How Bathing and Swimming With A New Tattoo Works

Fresh tattoos are technically wounds. Tattoo needles puncture and penetrate the skin so that ink can be deposited in the dermis layer. And because of this, bathing and swimming with a new tattoo isn’t exactly a good idea. Read on to find out how long you need to wait before you can soak your tattoo in water!

Why cleaning and washing a new tattoo is good, but soaking is bad…

It’s important for your tattoo to be cleaned up a few hours after getting it done. This is because all those tiny needle puncture holes your tattooist made on your skin will be oozing various fluids, like blood, plasma, and excess tattoo ink. If you don’t clean and wash it up, it’s going to be the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which will lead to infection.

The right way to wash a new tattoo

To wash a brand-new tattoo, use warm water and mild, antibacterial, non-perfumed soap to remove the gunk that has accumulated on your skin. Alternatively, if you don’t have access to clean, running water, you can use antibacterial wipes. Make sure you use one wipe for every swipe, so the dirty stuff don’t go back into the wound!

If you want to hit two birds with one stone, you can take a quick 5-minute shower whilst cleaning the tattoo at the same time! This way you’re not only getting the tattoo clean, but also your whole body as well. To avoid skin reactions, use mild soap and shampoo that do not contain artificial fragrances and colour.

Cleaning an oozing tattoo should be done with your clean, bare hands. Don’t use loofahs, sponges, or any other cleaning accessory as these can harbour germs and bacteria. And when drying, you can either let it air dry or pat it dry with kitchen roll.

Bathing is a different story

bathing in dirty water will surely cause an infected tattoo
Photo by Naomi August

I know lying in a tub is way more comfortable than standing up in the shower. But water in a tub does get stagnant, which means all the dirt, dust, germs, bacteria, fluids, and other gross things from your body will be swimming in that tiny tub.

And your exposed tattoo? Well, it will be a prime target for the dirty stuff to get into! So, yes, the probability of getting your new ink infected whilst bathing will be off the charts.

But what about swimming?

Well, swimming is technically the same as bathing – you’ll be soaking your tattoo in water. And whether you’re thinking of swimming in a pool or a natural body of water (seawater, river, lake), the effect on your ink will be the same.

Let’s break down the differences between swimming in a pool and natural body of water:

Most, if not all, swimming pools have chlorine in it to keep it clean and sanitised. Without chlorine, you’d be literally swimming in a pool of germs and bacteria. That said, while chlorine’s obvious importance can’t be understated, it does have a bad effect on unhealed tattoos.

You’ve probably experienced this first-hand when swimming in a pool. When you get off the pool, you’ll notice your skin – and your hair – is super dry. This is because chlorine is naturally harsh and will strip your skin of its natural oils.

So, if you’ve got an unhealed tattoo, you can expect it to dry out as well. Chances are it will also irritate the skin and make it itch – and doing so won’t bode well for your ink.

Now, when it comes to swimming in the ocean, rivers, lakes, and other natural bodies of water…

Obviously, there’s no chlorine in such waters. So, there’ll be an abundance of infection-causing bacteria (and creatures) ready to pounce as soon as your skin touches water!  This is true for both freshwater and saltwater. Additionally, seawater’s salinity can also dry out and irritate your skin even if you just go for a quick dip in the ocean.

There are so many ways for your tattoo to get infected when swimming. The risks just aren’t worth it. It’s better to stay out of the water and save your ink!

How soon can you go bathing or swimming with a new tattoo?

swimming with new tattoo is bad
Photo by Joseph Greve

By now, you know just how detrimental to the tattoo healing process bathing and swimming is. The good news is you don’t have to wait forever to get back into the water! In fact, in just 2-3 weeks, you can already fill up your tub with water and soak to your heart’s content.

To better understand the timeframe, let me give you a quick walkthrough of the tattoo healing process.

Stage 1: Your tattoo will be sore and weeping at this point. Quick showers are okay. Wash the tattoo a couple of times to day to remove gunk, and apply a thin layer of healing ointment for protection. Absolutely no bathing or swimming.

Stage 2: Your tattoo will be scabbing now. No need to clean and wash the tattoo frequently, a once-daily cleaning during your morning shower is fine. Start moisturising with non-perfumed lotion but only apply a thin layer. Still no bathing or swimming.

We highly recommend Unedited Tattoo Moisturiser for this stage and beyond:

Stage 3: Your tattoo will be peeling right about now. Continue applying moisturiser to the area. Still no bathing or swimming, but you’re nearly there.

Stage 4: Your tattoo is now healed on the surface, and you now get the green signal to soak your skin in water! Bathing and swimming are now okay, but don’t forget to continue moisturising the tattoo as part of your daily aftercare.

What about waterproof tattoo bandages? Are they fine to use?

There are products known as second skin tattoo bandages. These are breathable (allows skin to breathe) and waterproof (don’t let water in). Manufacturers say it’s fine to leave on skin for up to 3-5 days, so you can definitely shower with it on.

TattooMed’s Tattoo Protection Film is a good example:

However, bathing and swimming are a different story. Soaking these waterproof bandages isn’t a good idea because the adhesive that makes the bandage stick to your skin can easily weaken. And that will leave your tattoo wide open to the elements.

So, the answer is no, these waterproof bandages aren’t designed for soaking, but should be fine for a quick rinse in the shower. 

Conclusion

I know how icky it feels if you’re dirty for too long. Fortunately, you don’t need to stay away from water just because you got inked. Washing your tattoo with soap and water, and showering are all perfectly fine. Just don’t attempt bathing and swimming if you don’t want to ruin that fresh, new art on your skin!   

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