How to take care of your new tattoo: with and without second skin

Congratulations on your brand-new tattoo! If you’re new to this (or if it’s been a while) tattoo aftercare can seem like a long and complicated process, but with the right advice and instructions, it can be a breeze! This article provides instructions on tattoo aftercare and lays out the initial healing process.

At the bottom of the article you can find the Frequently Asked Questions about Tattoo Aftercare.

Tattoo Healing with Second Skin

What is Second Skin?

Second skin (there are a few brands, e.g., SecondSkinTM and Dermalize) is an all-in-one aftercare solution for the initial stages of healing of a tattoo. It is a self-adhesive film that, when applied, develops a protective layer over the tattoo. It provides moisture and healing during the most critical stages of healing of the tattoo, at a time when it is effectively a large open wound. It replaces the use of cling film and protects the tattoo from friction, such as rubbing against your clothes; it is completely waterproof and anti-bacterial, so it also provides efficient protection against external contaminants entering the broken skin, reducing scabbing and risks of infection; and on top of that, the film is breathable and allows excess moisture vapor to be released.

After the tattoo is finished, the tattoo artist will clean and then apply an initial layer of second skin to your fresh tattoo. This layer you should keep for the first 24 hours, though if there is too much fluid building up under the film or if the film starts peeling off, you can remove it, clean the tattoo, and reapply. Remember to let the area dry completely before reapplying a new film.

Freshly Healed Cat Portrait

Freshly healed tattoo by @vokuntattoo

Tattoo Healing and Aftercare

Tattoo by @vokuntattoo

Tattoo Aftercare with Second Skin

The following morning (i.e., before the 24 hours has passed), the second skin will be filled with excess ink, blood and plasma and your tattoo will probably look like it is covered in black goo. That is completely normal, so do try to keep the second skin on for the full 24 hours.

After that 24 hours has passed, remove the second skin and clean your tattoo with neutral/unscented soap, and then pat it dry with a clean paper towel. Wait until the area is fully dry, and then reapply a new layer of second skin. You may need some help in reapplying the film in difficult-to-reach areas. This new layer you should keep for 3 to 5 days for the best results. If fluid continues to build up in significant amounts after the second application, you may remove and reapply a film once more. As mentioned, the second skin is waterproof so you can shower without worrying about your tattoo.

Once the 3 to 5 days have passed, it’s time to remove the film! If it proves to be difficult to remove, you can lightly apply warm water to the area as you pull it off (e.g. in the shower). The skin will look wrinkled and may feel a little sore after removal, which again is completely normal! Clean your tattoo, leave it to dry, and then apply a small amount of tattoo ointment or cream. Continue to apply ointment or tattoo cream to your tattoo while the healing process continues. Please be careful not to use creams that contain cortisone, since they will likely cause damage to the tattoo and prioritise natural creams over chemical ones.

Tattoo After Care without Second Skin

How to take care of the tattoo

The process without second skin is not dissimilar to healing with second skin, except for requiring some more active care from you. After the tattoo is finished, your tattoo artist will clean the tattoo and wrap it up in cling film. You should keep this cling film on for 2 to 3 hours. Unwrap your tattoo and then clean it with neutral or unscented soap and let it dry or gently pat it dry with a clean paper towel.

Avoid cleaning the tattoo under running water, instead splashing the area with water, or if the tattoo is large or difficult to reach, gently washing it in the shower. After the area has dried completely, apply a thin layer of cream, spreading it evenly across the tattooed area. As before, do not use creams containing cortisone and do prioritise natural creams.

You can re-wrap the tattooed area with cling film for the following night to prevent it rubbing on your sheets or getting dirt in it. Do not, however, cover the tattoo in this way after the first night. Continue cleaning the tattoo regularly and applying thin, even layers of cream for at least 1 to 2 weeks or until the tattoo appears healed. Avoid over-applying creams or ointments; too much cream can suffocate the area and affect the final healed result.

Scabs and Skin

The tattoo will begin to scab over rather quickly and may begin to itch quite a bit. You should avoid rubbing or scratching the tattoo at all costs. The scab will begin to peel on its own and fall off in stages, and some places may itch more than others. You can apply a thin layer of ointment several times a day should you need to (remember to clean the tattoo first), but resist the urge to pick at the scab, or you risk doing permanent damage to your tattoo.

In general, you must be careful to keep the tattoo clean at all times. Avoid the gym or sauna for at least 14 days; excessive sweating can cause ink loss and moving the tattooed area too much can cause the wound to re-open. Do not go swimming for at least 2 weeks; bacteria and chlorine can cause infection and inflammation. Be extra careful around pets!

And, of course, if you ever have any questions or concerns, never hesitate to be in touch with your tattoo artist! Congratulations once again on your new tattoo!

Suggestions and Tips for Long-Term Tattoo Aftercare

  • Use Sun Screen Creams spf 50 and don’t expose your tattoo to the sun for a long period to avoid fading and degradation.
  • Keep your skin mosturised with body lotions and cream and by staying hydrated.

Tattoo Healing and Aftercare FAQ

How long should I wait before going to the Gym or Sauna?

After getting your tattoo make sure to wait 2 weeks minimum before going to the Gym or Sauna. Exercise can cause the tattoo to stretch out and distort. Also, sweating too much make it difficult for the second skin to stay on and can cause slight ink loss.

How long should I wait before soaking the tattoo in water?

After getting your tattoo make sure to wait 1 week minimum before swimming and bathing. You cannot soak with the Second Skin either. In order to avoid infection and degradation we suggest to avoid pools and the sea.

Is it normal to have fluid under the Second Skin?

It’s completely normal. The fluid that gets trapped between the skin and the layer of Second Skin is a mixture of Blood, Plasma and Ink. The Second Skin is anti-bacterial, so it also provides protection against external contaminants entering the broken skin, reducing scabbing and risks of infection.

How long does it take for the Tattoo to heal?

If the tattoo is taken good care of the tattoo is healed after 4-7 days. It takes 2-3 weeks for the skin to feel normal and for the ink to settle completely 1 to 2 months.

What should I do if the Second Skin peels off before time?

If the Second Skin starts peeling or peels off straightaway after the application, don’t panic. Just remove it, clean the tattoo and reapply. You can also peel it off, clean the area and continua with the normal after care.

During the Healing Process, should I keep my skin moist or dry?

You can mosturise your fresh tattoo but make sure to don’t exaggerate with the cream application. Always keep the tattoo dry and clean to avoid infections.

Olli Castren - Author


Olli Castrén

“A Helsinki-based student of political science, keen foodie, and avid tattoo collector. I write articles for the TDP & Tattoo Lounge blog!”