Tattoo Aftercare Contradictions - Product and Procedure

Why you Can Never Seem to Get a Straight Answer

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I've gotten a lot of email lately asking about tattoo and piercing aftercare, and people wanting to know why there is so much contradiction from one studio to the next when it comes to body art healing. Admittedly, it can be quite confusing. However, there are legitimate reasons why there are so many different opinions out there, and this article will explore those reasons.

Many tattoo aftercare sheets recommend washing with anti-bacterial soap and treating with A&D or Bacitracin Ointment for 3-5 days, and then following that up with skin lotion.

Some will tell you that Bacitracin is a no-no, and just to keep the tattoo clean and use a little lotion. Some old-school artists have even advised against using any ointments or lotions at all, as they "are vehicles for bacteria, which can cause infections and scabbing." Then there are companies out there that make products such as Tattoo Goo and Tattoo Lube that take out all the guessing work and claim their products are designed specifically for aftercare and are superior to any other ointments. There are so many different opinions out there, what is one to do?

Now these different instructions are not just arbitrary guesses by someone that knows little or nothing about tattoos. All of the above links are to professionals with years of experience and who have probably tried several methods of aftercare before coming to a professional conclusion as to what is best. So, why is there such contradiction?

The first thing to consider is local availability. Not all products are available in every country, so you are limited to certain products. And also, people in lands across the world all have varied skin types which will react differently to these available products.

The Evolution of Aftercare
Through the years, as medical technology improves, new products have become available that are better than what was once considered the best method of aftercare.

Petroleum jelly was once one of the most largely used products - it was highly available, inexpensive, and seemed to do the job fairly well. What has been found since then, though, is that petroleum based products tend to drain the color from a tattoo and also have no healing agents.

Then, along came the over-the-counter triple anti-biotic ointment, Neosporin. It had a healing agent that was good at fighting infection, and it didn't pull the color out of tattoos like petroleum jelly. After a few years of Neosporin being the #1 product recommended for tattoo aftercare, it soon became apparent that it was falling short of its expectations. Several people were coming up with allergic reactions to the ointment, and were getting tiny red bumps on their tattoos. After these red bumps disappeared, they took the ink along with them and the customer was left with a "spotted" tattoo.

More recently, a new product showed up on the shelves. Bacitracin. Bacitracin showed promising advantages over Neosporin. Fewer people were breaking out with allergic reactions and the coloring results were beautiful. Even to this day, Bacitracin remains one of the most highly recommended products. So, why doesn't everyone recommend it?

Bacitracin, good as it may be, still has its failings. There are still people having reactions to it, even though the numbers are fewer than with Neosporin. One of the main symptoms of a Bacitracin reaction is a "weeping" tattoo - one that leaks a small amount of fluid from the wound even several days into healing. Some people just don't take well to anti-bacterial ointments. If this is the case with you, what else is there? The next page will answer that question.

Alternative Solutions
This is why many artists now will also recommend A&D ointment as an alternative to Bacitracin. A&D is not anti-bacterial, but it does contain two crucial ingredients, obviously - Vitamins A and D. These vitamins are very good at healing abrasions and minor wounds because they keep the skin supple and protected from outside organisms. The downfall with this product is that because it does not include any actual healing agents, it is not going to help you if you are prone to infection.

Most people really don't have to worry about this, though - as long as a tattoo is kept clean and protected, infection fighting ointments are really more of a precaution than a necessity.

This brings us to the next alternative - lotions. Almost all artists will recommend using lotion after the first few days of healing to keep the skin moist, but some will actually advise using nothing but lotion from day one. This is where it can get a little tricky. All different brands of lotions contain different ingredients - some that are OK, but some that can be very damaging to a new tattoo. Watch the ingredients - lanolin is an ingredient some will use, and lanolin causes allergic reactions in a lot of people. Lanolin is the natural oil that comes from sheep's wool - if you're allergic to wool sweaters, you're going to be allergic to lanolin! Some also contain products such as (unpurified) bee's wax, which can clog pores and even contain contaminants.

First and foremost, your tattoo needs to be clean, and it needs to breathe. If the pores are clogged, its going to cause infection. If you must use lotion, find one that is free of dyes and fragrances.

Specially made tattoo aftercare ointments have been highly recommended by the artists that use them, some will say they're a waste of money.

Now there are more products hitting the shelves that are specifically designed for tattoo care and include other helpful ingredients such as sunblock and pain reducers. Check with your local artists and see if they carry these products and whether or not they think they are suitable.

The best thing to do is to listen to your artist. If you experience any problems with the aftercare they recommend, discontinue use immediately. If you already know you are susceptible to allergic reactions, let your artist know and ask them what they would recommend as an alternative. Don't be stingy because the product they recommend is $3.00 more than something else - your tattoo is going to last you for the rest of your life, especially if you take good care of it.

Piercing Aftercare
Piercing aftercare is a whole new debate. Tattoo aftercare products are not for piercings. Although they are both wounds, they need to be treated completely differently. What most piercers do seem to agree upon is that alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and the "ear care solutions" you get from mall shops are absolutely forbidden. Many will say to just use antibacterial soap and keep it clean - period. Some recommend the same regimen, but prefer Provon soap.

One will tell you to rotate your jewelry, another will tell you to leave it alone. Then, if you should happen upon a problem like a keloid or infection, that begins a whole new series of arguments.

The best advice I can give you is - relax. All this confusing information can really stress you out if you let it. Same as with the tattoo aftercare - follow your piercer's advice. If it works for you, great. If you have problems, try something else. If you know you're allergic to something, don't use it. Keeping your tattoo or piercing clean is the key to successful aftercare.

One word of caution - if your friends or associates recommend some "off the wall" regimen or product for your new body art, use common sense. No, Preparation H is not good for tattoos, and no, letting your friend pierce you with a cork and sewing needle is not a good idea.

Follow your artist's instructions and they are always just a phone call away if you encounter problems.