Getting a new tattoo is an exciting experience. But caring for the tattoo properly during the healing process is critical for ensuring it looks its absolute best. Using the right products at each stage of healing can make all the difference. Aquaphor and lotion are two of the most important products for tattoo aftercare. Knowing exactly when to switch from using Aquaphor to applying lotion is key.
Understanding the Tattoo Healing Process
Before getting into the details of when to switch from Aquaphor to lotion, it’s helpful to understand the stages of the tattoo healing process.
When a tattoo needle penetrates the skin, it creates tiny wounds. The body responds by sending increased blood flow to the area to fight infection and start repairing the skin. The tattoo initially appears very bold and vibrant.
Over the next couple weeks, the tattoo will go through various stages of healing:
- Weeping/peeling stage (days 1-3) – The tattoo may weep clear plasma and lymph fluid. The top layers of skin begin peeling. This is when the tattoo must be kept moisturized.
- Itchy stage (days 3-10) – The tattoo starts to get very itchy as new skin grows back. Don’t scratch!
- Peeling stage (days 4-14) – The top layers continue to peel away, revealing fresh ink underneath.
- Scabbing stage (days 10-21) – Scabs may form in spot as the tattoo continues to shed dead skin.
- Final healing stage (weeks 3-6) – The tattoo has fully set in the dermis and appears slightly muted compared to initial application.
The healing stages overlap and duration varies based on size, location, and individual factors. Most artists recommend avoiding sun exposure until the tattoo is fully healed.
Why Aquaphor is Used Initially
Aquaphor is commonly recommended for the first 1-2 weeks of tattoo healing. It provides the moisture, protection, and occlusion needed by fresh tattoos.
Here’s why Aquaphor is so beneficial in the early healing stages:
- Creates a protective barrier – Petrolatum forms a breathable barrier that protects the tattoo from friction, bacteria, and contaminants while allowing oxygenation.
- Provides occlusion – The thick ointment traps moisture against the skin, keeping the tattoo hydrated.
- Relieves mild irritation – Ingredients like mineral oil soothe mild itching or sensitivity.
- Prevents scabbing – By keeping the tattoo moisturized, excessive scabbing is prevented. Limited scabbing means better ink retention.
- Allows for easy cleaning – Aquaphor can be gently wiped away without tugging delicate healing skin.
Using Aquaphor for the first week or two minimizes damage and helps the vibrant ink settle properly in the dermis.
How to Apply Aquaphor to a New Tattoo
To reap the benefits of Aquaphor for new tattoos, proper application is essential:
- Wash hands thoroughly before handling the tattoo.
- Use a gentle, fragrance-free soap to clean the tattoo. Avoid scrubbing.
- Pat dry with a clean paper towel. Let air dry for a few minutes before applying Aquaphor.
- Apply a very thin layer of Aquaphor to the tattoo using clean fingers or a non-stick gauze pad.
- Only apply enough to make the skin appear shiny. Excess Aquaphor can suffocate the skin and lead to infection.
- Repeat cleansing and applying Aquaphor 2-3 times daily. Too little can cause scabbing; too much can clog pores.
- Always use a fresh paper towel or gauze pad to prevent cross-contamination.
- If the tattoo weeps clear fluid, gently dab away any excess fluid before applying more Aquaphor.
A little Aquaphor goes a long way for fresh new tattoos. Use sparingly but frequently on clean skin for ideal results.
When to Switch From Aquaphor to Lotion?
Around weeks 2-3 when scaliness subsides, it’s time to switch from using Aquaphor to applying lotion. Here are some signs your tattoo is ready for lotion:
- The tattoo is no longer weeping plasma or lymph fluid.
- Peeling has greatly diminished. Only occasional dry flakes come off with gentle washing.
- The tattooed area feels tighter and less slick or sticky.
- Little to no shiny ointment remains on the skin after several hours.
- Itchiness and sensitivity have decreased.
- Scabs have fully detached, revealing ink underneath.
- The skin overall looks and feels less raw and wounded.
As the tattooed skin matures and reconstitutes itself, the thick protective barrier of Aquaphor is no longer needed. At this point, lotion becomes beneficial for providing daily moisture.
Timeline for Switching to Lotion
The exact timing for switching from Aquaphor to lotion depends on the tattoo’s size and location. Here are some general guidelines:
- Small tattoos (2×2 inches or less) – Make the switch around days 7-10 when peeling is minimal.
- Medium tattoos (2×2 to 8×10 inches) – Switch at day 10-14 as skin finishes regenerating.
- Large tattoos (bigger than 8×10 inches) – Wait until around days 14-21 before discontinuing Aquaphor.
For torso or limb tattoos, switch earlier in the timeline. For slow-healing areas like feet or elbows, stay on Aquaphor longer.
Use your best judgment based on your tattoo’s progress through the healing stages. Ask your artist when they recommend making the switch.
Why Lotion is Good for Healing Tattoos
Once the tattoo has passed the initial healing phases, lotion becomes an ideal product for providing moisture. Here’s why lotion is beneficial:
- Prevents dryness – Lotion replaces lost moisture to keep skin from becoming taut, flaky, or scaly as it fully regenerates.
- Aids elasticity – Hydration helps skin remain flexible to move properly and avoid cracking.
- Relieves itching – Emollients provide comfort from persistent itching and sensitivity.
- Enhances vibrancy – Well-moisturized skin better showcases the colors and design as the tattoo continues maturing.
- No residue – Light, fast-absorbing lotions don’t leave behind pore-clogging residue like ointments.
While Aquaphor excels at wound protection, lotion offers long-term hydration as the dermis rebuilds structural proteins like collagen.
How to Apply Lotion on Tattoos
When applying lotion to a healing tattoo, use these tips:
- Wash hands thoroughly before handling the tattoo.
- Use a pH-balanced gentle cleanser when washing the tattoo area.
- Pat dry using a clean paper towel. Allow a few minutes of air contact before moisturizing.
- Use a mild, fragrance-free lotion made for sensitive skin. Avoid alcohol, perfumes, or dyes.
- Apply a thin layer over and around the tattoo using fingers. Rub in gently until absorbed.
- Apply lotion 1-2 times per day. Only reapply when skin feels dry.
- Always use fresh applicators or gauze pads to avoid bacterial contamination.
- If mild itching occurs, apply a cold compress for relief. Don’t scratch the tattoo.
Continue using unscented lotion as part of your daily skincare routine to keep tattoos looking vibrant for years.
Common Mistakes When Switching Products
Switching from Aquaphor to lotion too early or late are common mistakes that can impede healing:
- Switching too early – The tattoo still has weeping/peeling and is unprotected from abrasion and dehydration. Scabbing, faded ink, and blowouts may result.
- Switching too late – Excessive occlusion from prolonged Aquaphor use can macerate the skin, clog pores, or cause pimples.
- Skipping lotion – Neglecting daily moisturization after discontinuing Aquaphor leads to dry, itchy skin and dull or faded ink.
- Using harsh products – Harsh soaps, exfoliants, or alcohol-based lotions can disrupt healing skin tissue.
Stick to the recommended timeline based on your tattoo’s size and placement. Monitor your skin’s condition closely to determine the ideal time to switch products. Consult your artist if uncertain.
Tattoo Aftercare Misconceptions
When it comes to aftercare, some myths and misinformation can sabotage the healing process:
- “Aquaphor prevents ink loss” – While Aquaphor aids healing, ink retention depends more on tattoo depth and your body’s response. Some ink diffusion is normal.
- “Lotion pulls out ink” – There’s no evidence lotion removes ink. It provides moisture without strong adhesive properties that could pull out ink.
- “Peeing heals tattoos” – Urine does not speed healing or lighten tattoos despite urban myths. Keep the tattoo area clean and dry instead.
- “Soaking in water is good” – Avoid soaking in baths or pools during the entire healing period as excessive moisture can draw out ink and fluids.
- “Tattoos can’t handle sun” – Once fully healed after 4-6 weeks, tattooed skin can tolerate incidental sun exposure. Always wear SPF 30+.
Do your research to avoid misleading information. Your artist and dermatologist are the best resources for proper aftercare guidance.
Caring for Your Tattoo Starts with Aftercare
Caring for a new tattoo requires diligence, patience, and using the right products at the right time. Aquaphor provides protective moisture for fresh tattoos. Around 2-3 weeks later when major scabbing and peeling has resolved, lotion becomes necessary for ongoing hydration as the dermis remodels.
Always assess your tattoo’s current healing stage and condition before deciding when to make the switch. With proper aftercare using Aquaphor and lotion at the ideal times, you can ensure your amazing new ink heals beautifully and stays vibrant for a lifetime.
Sophia Rodriguez is the creative force behind IGXO Cosmetics, a popular beauty blog and brand. As a long-time makeup artist and beauty industry insider, Sophia realized there was a lack of authentic, relatable content for the everyday woman. This inspired her to launch IGXO Cosmetics in 2018 as a platform to share her passion for beauty.