When you’re sporting a brand-new piece, the first thing to keep in mind is keeping your fresh ink fresh and clean. Learning how to wash a new tattoo the right way is absolutely key. Here, we caught up with top dermatologists Dr. Mona Gohara, Dr. Ellen Marmur, and Dr. Joshua Zeichner to get the 411 on all facets of washing, including what you need to know about the best water temperature so as not to irritate your ink, the timing behind how to wash a new tattoo, and product recommendations regarding which soaps to use.
When should you wash a new tattoo?
Dr. Gohara says it’s important to shower within the first 48 hours and that gentle cleansers are key. “Avoid soaps and harsh sulfates and choose a wash that infuses moisture,” she says. Most importantly, don’t scrub—use gentle strokes with minimal finger pressure.
Zeichner adds that new tattoos are typically wrapped with a protective sheet to allow initial healing and protect it from any environmental irritants. Listen to the advice of your tattoo artist, he says, but most recommend leaving the tattoo alone for a minimum of eight hours before removing the Saran wrap-style covering.
How hot or cold should the water temperature be?
Don’t even think about spiking your shower temperature all the way hot or icy cold, rather, Gohara recommends washing a new tattoo with warm water for best results. That perfectly warm temperature “is like the baby bear of cleansing — just right,” she says. “It’s soothing and good for the skin barrier,” she explains.
Zeichner agrees, and points out that while most of us prefer the feel of hot water, you should wash tattooed skin with lukewarm water. “Water that is too hot will cause dilation of blood vessels in the skin, leading to flushing and inflammation,” he says.
Exactly how to wash a new tattoo
“Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before starting,” says Zeichner, to ensure a germ- and bacteria-free workspace. Then, gently rinse the area with your just-right, lukewarm water and soap of choice, carefully removing any oozing, scabbing, or crust,” Zeichner says. He recommends using an antibacterial soap—preferably one that’s fragrance-, alcohol- and therefore irritant-free— to disinfect the area. “Just as you did when you washed your hands in kindergarten, wash the skin while you sing the alphabet to ensure you have given the cleanser enough time to do its job,” he adds. Sounds silly, but the timing truly works.
After you are finished, he says to pat the area dry extremely carefully with a clean, never-used paper towel. Skip anything abrasive, especially a washcloth, which can harbor germs and bacteria whether freshly out of the laundry or not. If your artist recommended it, then apply a lotion or ointment of their choice—otherwise, leave it be.
However, if you’re applying a targeted lotion or ointment, it’s imperative to wait until the area is completely dry before slathering it on—otherwise, unwanted moisture may get trapped underneath the skin.
You’ll want to wash it approximately twice a day—more if you’re getting sweaty during work or during a workout—and continue for about a month, even after it begins to peel. The same washing instructions apply once the peeling and scabbing begin, but use extra caution to not tear away any of the old skin.
The best products to wash a new tattoo with
Dove Body Wash/Beauty Bar
Gohara’s go-to recommendation for those with new tattoos? Dove Body Wash ($9; target.com) or Beauty Bar ($13 for 8; target.com). She says the most important thing is to identify a non-soap cleanser that isn’t irritating, and to look for one “that doesn’t strip the skin of essential nutrients.” The body wash is sulfate-free, while the beauty bar is clean-rinsing and is made with the brand’s signature moisturizing cream to replenish nutrients lost in the skin during cleansing. “Irritating the skin with other more harsh cleansers can fade tattoo colors and create itchy dry skin that further irritates,” Gohara explains. “This is perfect for use when your tattoo is fresh and the skin needs more TLC.”
H2Ocean Blue Green Canadian Foam Soap
Great for travel thanks to its compact size, this water-based foaming soap ($6; amazon.com) is vegan and super gentle. It’s packed with aloe vera to moisturize the skin while keeping your art disinfected. It’s also free from parabens and fragrance, in addition to being vegan.
Pears Transparent Soap
This tried-and-true brand boasts 100 years of history and its transparent, fragrance-free soap ($5 for 3; bedbathandbeyond.com) is a favorite for a reason. Its glycerin-based formula also features natural oils like rosemary and thyme for a clean that won’t harm your art.
Neutrogena Transparent Soap Bar
It’s a classic that’s wallet-friendly. Marmur likes the Neutrogena Transparent Soap Bar ($3; neutrogena.com) for those with tattoos and notes that those of us with new tattoos should avoid scented soaps. “They can irritate your tattoo and make the color fade faster,” she says. Her advice to to wash gently with your fingers and avoid harsh washcloths while your tattoo is in the healing phase. Neutrogena’s pure, gentle formula is hypoallergenic and doesn’t contain detergents or dyes. It can be used on the face or body, as well.
Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar
Because she believes in avoiding fragrances, Marmur is also a fan of the Dove Beauty Bar ($13/8 bars; target.com), but advises that those with new tattoos opt for the sensitive iteration. If you’re prone to fragrance-related irritation, this soothing formulation cleanses skin gently without scent.
Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap — Baby
Designed for babies, this certified organic, vegan option ($16; amazon.com) works well for those with skin sensitivities in general. It’s also fragrance-free, but contains double the olive oil as Dr. Bronner’s original version, making it good for those with new tattoos, in addition to those with allergies. Though it is formulated without detergents, it still produces a satisfyingly rich lather so your regularly scheduled shower experience won’t be disrupted.
Babo Botanicals Sensitive Skin Fragrance-Free Hydra Therapy Wash Marmur recommends this unscented cleanser ($6; babobotanicals.com). Another one that works for face or body, this gentle, sulfate-free sudsing liquid works for those with skin that’s dry, sensitive, or even eczema-prone. The plant-based formula soothes and relieves itchiness as it cleans.
If you liked our story Here’s Exactly How to Wash a New Tattoo, check out The Best Soaps for Tattoos, According to the Experts