Tattoos are one of the most popular and versatile body modifications, and it’s not a recent phenomenon. According to their 2016 research published in Elsevier, Aaron Deter-Wolf et al concluded that the oldest discovered tattoo dates back to 3250 BCE, belonging to the Tyrolean Iceman known as Ötzi. Since then, the procedure has branched out to innumerable cultures, involving various methods (stick and poke, rotary machines or the modern electric tattoo guns?to name a few) and designs (symbolic, medical, figurative etc).
Getting inked can be painful, but that’s not the most concerning part. Without proper sanitation and know-how on the part of the tattoo artist as well as the client, there remains risk of infections, allergies and fading of the design. In a 2018 study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, an online survey of 100 tattooed and 111 non-tattooed participants revealed that more than 50 percent people from both groups had insufficient knowledge about the medical risks and complications associated with getting a tattoo.
This lack of awareness can cause detrimental side-effects. Depending on the size and location of your tattoo, it can take from a couple of weeks to a couple of months for it to completely heal. Therefore, remember to maintain proper hygiene and protect your tattoo from heat, chemicals and friction until it has healed and keep an eye out for any irregularities.
Five Rules Of Tattoo Aftercare
1 . Keep the tattoo clean and moisturised
In the 2015 study titled “Aftercare Should Not be an Afterthought: Current Tattoo Aftercare Methods”, Amanda Rostron et al discovered that there is a lack of instruction concerning proper aftercare hygiene with 12 percent of participant tattoo artists providing only verbal instructions to their clients.
The research also found that “the most recommended tattoo aftercare methods included the use of antibacterial soap and petroleum-based or unscented lotion two to three times a day. More than half of the participants recommended no dressings and leaving the tattoo open to air to heal, and almost a third of the participants recommended an unscented petroleum-based product for moisture during tattoo healing.”
2 . Protect your tattoo from UV rays, chemicals and friction
It is recommended to keep your tattooed area shielded from direct sunlight and UV lamps etc. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen to avoid fading of the ink. Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps as well as they can increase the risk of skin diseases and reactions.
It is also safer to avoid swimming for the primary healing period (2 to 4 weeks) due to the chemicals present in the water. Wear loose and soft clothes that won’t rub against the tattoo and let it breathe.
3 . Do not pick scabs
Seriously, don’t do it. Your tattoo, like any other wound, needs time to heal. Picking the scabs or scratching the area will not only transfer bacteria from your fingernails to your skin, it will also scar and damage your design. Keep the area moisturised to help with the itching and let the scabs fall off naturally. Be patient.
4 . Wait to donate blood
Many medical institutions refuse to allow tattooed individuals to donate blood. This is due to their unwillingness to risk the transfer of any bacteria or infection. However, the idea that getting a tattoo means never being able to donate blood is a myth. It varies from country to country but on an average, donating blood is acceptable after 6-12 months of getting tattooed. Though usually not necessary, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends alerting your doctors about your tattoos before tests like MRIs, just to remain on the safe side.
5 . Catch signs of infection early
In 2016, Ralph Dieckmann et al conducted research for Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, discussing whether the source of post-tattoo infections “are the result of contaminated tattoo inks, unhygienic procedures in the tattoo studio (for example, as a result of poorly disinfected skin), or unhygienic behavior of people directly after having had a tattoo.”
If you are suffering from persistent symptoms like fever, swelling, oozing, redness and pain for more than the usual healing period, it could indicate an infection or an allergic reaction. The best decision here is to contact your tattoo artist and a doctor, rather than self-medicating.