How to Clean a Tattoo You Can’t Reach

How to Clean a Tattoo You Can't Reach
Credit: Sarah Harvey

Back tattoos, of all shapes, sizes, and styles, can be exquisite, but they’re also tricky to reach which, in turn, can make them difficult to properly clean. Of course, just because your tattoo is hard to reach doesn’t mean you should slack off on aftercare. Following your artist’s advice around how to clean a tattoo you can’t reach, or any tattoo, and care for your new ink will not just help ensure a steady healing process, but minimal fading. So, even if reaching, let alone cleaning your tattoo feels next to impossible, it’s important to stick with it. 

So, how to clean a tattoo you can’t reach? For Jenna LaRose, a tattoo artist based in Toronto, “the golden rule” of tattoo aftercare is “cleaning the tattoo daily with fragrance-free, hypoallergenic soap, not over moisturizing, and avoiding touching or scratching the tattoo.” She adds that she’ll often wrap new tattoos in a Saniderm or Tegaderm bandage to keep them protected while allowing the skin to breathe. 

You may also find that you can reach your tattoo by bending or stretching a little, and it’s more than likely that your tattoo won’t suffer for it. “Tattoos only stretch and warp if your body grows or shrinks drastically,” Valerie Tan, another Toronto-based tattoo artist, explains. However, she’s quick to add that if you’re contorting yourself into really extreme shapes, there could be repercussions. “Too much bending can cause the scab to fall off too soon and prevent the ink from settling into your skin,” she says. LaRose adds that you could also end up scratching the tattoo, which would inhibit the healing process. A little twisting or over-the-head reach may do the trick, but avoid doing anything too dramatic.

The temptation to try to clean your inaccessible tattoo with bath accessories like loofahs or brushes may arise, since they could potentially extend your reach, but LaRose and Tan say these tools are absolutely off-limits for tattoo aftercare. “Loofahs and brushes carry bacteria and can irritate the tattoo,” Tan says. And, due to their abrasive nature, there’s the added risk of scratching or ripping the tattoo altogether. “It’s always best to only use clean hands to wash the tattoo and pat dry with a clean disposable paper towel,” LaRose says.

If all else fails, you may have to call in some backup and ask a friend or partner to lend a hand (literally). “It’s definitely helpful if you have someone who can assist with cleaning and moisturizing your tattoo,” Tan says. “Just make sure they wash their hands before helping you.” LaRose echoes the importance of clean hands and adds that, when it comes to removing any bandages, you’re actually better off having another person help you, as opposed to going it alone. “They need to be removed slowly and in the direction of hair growth,” she explains. 

LaRose says your tattoo will likely be healed within seven to 10 days, at which point you can stop washing it with antibacterial soap every day. After that, Tan says you can switch to rinsing it with lukewarm water and moisturizing it twice a day until the tattoo is fully settled. And, if you start to get annoyed with your tattoo’s placement, look on the bright side: “Scratching and picking a tattoo should always be avoided at all costs,” LaRose continues. “So, if you can’t reach your tattoo, the less likely you are to touch it!”

If you liked our post, “How to Clean a Tattoo You Can’t Reach”, check out 4 Brilliant Ways to Heal a Tattoo Faster

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