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The ratio between my one tattoo and many piercings is wide for a reason. Though I love gawking over ink designs on Instagram, the truth is contemplating a permanent mark takes time. In my case, it takes years–I’m literally still thinking of what my second one should be a decade after the first. Plus, there’s the healing process that can literally make or break it, even if you’ve got the fanciest products for tattoo healing. I don’t know how Halsey or Rihanna have done it multiple times over, but their consistency is commendable.
Ultimately, taking care of a tattoo does require attention to detail, though the healing process is very individual since we’ve all got different skin types and textures. According to Miryam Lumpini, whose work can be seen on Jhene Aiko and Slick Woods, it also depends on where the tattoo is on your body. “Very delicate or dainty tattoos might heal faster than tattoos with a lot of contrast and color packing,” she tells StyleCaster.
You could also think of it this way: the bigger the tattoo, the bigger the wound. When the size increases, so does the risk of infection. So it should go without saying, but keeping your tattoo clean throughout the healing process is super important. If it’s taking longer than a couple weeks to heal, Lumpini says that usually means you’re dealing with a small infection. In that case, the quickest way to treat it is with a light layer of hydrocortisone, which will handle itching too.
But before you can even get to that point, any reputable artist will recommend that it stay wrapped for at least the first day or two. The type of wrap used comes down to individual preference, though Lumpini says most artists find good, old fashioned plastic the easiest to work with. “There are also different types of compress pads that are very good and absorbent of all the plasma that your body releases in order to create a scab,” she says. “The reason why we want to cover the tattoo is to protect the tattoo from bacteria and prevent the tattoo from scabbing.”
There’s also Saniderm–a plastic-like film that covers the ink like a sticker and can be on the skin for up to three days. But regardless of whether you opt to wrap it or not, what’s most important is keeping it clean and moisturized. “Don’t use any harsh perfumes, harsh products or anything that will irritate the skin,” adds Lumpini. “Try to use products that are antiseptic or mild just so that you will keep it clean without any irritation until it’s healed.”
This extends to the type of healing balm you’ll be using for weeks or even months after that initial appointment too. Most tattoo shops carry their own brand to make after-care more convenient. But if you’re looking to spend even less, look no further than CVS or Amazon for Lumpini’s personal favorite. “I always suggest my clients to use Aquaphor because it’s easy to buy anywhere and something that you always have quick access to.”Overall, any other balm should contain skin-soothing vitamins and if possible, be organic and vegan.
Also, don’t forget that a healthy lifestyle will do wonders for the healing process too. If you’re eating clean foods, keeping your skin hydrated and working out a few days a week, you may not even need a balm. But if you enjoy cookies for breakfast and despise the treadmill like me, here are tattoo balms we highly recommend trying.
Badger Organic Tattoo Balm
Certified organic, cruelty-free and gluten-free, this aftercare balm is lightweight and hydrating with a coconut oil- and tamanu oil-infused formula.
$9.99 at Badger Balm
Brooklyn Grooming Old School Tattoo Balm
Unlike balms made with petroleum jelly, this one is non-comegenic thanks to a shortlist of breathable oils (sesame seed, CBD) as well as shea butter and vitamin E.
$22 at Brooklyn Grooming
Eir NYC Tattoo Balm
In addition to the usual suspects–shea butter, coconut oil and vitamin E–this all-natural balm also contains an unexpected cure for locking in moisture: dried rose petals.
$10 at Eir NYC
Doctor Rogers Restore Healing Balm
Though this isn’t specifically for tattoo healing, experts routinely recommend it as a solution for not only hydration, but for diminishing wounds as well.
$30 at Doctor Rogers
Skinfix Inked Tattoo Balm
Allantoin, a medication that speeds up wound healing, isn’t talked about enough. Thankfully, it just so happens to be the star ingredient in this over-the-counter option for after-care.
$22 at Ulta
An OG in the tattoo game, this oil-based and petroleum-free balm has long been a staple in tattoo studios for fast healing.
$5.98 at Amazon
Wild Rose Ink Balm
You had us at lavender! This is by far the most soothing option on our list, thanks to a list of all-natural and cruelty-free ingredients.
$24.95 at Wild Rose