Method 1: Ointment

Remove the bandage after 3-12 hours. For example, if you get tattooed early in the day, leave the bandage on until the evening, but if you get tattooed at night and go to bed soon after, it's ok to leave the initial bandage on until the morning. Either way, don’t remove the bandage until you can properly clean the tattoo with mild soap and warm water. Rinse it well, rubbing off as much of the slimy coating that may have formed over the tattooed area while underneath the bandage. Gently pat it dry with a clean cloth or paper towel, then allow it to air dry for 15 minutes before applying ointment.

Apply a tattoo-healing product like Vitalitree to the tattoo as needed, massaging a very small amount into the skin to keep the tattoo slightly moisturized, but NOT smothered. Use just enough ointment to give the tattoo a barely noticeable, slight shine, and blot off any excess. For the first day or two, your tattoo may require more cleaning or blotting, as the traumatized skin may still be seeping a small amount of plasma.  The proper minimal amount of ointment along with daily cleaning will prevent this small amount of plasma from forming into a thicker scab that could pull out color or cause cracking.

The healing tattoo should never stay submerged in water.  Therefore, limit yourself to only short showers until the tattoo has finished peeling. It’s also important that a fresh tattoo be protected from the sun and dirty environments (gyms, pet dander or saliva, etc.) with clothing or by simply avoiding certain activities, as it’s still an open wound at this time.  All normal activities involving water, sun exposure, or dirty environments can usually be resumed after one week.

Only apply ointment for as long as it takes for your tattoo to peel, usually 3-7 days. When the peeling begins, the tattooed skin will flake like a sunburn.  At all costs avoid picking at the cracked and flaking skin.  When the tattoo has fully entered the peeling phase you should not apply any more ointment. The area will become dry and itchy, and a good quality, fragrance-free lotion can now be used until the skin returns to its normal texture.

Troubleshooting:

If bubbles form on the surface of the fresh tattoo, stop applying ointment, letting it dry and peel on its own. This bubbling is caused by moisture getting trapped in your tattoo, usually from soaking or too much ointment, and could lead to scabbing. If scabs develop, they can remove the color beneath them if prematurely removed. It’s important that they’re allowed to dry out completely, and not get waterlogged at any time. The scab will eventually fall off on its own, and the tattoo should be fine if no deep cracks have formed.

Method 2: Plastic Wrap

This is the less conventional method, and tends to work well for larger tattoos, as well as tattoos in awkward areas that will be covered with clothing, as this can cause irritation. If you find that your tattoos have healed poorly in the past, this method may be an effective alternative.

Remove your bandage after 3-12 hours, and clean it with mild soap and warm water as in Method 1.  After washing, gently pat it dry with a clean cloth or paper towel, then allow it to air dry for 15 minutes. When the tattoo is dry to the touch, cover it completely with a new piece of plastic wrap, using small pieces of tape as needed to hold it in place.  Do not use any healing ointment or moisturizer, only plastic wrap over your cleaned and dried skin.

With this method, the tattoo is kept completely covered with plastic wrap 24 hours a day, for as long as it takes to peel—usually 3 to 5 days. It’s important to discard the wrapping and wash the tattoo every 4-6 hours or after any period of sweating, letting it completely air-dry afterwards, and applying a new piece of plastic wrap each time. It’s also important not to over-wrap the area, unnecessarily covering untattooed skin, which can trap excess moisture and body heat.  The same precautions as Method 1 regarding water and sunlight apply to this method as well.

When the peeling begins after 3-5 days, the tattooed skin will flake like a sunburn.  At all costs avoid picking at the cracked and flaking skin.  When the tattoo has fully entered the peeling phase, discontinue the plastic wrap. The area will become dry and itchy, and a good quality, fragrance-free lotion can now be used until the skin returns to its normal texture.

Troubleshooting:

As mentioned before, moisture can be very detrimental to the healing process. Too much plastic wrap on the surrounding untattooed skin—or not changing the wrap often enough—can lead to development of a moisture rash. This will appear as bright red irritation with tiny pimples around the effected area, and will likely feel painful and itchy.  If this happens, do not re-wrap the tattoo or try to medicate it.  Instead, let it dry completely and peel on its own.  Apply lotion to the area once irritation has diminished.

A combination of methods 1 and 2 is NOT recommended. Please only use one method or the other.

Remember that until your new tattoo peels, it’s an open wound, and needs to be treated as one. Give your tattoo the time and attention it needs to properly heal.  Engaging in actions such as swimming, tanning, removing the bandage early, and general disregard for it, are done at your own peril.  If you suspect an infection has developed, please seek medical attention immediately, as untreated tattoo infections can have very serious consequences.

Method 3: Saniderm/Tegaderm

Clean and dry the new tattoo and surrounding skin, and do not apply any lotions or ointments. Before starting the Saniderm process, make sure the entire area has been shaved, plus an additional inch all the way around the site of the tattoo, as this will help with bandage adhesion and removal.

Cut the Saniderm tattoo aftercare bandage to allow at least 1 inch of the bandage to be in contact with undamaged skin around the tattooed area. More room is suggested in highly mobile areas.

Practice before you apply. If it's your first time using Saniderm, it may be a little tricky to work with. It doesn't hurt to practice with a small section first–just make sure you shave the area.

To use the bandage, first peel off the paper backing to reveal the adhesive side.

Gently apply the bandage using light pressure. The bandage should lay smooth across the skin, with minimal air bubbles. For best results, ensure that the skin is in a neutral position–not overly stretched out or overly wrinkled.

Remove the plastic backing, leaving only Saniderm on the skin. It's okay when using multiple bandages on large tattoos, to overlap them by 1/2 inch (1 cm). Ensure the bandage is sealed to the skin all the way around the tattoo. If the bandage is completely sealed all the way around the tattoo, it is considered waterproof and activities like swimming will not affect the tattoo. However, as with all fresh tattoos it is still an open wound that needs to be protected, so all activities are done at your own peril.

Wear the first bandage for 8-24 hours, depending on how much the tattoo weeps. If a lot of plasma and blood collects inside the sealed bandage, it’s necessary to remove it, clean and dry the tattoo, and reapply a new bandage sooner than if there is little to no fluid in the bandage. Leaving the bandage on for too long can result in infection, so always change your bandage within the stated timeframe. If the bandage is completely sealed all the way around the tattoo, it is considered waterproof and activities like swimming will not affect the tattoo. However, as with all fresh tattoos it is still an open wound that needs to be protected, so all activities are done at your own peril.

To remove the Saniderm, carefully and slowly peel up from one corner, slowly massaging the adhesive bandage off of the skin. This step may be uncomfortable, as the bandage may pull the tattooed skin upwards as it’s removed, but careful removal can minimize the discomfort. 

After you remove the first Saniderm bandage (8-24 hours), clean and dry the area, and apply a second bandage. If using a glycerin soap, such as green soap, be sure to rinse thoroughly, as any residue will react with the adhesives and can cause binding and irritation. Avoid loofahs or scratchy wash cloths.

Bandages applied after the first one can be worn for up to 6 days, or until the tattoo peels, but in general it’s best to change the bandage once per day.

Troubleshooting:

Problems with this healing method are very similar to those that can occur in Method Two. If the tattoo becomes exceptionally painful, with irritated skin around it or a foul odor, immediately remove the bandage and discontinue use. If pain or odor continues to increase, the tattoo may be infected, and medical attention should be sought immediately.