As every tattoo aficionado knows, getting some radical ink is always worth it in the end. Even Winston Churchill knew it: He had a tattoo of an anchor on his forearm. But before you can dazzle friends or fellow world leaders with your body art, it first needs to heal up.
Whether you get an entire album cover on your back or a single letter on your wrist, injecting ink under your skin is a medical procedure. If your tattoo artist didn’t give you a breakdown for aftercare—and not all states require that they do—check out some common questions people have after getting a tattoo.
How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?
Tattoos work by using a mechanized needle to inject pigment into the dermis, the layer of skin under the epidermis, the skin you can see. (The ink is visible through the top layer.) That leaves you with a cool piece of body art but thousands of tiny puncture wounds. Full recovery duration depends on the size and location of a tattoo. But generally speaking, you can expect the skin to be back to normal within two to three weeks. In the first week, some redness and oozing is normal; weeks two and three may involve itchy and flaking skin. Full healing for all layers of skin damaged by the process can take as long as six months.
How to take care of a tattoo
Typically, tattoos will be left covered in a bandage for a few hours following the procedure. You’ll want to wash the area with warm water and a fragrance-free soap once or twice daily and use a moisturizer afterward. Do this for the first week, then continue to apply moisturizer. Dead skin is normal, but if any redness or soreness persists, have it examined by a doctor to check for infection.
What can you put on tattoos once the bandage comes off?
Anything to keep skin moisturized is recommended, so long as it’s gentle, fragrance-free, and alcohol-free. The same goes for soap. Some tattoo artists like Dial antibacterial soap.
Aquaphor is heavy-duty healing ointment, kind of like thick Vaseline (more on Vaseline below), that creates a barrier on the skin and allows it to retain moisture. It's good for the first few days. Beyond that, you can use a regular moisturizer.
Some artists believe petroleum jelly can cause ink to fade. If you do use Vaseline, try to limit use to showering, when the jelly can provide a water-resistant seal over the artwork.
Can you get a tattoo while pregnant?
This is a highly individualized decision. If a tattoo artist doesn’t follow proper sterilization procedures, there’s a risk of contracting Hepatitis B, HIV, or other blood-borne diseases. It’s also unknown whether chemicals used in the tattoo dye could affect a baby, especially in the first trimester. (The idea that a back tattoo could interfere with receiving an epidural during childbirth appears to be an urban myth, however.) To be absolutely safe, it would probably be best to wait until after the baby is born.
Do tattoos hurt?
Well, broadly speaking, yes. Some compare it to a series of bee stings or a bad sunburn.
If things go wrong, How much is tattoo removal?
Likely more than it cost to get the tattoo in the first place. The average cost for laser removal—which heats and dissolves the pigment in your skin—is $463, but that will vary widely depending on the size and location on your body. If your desire to get a tattoo has been a long time coming, then plow ahead. If your idea dates back to five minutes and/or four drinks ago, it’s probably best to wait.