Getting a new tattoo is an exciting experience. Once your fresh ink is finished, the tattoo artist will clean it, apply ointment or lotion, and cover it with a bandage or plastic wrap. This begins the tattoo healing process. There are different methods for caring for a new tattoo during the healing phase. Two common approaches are dry healing and moist healing (also called wet healing). Deciding between dry vs. wet healing often comes down to personal preference. However, there are some key differences between the two methods.
What is dry healing?
Dry healing means allowing your new tattoo to heal without the use of ointments, lotions or bandages after the initial application by your artist. With this method, you clean your tattoo with mild soap and water and allow it to scab over and peel naturally, without the use of any additional moisturizing or protective products. The dry healing approach follows the theory that scabbing helps protect the tattoo from infection while the skin below heals.
Here is a summary of the dry healing tattoo process:
- Your artist cleans and bandages the tattoo immediately after completing it.
- Leave the original bandage on for the timeframe recommended by your artist, usually 24 hours.
- Carefully remove the bandage and clean the tattoo area with mild, unscented soap and water.
- Gently pat dry with a clean towel.
- Do not apply any ointment, lotion or additional bandages.
- Repeat the gentle washing process 2-3 times per day.
- Allow the tattoo to scab over and peel naturally without picking or scratching.
- Avoid submerging the tattoo in water from baths, pools, etc. until fully healed.
- Use a fragrance-free mild soap when showering until the tattoo completes the healing process.
What is moist/wet healing?
Moist healing involves keeping your new tattoo hydrated with balms, lotions or ointments after the initial application by your tattoo artist. This helps the skin stay lubricated and prevents scabbing. With moist healing, you gently wash the tattoo and apply a thin layer of fragrance-free lotion or balm multiple times per day. The moisturizer helps lock in ink, allows skin cells to regenerate faster and prevents the tattoo from drying out.
Here are the steps for moist tattoo healing:
- Your artist cleans, applies ointment and bandages the fresh tattoo.
- Leave the bandage on for the recommended time, usually 24 hours.
- Gently wash the tattoo with mild, fragrance-free soap and water.
- Pat dry with a clean towel.
- Apply a thin layer of fragrance-free moisturizing ointment or lotion.
- Cover with a non-stick bandage or dressing.
- Repeat the washing and moisturizing process 2-3 times per day.
- Reapply the bandage or dressing after each time moisturizing.
- Continue moisturizing and protecting the tattoo until it has fully peeled and healed.
Dry healing pros and cons
Here are some potential benefits and drawbacks of dry healing:
- May reduce risk of infection since the scab acts as a protective barrier.
- Prevents possible skin irritation or reaction from ointments or lotions.
- Easier to see how the tattoo is healing without ointment.
- May enhance ink retention in deeper layers of skin.
- Minimizes outside moisture that could dilute pigments.
- Increased risk of scarring if scabs are prematurely scratched or picked.
- Can be more painful or uncomfortable as skin tightens during scabbing.
- May slow healing time without moisturizer to help skin regenerate.
- Can cause scabs and dead skin to take ink out when flaking off.
- Higher risk of fading since skin and ink are not protected by moisturizer.
Moist healing pros and cons
Here are some potential advantages and disadvantages of moist tattoo healing:
- Prevents scabbing and scarring by keeping skin hydrated.
- Promotes faster healing as moisture helps skin cells regenerate.
- Reduces pain, itching and tightness by keeping skin lubricated.
- Locks in color and prevents fading by sealing in pigments.
- Lower risk of scabbing taking ink out when flaking off.
- Easier to gently wash away ointment vs. scrubbing off scabs.
- Potential for skin irritation or reaction from ointments.
- Increased chance of infection if moisture gets trapped.
- Difficult to see healing progress with ointment covering tattoo.
- Excess moisturizer could potentially dilute some pigment.
- Requires more frequent aftercare washing and moisturizing.
Which is better for tattoo healing?
There is ongoing debate around whether dry or moist healing is best for tattoo care. Many tattoo artists and health providers recommend moist healing as the preferred method. However, others believe dry healing allows better healing and brighter ink retention if done properly. Here are some factors to help determine which option may be better for your new tattoo:
|Favoring Dry Healing
|Favoring Moist Healing
|Areas that won’t be submerged in water like back or limbs
|Tattoos on hands, feet, joints or high friction locations
|Small, simple tattoos
|Large, complex multi-session tattoos
|Your Skin Type
|Oily skin or acne-prone
|Dry or sensitive skin
|Deep, darker pigments
|Delicate pastels and lighter colors
|If you can avoid picking scabs
|If you have a light touch cleaning
|If your artist suggests dry healing
|If your artist recommends moisturizing
As seen above, the optimum healing method often depends on your specific circumstances. Many tattoo enthusiasts recommend moist healing for your first tattoo and the option of dry healing for subsequent ones once you understand your body’s healing capabilities.
Tips for safe dry tattoo healing
If you opt to dry heal your new ink, keep these tips in mind:
- Listen to your artist’s aftercare advice and ask questions if needed.
- Carefully wash hands before touching the tattoo.
- Use a mild, fragrance-free soap when cleaning.
- Gently pat dry with clean paper towels.
- Avoid using abrasive towels that could pull off scabs.
- Don’t pick scabs or scratch itching skin which can pull out ink.
- Wear loose, breathable clothing over the tattoo.
- Be patient and leave scabs alone until they naturally fall off.
- Avoid direct sun exposure on healing tattoos.
- Follow up with your artist if any concerns arise during healing.
Tips for effective moist tattoo healing
If using the moist method, follow these recommendations for quality tattoo aftercare:
- Use moisturizers made for tattoo aftercare, not generic lotions.
- Ensure hands are washed thoroughly before touching the tattoo.
- Apply moisturizer in a thin layer just until the skin has a shine.
- Use non-stick medical dressings instead of household plastics.
- Carefully wash away ointment before reapplying to prevent buildup.
- Follow the usage directions for any ointments or salves.
- Avoid using too much moisturizer which can draw out pigment.
- Watch for signs of infection like excessive redness or pus.
- Keep the area clean and let it breathe when possible.
- Ask your artist how long to continue moisturizing during healing.
Signs of tattoo healing problems
Regardless of your aftercare method, look for the following signs of potential healing issues with your new tattoo:
- Excessive or spreading redness, swelling and tenderness beyond the tattoo site
- Moderate to severe pain that increases over time
- Oozing, pus-like discharge or change in color/odor of fluids
- Fever, chills, numbness or nausea
- Itching, blistering, cracking or bleeding of the skin
- Scabbing that is excessive, bloody or comes off easily
- Warm to the touch sensation over/around the tattoo
- Visible tattoo ink leaching out of the skin
- Areas that seem raised or embossed compared to the rest of the tattoo
- Significant fading or missing sections of pigment
If any of the above occur, stop home care, wash the area with mild soap and water, rinse thoroughly and pat dry with a clean towel. Contact your tattoo artist or physician promptly for additional guidance. Healing issues can arise even with proper aftercare. However, following your artist’s instructions, not picking scabs, and keeping the area clean can help avoid complications.
Deciding between dry vs. moist tattoo healing involves considering multiple factors like location, skin type, ink colors and artist recommendation. Many professionals suggest moist healing provides better results, especially for a first tattoo. However, dry healing is an acceptable option if done carefully and patiently. Whichever method you choose, follow your artist’s aftercare directions closely, keep the area clean, watch for signs of infection, and resist the urge to pick at peeling skin or scabs. With proper care, your tattoo should heal well and look amazing for years to come!