How to look after your new tattoo

Image: Instagram

So, you’re thinking of getting a tattoo but you’re concerned because so many people have told you it won’t look good when you get older? This might not be entirely true - provided you don’t get an amateur tatt that makes you look like a prison escapee, there are ways to ensure your ink stays in tiptop shape over time.

According to tattoo artist Ethel Laka, a number of factors about your skin and the tattooist you choose can determine whether your tattoo will deteriorate over the years. Here are some tips to save you from expensive removal treatment.

Image: Tzogia Kappatou/Stock

Moisturise the scabs

Laka says, in her experience, the skin is often overworked during the process of inking, resulting in scabs. She advises against picking off the scabs. You should rather opt for applying a moisturiser and choose one which allows the skin to breathe. “Mild antiseptic creams like Savlon work really well but you should definitely stay away from things like Vaseline or Zambuk. Things like that are not endorsed for tattoo healing. They’re very occlusive - that means the skin doesn’t breathe.”

Laka also notes that some creams might draw out the colour.

You might want to avoid the beach...

Thinking of showing off your fresh tattoo at the beach? Think again. Seawater and sun are not good for new tattoos. “It’s called saline solution… We actually use that to tattoo out the pigment, to show you what it does to a tattoo. It draws the pigment out of the skin.” Laka cautions that you should only expose your tattoo to the sun after two to three weeks, when it has healed.

No touching

If you invite others admire your new tattoo, you will need to set some boundaries. Laka says hands are exposed to many germs which you don’t want near your newly inked tattoo because, technically, it is an open wound. “You only touch it when you have clean, washed hands.”

Say no to plastic wrap

To tattoo amateurs, the protective sheet used to cover new art might appear to be regular plastic wrap you buy in supermarkets but it isn’t. It is a medical-grade plaster, usually used for burn victims. Some artists do use store-bought plastic wrap, which Laka warns against. “It’s bad – it promotes sweat. You don’t want sweat because it's an open wound and sweat (might contain) bacteria."

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Location, location

Areas of the body where the skin creases, such as the bend in your elbow, should be avoided at all costs, when you are thinking about where to place your ink. Areas where you have stretch marks are also out of the question. However, there are some spots on your body that are good when it comes to concerns about ageing. “You can get one on the lower arm, the leg on the sides is a good area, the back is brilliant and the shoulder blade is fine,” Laka says.

Tattoos on fingers is a big trend at the moment but can lead to disappointment later on due to the high incidence of dead skin cells on them. “How a tattoo happens is that you need live skin cells - they swell up and take on the pigment. If you have dead skin cells, like on the fingers or under the foot or on the side of the foot, they don’t have room to take up the pigment, which is why the lines blur.”

Image: Stock image

Vegan ink is cool

A number of professional brands have opted for “green” inks that are not only good for the environment but great for your skin. They also don’t contain the ingredients which can cause allergic reactions, which are used in other inks.

Avoid keloids for black skin

Ah, the melanin struggle is real! Laka has often come across  “skin shaming”, where dark-skinned customers are turned away because artists cannot work with their skin. Because darker skin tones require bolder styles, getting it wrong can result in keloids – raised scars. “You find the tattoo is going to rise and it feels like you can feel the lines where the tattoo is," says Laka. Keloid scars need to be treated by a medical professional.

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