep it moisturized is a healthy option.
  • Extra Tips: Wear loose-fitting clothes that let your elbow tattoo breathe – but don’t forget to keep it away from harsh sunlight.

Outer Arm Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with hyperrealistic black and gray portrait tattoo on outer arm

If you’re interested in a tattoo sleeve, brace your outer arms for impact! Outer arm tattoos are constantly subject to friction against your sleeves. (Black and gray realism tattoo by Kasey “Gonzo” Gonzalez @tattoosbygonzo)

  • Aftercare: While your preferred tattoo ointment can help prevent infection, a quality tattoo aftercare bandage is a great way to keep your outer arms (and sleeve tattoos in general) protected from sleeve-chafe. Outer arms can be difficult to keep hydrated, so we highly recommend the bandage to retain moisture.
  • Extra Tips: Be mindful of how much your arms are moving to limit rubbing and chafing through recovery.

Upper Shoulder and Shoulder Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with upper shoulder tattoo including filigree, Marilyn Monroe's mouth, and a woman's eye

Your shoulders cover a LOT of space. A shoulder tattoo can be anywhere from your flat shoulder blades to your front shoulders near the collar bones. (Full sleeve tattoo above by Autumn Hudson @autumnhudson.tattoos)

  • Aftercare: Tattoo ointment and bandages are equally effective on shoulders. However, a tattoo bandage is especially useful so your tattoo doesn’t rub against your shirt.
  • Extra Tips: Shoulders tend to heal much more quickly than other parts of your body since it’s a flat canvas that’s easy to keep still throughout the day.

Rib Tattoo Aftercare


Wildlife tattoo by Bret Bloom @

Get ready for soreness and swelling after a rib tattoo. The skin of your ribs is super-thin and chock-full of blood vessels, which is why it’s so sensitive during tattoo recovery. (Tattoo above by Bret Bloom @fullproof.bloom)

  • Aftercare: You’ll need to apply tattoo ointment at least four to five times a day. Wearing a tattoo aftercare bandage can also protect your sensitive rib skin from the elements — or from chafing against your shirt.
  • Extra Tips: Try to avoid a lot of movement. Stay seated or lay on your back to limit chafing, rubbing, and upper body rotation. If it’s sunny out, keep your shirt on while your rib tattoo heals!

Chest Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with full chest tattoo

Chest tattoos can be painful, but when they’re done well, they’re amazing to see. For the best healed results, prepare for a longer recovery process, since the chest is broad and flat-planed. (Full chest tattoo above by Teresa Sharpe @teresasharpeart)

  • Aftercare: Tattoo bandages and aftercare ointment can both be effective during chest tattoo recovery. A bandage can be especially helpful so your tattoo doesn’t rub against your shirt.
  • Extra Tips: Avoid lying on your chest while your tattoo heals. We also recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing, especially if you have a broader chest where the fabric clings. As with any other upper body tattoo, leave your shirt on when you’re walking out in the sun!

Ear Tattoo Aftercare

No bones in your ears doesn’t mean no pain… but fortunately, ear tattoos recovery very quickly.

  • Aftercare: Be diligent about using your tattoo ointment as needed to keep your new piece moisturized and infection-free.
  • Extra Tips: Ear tattoos can be hard to slap to get relief from the dreaded itch. Avoid scratching as much as possible.

Genital and Pelvic Tattoo Aftercare

These parts of your body are usually covered, which means they’re often sweaty and full of moisture. That means you have to be super careful during the tattoo aftercare process.

  • Aftercare: Apply premium tattoo aftercare ointment every few hours to keep the site free from infection. Also, wash consistently with aftercare soap based on your artist’s recommendation. You may opt for a tattoo aftercare bandage, but that could be difficult to lay on your skin, depending on what part of the genitals or pelvis your tattoo lives.
  • Extra Tips: Avoid sexual activity until you’ve finished the recovery process.

Face Tattoo Aftercare

The good news: you get plenty of air and ventilation with face tattoos. It’s also easy to clean face tattoos with tattoo aftercare soap. The bad news: you must be a vampire and stay out of sunlight for at least 24 hours after getting tattooed.

  • Aftercare: Use tattoo ointment or a tattoo bandage for the first few days and remember to use sunblock… or wear a really large hat.
  • Extra Tips: It’s not safe to wear sunblock until your tattoo is fully healed, so try to stay indoors as much as possible. When outside, you can also shade your face with a hat.

Armpit Tattoo Aftercare


Tattoo client with realistic crocodile tattoo in armpit

Armpit tattoos sting, but the healed results can be fire. (Crocodile tattoo above by Cecil Porter @cecilporterstudios)

  • Aftercare: To prevent infection after an armpit tattoo, try to keep the site as dry as possible. Wash with aftercare soap, pat with a towel, and use tattoo ointment for nutrients and preventative care. It might be difficult to apply on armpit skin.
  • Extra Tips: Bear in mind there’s a lot of chafing in your armpits, which leads to irritation during recovery. Your armpits also tend to be sweaty, especially during sunnier months. Some moisture is good, but stay in a cool, well-ventilated area to prevent excess sweating.

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