1. Follow your tattoo artist's advice
Aftercare advice will vary from studio to studio, and sometimes even artists in the same studio will have different ideas of what heals best. Listen to the instructions your artist gives you – most will have a leaflet with their advice printed out for you to take away.
2. After a few hours gently wash the tattoo
The majority of advice will tell you to leave the covering on the tattoo for the first 2-5 hours, then to carefully remove it and gently wash the tattoo with lukewarm water and mild liquid soap, like Carex.
3. Apply a thin layer of unscented moisturising cream
You should then apply a thin layer of an unscented moisturising cream like Bepanthen (nappy rash cream) – your artist will tell you which they recommend. You can either then recover with clingfilm/gauze, or leave it open to the air, depending on your artists advice. Generally, studios will advise you to repeat the cleaning process 3-5 times a day.
4. Keep the tattoo clean and dry
Keep the tattoo clean and dry, and avoid soaking it in water for at least a month (showers are ok, baths are not). If your clothes are likely to rub on it, keep it covered with gauze/clingfilm and medical tape.
5. Avoid direct sunlight
Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight unless necessary. Healed tattoos, especially coloured ones, can fade in the sun – so when it's completely healed, make sure it's covered in a high SPF (check out our best sun creams here), if you're going to be catching some rays.
6. Be patient with healing times
Healing times depend on how well you heal and the size of the design. This can range anywhere from around a week for simple, small line designs, to several months for complex, larger designs. Keep following your aftercare instructions for as long as the artist told you to, and make sure the tattoo is kept well-moisturised and clean for a good few months after that, avoiding abrasive skin products.
7. Do. Not. Itch.
As the tattoo heals, it may scab or flake slightly. Avoid picking at it, as this may remove the ink in that area and lead to patches fading or being removed altogether. If it itches, don't scratch – slap it lightly instead. This should only last for the first few weeks or so – if it stays raised, itches uncontrollably, is red around the design, keeps bleeding for more than a day or so after having it done, or is continuously hot to the touch, go back to your artist or seek medical advice. Infected tattoos are very rare but can happen, and it's always worth getting it checked out if you're worried about it.
8. Go back to the studio for touch ups, if needed
If you do lose ink, your studio should retouch it for free – bad tattoos and service lead to bad reputations, so it's in their interests to make sure you're happy with the final product. After about 6 weeks, go back if you need touch-ups on any area of the tattoo.