Tattoo aftercare doesn't seem like it should be a confusing subject, but it is! The FDA does not play much of a role in skincare, so there is no governing body to insist an ingredient is not beneficial or possibly even harmful for tattoo application. Artists from different backgrounds recommend different aftercare techniques depending on how they were taught. They base their thoughts on observation and experience. As a client and fresh canvas, you know that you want to take the artists recommendations because you know he's the expert on ink... but he said something that was opposite of what you've heard... The key factor to remember when considering your aftercare options is that your fresh tattoo is an open wound.
Let me repeat that! YOUR FRESH TATTOO IS AN OPEN WOUND. A second-degree abrasion which means that it involves the epidermis as well as the dermis.
Tiny little needles have punctured your skin and injected ink into it- but nothing will close those holes until your skin has the time to close on its own. Your job now, is to help it heal in a healthy and speedy fashion, so that you can decrease your likelihood of getting an infection.
The internet is flooded with information on aftercare, so let's examine and bust some of the most persistent aftercare myths in a short little series of blogs.
The first and most persistently argued myth regarding tattoo aftercare:
THE MYTH: Use Petroleum Products on Your Tattoo We couldn't disagree more.
Petroleum is naturally occurring, but petroleum products are derived from crude oil. PETROLIUM HAS NO MEDICINAL VALUE AND DOES NOT BELONG ON OR INSIDE OF THE HUMAN BODY. Petrol is for engines. Feel free to gas up your car, but avoid drenching your open wound in the stuff. This means you need to put that Vaseline back on the shelf- the Neosporin, too! (we'll get to Neosporin in the next blog post)
The use of petroleum products in tattoo aftercare is a dividing line between artists. Using a product like Vaseline during the healing process is REAL old school. It's also direction that is super easy to believe because every artist uses Vaseline to lubricate the skin while he is tattooing.
It's important for the artist to be able to smoothly move the tattoo irons across your skin, lubrication is crucial to sharp lines and smooth work and Vaseline is used because it's difficult to wipe off so lasts over many passes. HOWEVER, once this portion of the process is over, you need to say goodbye to Vaseline and all other products derived from petroleum.
Petroleum products create an unyielding barrier between your skin and "the outside." Its so good at creating that barrier, it's almost impossible to wash off! It keeps water in and air out. The trouble is, you don't want to keep ALL moisture in and ALL air out, which is not a good thing! Your tattoo is a part of your skin, and needs to breathe to be healthy. Because these products are so thick and difficult to wash off, adding layer upon layer of them to your skin can actually just lock in bacteria and cause a bad case of acne, or worse.
A MYTH that exists that petroleum products will "drain the color" from your tattoo, but that's not accurate, that's not the reason to avoid it. Let me explain a little further...
When people believe that their color has "drained" due to petroleum based aftercare, one common reason for the fading and "smearing" of the colors is that the skin was kept so overly moist that the ink couldn't stay in the confines of the lines the artist made. If the skin is kept too moist for too long, seeping can occur. Your artist wants you to stay out of baths and pools for the same reason- waterlog is bad for ink!
Your inflamed skin needs moisturization, not suffocation. Petroleum products do not moisturize your skin simply because petroleum is not a moisturizer! The barrier they make between skin and air is a virtual wall. This means that even if a petroleum product touts some sort of healing ingredient or moisturizing elements, the nature of the product would keep that good stuff from absorbing into your skin!
Another unfortunate result that can occur from usage of petroleum products, is that your skin can become dependent on it, and stop generating its own natural moisture. Have you ever known a person who said that they were "addicted" to chap stick, because the second they stopped using it their lips dried out? That's the magic of petroleum products in action! You DON'T want this happening around your new piece of permanent art!
The last key factor to consider when it comes to petroleum products is how your skin itself will react. Because these products are nothing more than barriers, even laying a thin layer of a petroleum based product on your skin can clog pores and promote pimples. So beyond the fact that your skin may get zitty or start getting used to not having to work to lubricate itself, you should know that allergic reactions are not uncommon with these products. Frequently, the reaction is acne-like, and creates small, red, raised bumps. This kind of reaction is usually localized to the area where the product was applied, but if that area is your new tattoo, it's a simple skin reaction that almost certainly will effect your art in a negative way.
So WHY do these products even exist for tattoo aftercare? Simple! They are cheaper to produce than natural formulations!
Here at Nurse Mary J, we recommend that you do not apply a product that creates a moisture barrier on the skin- it's like suffocation and eventual drowning for that beautiful new ink.