How to Protect a Tattoo While Swimming

How to Protect a Tattoo While Swimming
Credit: David Clifton

Unlike a shower or particularly sweaty workout, taking a dip in a pool or the ocean involves full-on submersion of a fresh tattoo. So, what’s the right timeframe to wait between leaving the tattoo studio and diving in? Here, we answer exactly that and cover how to protect a tattoo while swimming.

Expect to stay dry for a month, give or take

Prairie Koo, director and owner of Toronto-based tattoo studio Ink & Water, recommends waiting three to four weeks before a swimming session due to the healing process. “It’s best to wait until the tattoo is fully healed before swimming or else the tattoo is prone to infection,” Koo says. However, in the interest of your tattoo’s health and appearance, that swim-free window may be longer depending on your personal experience and epidermis. “Healing time changes from person by person depending on their skin,” Koo continues.

However, aside from your tattoo artist’s directions, how soon after getting a tattoo is it medically considered safe to go swimming? “At a minimum, make sure your tattoo has been healing for at least four weeks,” Dr. Neil Tanna advises. “Water in lakes, rivers, and swimming pools is full of bacteria, which you do not want entering a new tattoo.”

Are certain types of water more tattoo-friendly?  

Short answer: no. The timeframe really doesn’t differ by type of swimming situation, be it a chlorine pool, freshwater river or lake, or salty ocean water. “Freshwater and saltwater harbor plenty of bacteria, and four weeks is an absolute minimum to ensure that your chances of infection are as low as possible. While chlorine may kill bacteria in swimming pools, its effectiveness varies from pool to pool, so give it the same amount of time,” Dr. Tanna advises. Plus, any germ-squelching virtues of a chlorine pool are basically canceled out by two unique concerns when it comes to pools and tattoos: “Chlorine can also irritate a healing tattoo, and potentially even leach some ink out,” Dr. Tanna continues.

The dos and don’ts of covering up a fresh design

Still nervous about drenching that recently acquired piece of body art? First and foremost, don’t think of applying Aquaphor or a Band-Aid as an excuse to take a dip any earlier than the recommended month or so of healing time.

That said, you can apply an ointment or emollient to newly tattooed skin that’s had adequate time to heal before swimming, such as Aquaphor, which “can help repel water from the tattoo,” Dr. Tanna says. However, avoid smearing on Neosporin, Bacitracin, or similar on a new design.

“An antibacterial ointment like Bacitracin isn’t necessary, and can cause an allergic reaction in a lot of people,” Dr. Tanna warns. Yet, if you’ve waited patiently on the sand or pool lounger, longingly gazing at that cool body of water and been diligent with aftercare but can’t shake those jitters, it’s okay to cover up a tattoo before getting it submerged. “Four weeks of healing should allow you to swim with your tattoo, but if it’s healing slowly or you’re worried about an infection, you can apply a waterproof bandage to keep it dry,” says Dr. Tanna.

Be strategic about timing your ink sessions around pool parties

The best way to avoid any summertime or vacation FOMO? Plan ahead. “We recommend our clients book appointments three weeks before vacations, or book appointments after vacations,” Koo says. So, plan your next tattoo’s arrival and beach getaway accordingly. Your hard-earned body art and vacation will both be the better for it!

If you liked our post, “How to Protect a Tattoo While Swimming”, check out Can You Work Out After Getting a Tattoo?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *