Can You Use Essential Oils For Tattoo Aftercare?

There are plenty of essential oil claims on the Internet, and it’s hard to make sense of what’s real and what’s not. Don’t get me wrong – essential oils do have certain benefits. But they’re not going to cure various diseases. In this article, we won’t get into all that. Instead, we’ll focus on the benefits of using essential oils for tattoo aftercare.  

What are essential oils? Are they really ‘essential’?

Essential oils are extracts taken from plants. They’re usually made from plant leaves, flowers, fruits, twigs, seeds, etc. Now, the word ‘essential’ means extremely important or absolutely necessary. ‘Essential oils,’ however, are anything but essential.

The truth is that none of the oils classified as essential oils are necessary for your tattoo or your skin. They’re called ‘essential’ because the oil literally represents the essence of the plant it was derived from. So, lavender essential oil literally translates to lavender oil essence.

A few differences…

There are many different types of essential oils with their own health claims. Each come with their own unique scent as well. To date, there are literally hundreds of essential oils sold on the market.

However, take note that these oils aren’t created equal at all. They’ll obviously inherit properties from the plants they were extracted from. So, if you’re allergic or sensitive to any of the original source plants, then chances are, you may also be allergic to their essence, a.k.a. essential oil.

Should you dilute essential oils or not?

Some oils must be diluted first before topical application. These include strong oils like citronella, lemongrass, cumin, clove bud, oregano, and thyme. On the other hand, chamomile, eucalyptus, lavender, rose, and tea tree may be used without dilution and may be applied directly to skin.

The bad news is that not all ‘experts’ agree with this assumption. Some ‘experts’ categorically say all essential oils must be diluted first (usually with a carrier oil like olive oil or coconut oil) before application. This is truly one of the downsides of using essential oils – it’s hard to tell what’s right and what’s wrong when the industry is largely unregulated.

However, when it comes to tattooed skin, we recommend diluting the essential oil first with either a moisturising cream, lotion, or suitable carrier oil. This is because essential oils are highly concentrated and have no lipids in them, so they can evaporate rather quickly. By mixing the essential oil with a good carrier, it stays on the skin longer and thus moisturise for longer, too.

For tattoo use, the best carrier oils would be coconut oil and cocoa butter as these two are powerful skin moisturisers in their own right.

How essential oils are extracted

There are many different ways oils are extracted, such as steam distillation, cold pressing, solvent extraction, wax embedding, and resin tapping. Here’s a video showing the science behind two of the most popular extraction methods:

Essential oils ‘safe’ for use on tattoos and their benefits

The essential oils listed here are but a few oils that are supposedly ‘safe’ for use on tattoos. It’s by no means a comprehensive list. And due to the nature of essential oils (and the carrier oils mixed with them), we can’t guarantee you’re not going to get any sort of adverse reaction if applied topically to tattooed skin.  

Disclaimer: Before using any of these suggested essential oils on your tattoo, consult with a medical professional first.

  • Myrrh

This essential oil has an earthy scent, and is brownish in colour. Its potential health benefits include the ability to kill harmful bacteria, and heal skin wounds and sores. It also supposedly works to reduce pain and swelling.

If you’re wondering if this oil will protect you from the sun, here’s an interesting study. Apparently, when diluted with SPF15 sunscreen, this 2-in-1 myrrh & sunscreen combo was significantly more effective than either myrrh oil or sunscreen alone.

  • Frankincense

Commonly used in aromatherapy, frankincense essential oil also has skin healing and strengthening properties. It supposedly helps tone and tighten skin, reduce the appearance of scars (and scabs), and heals superficial skin wounds (like tattoos). Note, however, that frankincense is best used on fully healed tattoos as some people say it may draw out some ink.

  • Helichrysum

Extracted from the yellow blossoms of the ‘everlasting’ or ‘immortal’ sunflower, this essential oil is supposedly antibacterial. It’s also said to have skin regenerative properties that promotes healthy skin growth – perfect for skin that just got punctured a few thousand times courtesy of tattoo needles.

  • Lavender

Lavender is probably one of the most popular essential oils used in aromatherapy. It does not only smell heavenly, but it also has a host of surprising benefits when used on tattooed skin. For instance, this oil has antiseptic properties. So, you can use this to treat minor skin irritations, and give your inked skin a nice boost!

  • Basil

Basil essential oil is a popular ingredient in many recipes, but it is also supposedly well-known for treating acne and other skin infections. But if you have an infected tattoo, I don’t recommend you put any essential oil on it. Instead, seek medical advice from your GP.

  • Avocado

Avocado is one healthy fruit, but its oil is also beneficial for tattooed skin. Avocado essential oil retains moisture in the skin and is said to help produce collagen – two great characteristics that can benefit your inked skin!

  • Rosehip

Easily absorbed by skin, rosehip essential oil has astringent properties that helps brighten the skin and tighten pores. A few drops of rosehip oil mixed with coconut oil will help make your tattoo look vibrant and bright – even if it’s already a few years old!

  • Grapeseed

Grapeseed is perfect for use on all skin types. It’s commonly used in skincare products because it’s rich in vitamin C and E. Just like avocado oil, it also locks in skin moisture which will make the tattoo ink stand out.  

  • Thyme

Thyme oil is commonly said to be antiseptic and antimicrobial, which means it will kill bacteria on your skin. It also has superior antioxidant properties and is even touted as a natural eczema treatment.

Essential oils to avoid using on tattoos

Unfortunately, not a lot of research has been done on essential oils that shouldn’t be used on tattoos. However, according to herbalist Vivienne Campbell, calendula infused oil may be a bit too aggressive and can irritate and aggravate the skin.  

Also, if you are allergic to certain plants and its by-products, then it’s best to avoid its essential oils as well. For example, if you have nut allergies, then you should steer clear of essential oils that are derived or extracted from nuts.

How to know if you’re allergic to essential oils

Essential oils may be natural and pure, but it doesn’t mean no one will experience adverse reactions. Sometimes people use them incorrectly, and not surprisingly, they’ll develop sensitivities to the oil.

Do a patch test

A simple patch test is often all you need to determine if you’re allergic to a particular oil. Just apply a drop or two of the oil on a hidden part of your body. Then wait 24 hours and see if there’s a reaction.

Refrain from using if you’re pregnant or nursing

Essential oils do have certain benefits, but if you’re pregnant or nursing, steer clear as some of these oils may be bad for you and your baby. As with most medications, do speak with your doctor first before applying any oil on your skin (tattooed or not).

Do not ingest

You’ll find plenty of advice online telling you it’s okay to ingest essential oils. I strongly recommend you not follow these suggestions from random strangers on the web. Simply put, some oils can be toxic and poisonous if swallowed.

Can you put essential oils on healing tattoos?

As much as possible, you should only apply essential oils to healing tattoos that are at least 3-4 days old (or when it finally stops weeping). I know some oils have powerful skin healing properties, but at the same time, some may be aggressive and can end up pulling ink out of the dermis.

That said, during the initial healing stages, i.e. while it’s still weeping, stick to proven aftercare methods. Clean the area about 2-3 times a day, and apply healing ointment like Aquaphor or A+D. Once it starts scabbing, you can then start applying a few drops of essential oil to the area.

Conclusion

There are certain essential oils which work great for tattoo aftercare. However, just like with most things concerning the precious ink embedded in your skin, do proceed with caution. Remember, not all essential oils are created equal, and you may need to do a bit more research (and trial and error) to find the best essential oil which will make your tattoo standout!

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