11 Most Common Ways People Ruin Their Tattoos, According To Tattoo Artists
While the long-term quality of a tattoo has a lot to do with the skill of the tattoo artist, the ink used, the placement, and so on — there are also quite a few mistakes you can make that can ruin your tattoo in the days, weeks, and months following your appointment, that can affect how the art looks years down the road.
When tattoos aren't properly cared for, it can result in blurry-looking or faded designs, and even patches of ink that appears to be missing from the overall tattoo. But the good news is, most mistakes that ruin tattoos can be avoided by simply following your artist's suggested aftercare tips — as well as proper tattoo maintenance going forward.
"To keep your tattoo looking as good as possible for as long as possible; stay hydrated, avoid sun exposure by applying sunscreen or wearing clothing that covers your tattoo, [apply moisturizing] lotion regularly, and [follow] proper tattoo care during healing," Leo Palomino, a tattoo artist at Atomic Tattoos in Orlando, tells Bustle. By staying clear of some of the mistakes people make during the tattoo healing process, you can ensure that your ink will stay intact. Here are a few of the worst mistakes, according to experts.
1. Using A Loofah To Wash Your New Tattoo
In order for it to look great, a new tattoo needs time to heal properly. So it's important to listen to your tattoo artist's suggestions when it comes to washing and cleaning the area — which usually means avoiding rubbing it with anything abrasive, like a loofah or sponge.
You really don't want to scratch the area or rub off scabs, since that can cause your tattoo to fade or smudge. But that doesn't mean you need to avoid washing your skin altogether. "Your new tattoo should be washed in warm water with a mild liquid antibacterial soap," Palomino says. "Just put some soap in your hand and use your palm to gently wash your skin."
Or, hop in the shower. "Showering is fine," board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD tells Bustle. "But avoid submerging the tattoo in water (bath, swimming pool, ocean/lake) for at least two to three weeks, until it is completely healed."
2. Drying Off With A Towel
After a shower, it's not uncommon for folks with a new tattoo to dry off like they always do — by rubbing a towel vigorously over their skin. But this is another thing you'll want to avoid. "You should always gently pat the tattoo dry and allow [it] to be open to air afterwards," Palomino says. (Of course, once the tattoo is fully healed, you can dry off however you like.)
3. Applying Too Much Ointment
While you might think it's helpful to coat your tattoo in ointment to help it heal, doing so can actually be harmful. "Applying too much ointment or tattoo aftercare product ... suffocates the tattoo and encourages the growth of bacteria," Palomino says. "Always rub only a thin layer of ointment."
To help it heal correctly, "you should continue applying the ointment after each time you wash the tattoo and only after it has completely dried; at least twice a day, for three to five days or until the tattoo starts to peel. Then, you can switch to a regular, fragrance-free lotion."
4. Scratching Or Picking At Your Tattoo
Speaking of peeling, don't give into the urge to scratch or pick at your tattoo — no matter how tempting or itchy that peeling skin may be. As Palomino says, "Your tattoo will begin to scab and the scabs should be allowed to fall off ... naturally. Do not try to help the process along by picking at the scabs."
If you do, it "may cause the scabs to fall off prematurely, leaving holes or light spots on your tattoo," he says. So do your best to avoid picking at the area, and instead relieve the dryness or itching by patting the tattoo with the palm of your hand, Palomino says, or gently rubbing on fragrance-free lotion.
5. Swimming In A Pool
Let's say it's summer, you just got a new tattoo, and the glittering waters of a pool are calling your name. While you may really want to dive in, don't do it.
"Until your tattoo is fully healed, you should avoid swimming in a pool, the sea, or soaking in the tub or a jacuzzi," Palomino says. "Exposing your tattoo to too much water may draw ink out of your skin and damage the tattoos appearance."
And then there's the whole germ factor. "The water in swimming pools, jacuzzis, sea, and the tub may be carrying dirt, bacteria, chemicals, and other impurities that could cause your tattoo to become infected," he says. "It will be safe to resume these activities once your tattoo is healed in about 14 days."
6. Stepping Out Sans SPF
If you want your tattoo to stay looking great, stay out of the sun as much as possible when you first get your tattoo. "Sunlight is the worst enemy of new tattoos," Palomino says. "The sun may cause your skin to blister and affect some of the colors from your tattoo," which can make your tat look bad now, and even worse years down the line.
To prevent that from happening, "always keep your tattoo covered and away from the sun and avoid getting sunburned for at least three to four weeks, until the initial healing is complete," Palomino says.
And then, make a point of protecting it forever more. "Once healed, always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+ and limit [ultra violet] exposure to the tattoo site, both to prevent skin cancer and to prevent the pigment in the ink from oxidizing (and changing color) or fading," Dr. Shainhouse says.
While you can obviously resume your usual activities once your tattoo is healed, try not to hit the gym whilst it's still fresh — especially if you have a large tattoo, or one that's on your joints.
"Tattoos that cover large areas and near joints (such as elbows and knees), may take longer to heal," Palomino says. And "if the skin is forced to move around too much during intense workouts or other physical activity, [the movement may] cause the skin to crack and become irritated, delaying the healing process." So be careful.
8. Walking Around In Sandals
It'll be important to protect a foot tattoo from dirt while it heals, so "avoid wearing sandals ... to decrease the exposure to dirt and bacteria," Palomino says.
Instead of sandals, "wear a loose-fitting tennis shoe and try to clean it during the day," he says. "Also avoid shoes that are tight [or will rub, as that can cause] the tattoo to heal poorly."
Once it's all healed, though, you can obviously wear whatever type of footwear you want, to show off your tat.
9. Touching Your Tattoo
Even though everyone will want to touch your new tattoo, don't let anything come in contact with it. "You don’t know what germs are on your hands, so it is best to avoid touching your tattoo at all unless you have literally just washed your hands," Palomino says. "Don’t let your children play with it, and don’t let your friends get touchy-feely while admiring it." Same goes for pets, too.
When a tattoo is fresh, and the skin is still open, it's at risk for infection. "The most common localized skin infections within a fresh tattoo is a Staph aureus skin infection that occurs due to secondary infection of the needled sites," Dr. Shainhouse says. "It can cause a weeping, blistered or pustular rash, or a single, painful abscess."
So if anything looks strange, let your tattoo artist or a doctor know. "It should be seen right away," she says. "It is treated with local and sometimes oral antibiotics."
10. Shaving Over Your Tattoo
Did you get a tattoo on your leg? Do you fancy shaved legs? If so, you'll want to avoiding shaving for a while, and let your hair grow out whilst your new art heals.
As Palomino says, "Avoid shaving the tattoo and allow your new tattoo two weeks to four weeks to fully heal before shaving that site again." Again, this is all about allowing the area time to properly heal without introducing bacteria, or shaving off those all-important scabs, so that your tattoo can look its best.
11. Not Following Aftercare Instructions
Your tattoo artist will send you home with instructions for taking care of your tattoo. So make sure you follow them to the T. "Listen to your tattoo artist, because they know what they're talking about," Palomino says. "Do not take advice from your friends about what they did, [as] it might not be right." And if anything seems like it's going awry, don't be afraid to call up the tattoo shop, or stop in, and ask a few questions.
By following aftercare instructions, allowing your tattoo to properly heal, and then protecting it with sunscreen from now on, you'll be far less likely to end up with art that looks blotchy or faded.