SO You've just received a new tattoo, and the last thing that your artist did before sending you out into the world, was wrapping it up with a layer of A&D ointment and an breathable bandage. Your tattoo is essentially an open wound, and is susceptible to infection.
You will be leaving the bandage on for one hour - only. Do not take off the bandage before then, and do not leave it on past one hour! Your friends will just have to wait until later. The only exception to this rule is if your artist covered your tattoo with saran wrap or some kind of plastic. It is not advised to have anything on that can potentially suffocate your tattoo.
After the first hour, you will give your tattoo it's first cleaning. Using cold to lukewarm water, and a mild antibactierial soap (Dial Foaming brand is what we reccomend, as well as any generic brand antibactierial soaps work well - avoid bar soaps or bodywashes) you will thoroughly wash away the A&D ointment, blood and plasma from your tattoo. Wash it completely! Do not use a wash cloth or anything abrasive. Your hand is your best tool in this case. The better you clean it this first time the faster any irritation or swelling will dissipate. (If your tattoo feels slimy and slippery, you have probably been oozing plasma. Try to gently remove as much of this as possible - when the plasma dries on the skin surface, it creates scabs.) Then pat (do not rub) the area firmly with CLEAN paper towels to get it completely dry. Squeeze gently to let any plasma or remaining blood to come to the surface. After you have dried it you may let it air dry for a few hours. You do not want to apply any aftercare directly after washing as that may keep it too wet. Always keep a good buffer time of 30 minutes to a few hours between washing and aftercare. Hydration will help.
After it has dried for some time, you may use a fragrance free lotion. A&D is acceptable but there is a wrong and a right way to use it. Small amounts, rubbed thin onto the tattoo works best. Too much and for too long can suffocate, trap moisture, and otherwise irritate your tattoo, possibly losing ink. It is helpful in the beginning for creating a closed wound, however lotion will provide elasticity where ointments will not. A lotion will also dissipate into the skin, and not leave any residue. This also helps with breathability. Flexibility is key. This will prevent your scab from tearing open from movement, or skin stretching, which can also cause ink to fall out.
THIS IS FRESH
If you prefer, you can also use a specialty product such as Tattoo Goo or H2Ocean. It's not necessary, but it's your choice. Use the products as directed as continue for 14 days. Continue to keep it clean, use lotion when needed, to keep the skin soft. Whatever lotion you use, it should be dye and fragrance free. Aveeno Oatmeal brand is a great brand and is pretty universal, inexpensive and easy to find.
Yes, you can (and should!) shower with a new tattoo. It's OK to get your tattoo wet - just don't put it underwater. Submerging your tattoo in a bath or hot tub can cause serious damage, so you'll want to avoid those for 2-3 weeks, but showering is perfectly fine as long as you don't saturate your tattoo. If you get soap or shampoo on your tattoo, just remove it quickly with water. Swimming - whether it be a pool, fresh water or salt water - should be avoided for at least 2 weeks.
THIS IS HEALED
After a few days, you will notice some peeling and possibly a little scabbing. Excessive scabbing could indicate a poorly-done tattoo, but a little is sometimes normal and there is no need to panic. Apply warm moist compresses to the scabs for about 5 minutes 2-3 times a day to soften them and they will eventually come off on their own. (Do not apply ointment or lotion to a softened scab - wait for it to dry) You will also start to itch, just like a sunburn when it begins to heal. The advice here is, don't pick, and don't scratch! If the skin itches, slap it. If it is peeling, put lotion on it. And if it is scabbing, just leave it alone.
After your tattoo is healed, from now on, you will always want to protect it from the sun's ultraviolet rays. Before spending a lot of time in excessive heat, protect your tattoo with a minimum 30SPF sunblock. The better you take care of your tattoo, the better it will look, and the longer it will last!