Tattoo aftercare is as important as the tattooing process if you want your tattoo to heal well. That doesn’t mean aftercare can’t evolve. Every few years there’s a new “fad” for tattoo healing and a new process that should make your healing faster, cleaner, etc. The problem is that many of these fads don’t last long because they’re just that – a fad. A great example of this is Preparation H. For about a year artists all over the country suggested to clients that they put this ointment on their tattoos, with the concept that by shrinking the blood vessels the tattoo would stop bleeding, have less bruising, and would heal better. It turned out not to be true, in fact, the only thing that helped was the fact that the ointment kept the tattoo moisturized just like Aquaphor or Vaseline would.
So what is this new idea?
It’s Tegaderm or Saniderm. Those words probably mean nothing to you, but if you’ve ever had an IV stuck in your arm then you’ve seen a clear plastic “band aid” which molded to the skin and kept it in.
The way this works is by sticking directly over the tattoo and creating a plastic “skin” barrier once the artist has finished.
In theory, while you’re getting tattooed the process is clean and sterile and there should be very little chance of infectious agents getting in while you’re getting tattooed. Even if you do by chance get a microbe of bacteria in there your skin is still pushing out plasma for hours afterwards and when you wash your tattoo this plasma and any bacteria will also be washed away.
Tattoo artists explicitly tell you not to put antibacterial ointments on a tattoo because it can damage your ink, so this process of washing the tattoo helps keep it from being infected. The reason Tegaderm or Saniderm is such a problem is it prevents that process.
The Saniderm or Tegaderm is applied immediately after the artist has finished and then remains on the skin for 3-4 days, allowing the tattoo to heal without any chance of infection from outside agents. It’s waterproof as well so you can swim, shower, and do anything “dirty” without having to risk your tattoo. Pretty cool.
However, if by small chance something had gotten into your tattoo it would also remain trapped in your skin for 3-4 days in a perfect moist environment to incubate and become a full blown infection. While it’s unlikely you’re going to die from an infected tattoo if you get it treated quickly, there’s still a possibility.
So even though you might think this new aftercare is an amazing step forwards that lets you get on with your life without risking your tattoo it’s also potentially deadly. At this point you’re having to put a lot of trust in your tattoo artist and even then there’s no guarantees. Unless you’ve been tattooed in a completely sterile atmosphere like an operating room there’s still a chance your tattoo could be infected by any of the millions of bacteria floating around in the air.