You've endured the tattoo needles like a champ, you're out of the hot seat, and the most painful part is over. But before you flaunt your fresh ink, there is one essential part of aftercare that'll ensure your tattoo looks as good as new long after it heals — and it has everything to do with the soap you use to cleanse it. Neglect this part of the process, and you run the risk of ruining the tattoo you've worked so hard to design or, worse, getting an infection — and nobody wants that. The tattoo artist has done their part, and now it's time to do yours.
According to three board-certified dermatologists who spoke to POPSUGAR, new tattoos must be treated with a lot of TLC. "A tattoo is a wound," explained Reagan Anderson, DO, FAOCD, and dermatologist at Colorado Dermatology Institute. "And just like all other wounds, if we can keep it moist and covered while it's healing over the next six weeks, it's going to do much better than if you let it get dry and cracked and scabbed."
To promote and retain a moisturized skin barrier, Tiffany Jow Libby, MD, FAAD, and dermatologist at Brown Dermatology, highly recommends using a gentle liquid cleanser instead of a bar of soap. "Many bar soaps have a pH within the range of nine to 10 and therefore tend to be more alkaline, which can disrupt the skin's pH," Dr. Libby said. As a general rule, you should wash your tattoo no more than two times a day with warm — not hot — water, but don't use a washcloth or loofah, as this will disrupt healing.
Andrea Suarez, MD, dermatologist at First Derm, pointed out that using a gentle liquid cleanser alone won't be enough to effectively heal your tattoo. Right after properly cleansing your skin, she recommends slathering a layer of fragrance-free moisturizer over it while it's still wet to seal the skin barrier. "When the skin barrier is impaired, it loses water very, very quickly," she said. "And in order to properly heal it, having a good barrier cream can really pay off dividends." Not only does it decrease the amount of scabbing and prevent any gaps from forming in your new ink, but it also makes the healing process go a lot smoother — literally.
From the moment you leave the tattoo parlor until the last day of the full six-week healing period, pay attention to any changes in your skin. If you start noticing rashes, bumps, and pus, it's a good idea to contact your doctor. But light swelling, redness, and even a little blood are perfectly normal. As long as you're diligently cleansing and moisturizing your tattoo, you should effectively keep infection at bay. To optimize the healing of your new tattoo, we've compiled a list of six dermatologist-recommended soaps to use during your six weeks of tattoo aftercare.
— Additional reporting by Haley Lyndes