Recently, my boyfriend, Chris, appeared on Spike TV’s Ink Master, a tattoo competition show, as a human canvas. You can watch the episode here. In this post, he shares his experiences with caring for his new (and first) tattoo through the healing process. Enjoy!
I was lucky enough to get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be on national television. There was just one catch – I’d also be getting my first ever tattoo! The tattoo competition show Ink Master on Spike TV pits sixteen of the top tattoo artists in the world against each other, vying for a $100,000 grand prize. In order to have a tattoo competition, you need to have people willing to turn their bodies into canvases for these artists to use as vessels for their art – that’s where I came in!
On the series’ season premiere, the tattoo artists participated in a challenge that involved working with tattoo virgins. I never thought of myself as a tattoo person, but when the opportunity arose, I had to dive in just for the story to tell later on!
After shooting completed, I was left with the task of caring for my newly acquired (and permanent) artwork. The ironic part – I was more afraid of not caring for it properly than actually getting it, or watching it critiqued in front of a national audience. Luckily, I happen to know a beauty connoisseur who knows all about skin care. [That would be me! - G] But even with her help, there were still plenty of (probably stupid, and borderline-paranoid) questions that I had as my tattoo healed. I turned to the Internet to find information to help me through the process, but even those results weren’t assuring. So, for any other tattoo newbie that will ever be put into this situation (well, without the TV part), here’s a day-by-day account on how the healing process went for me.
Day 1 – The first stop on my way home from the tattoo session was to Rite Aid to buy the necessary products to baby my new ink. Throughout the entire process, I heard different suggestions from every person. The majority seemed to feel that Dial soap was the best for cleaning the wound; I chose the white-colored soap so not to risk any dyes or fragrances. I also purchased small travel tubes of Aquaphor. I would never need more than 2 pea-sized drops of the ointment per application, so I bought the double pack of 0.35 ounces tubes.
When I got home, I tried to take off my shirt and in doing so took off the entire cellophane wrap off my tattoo. Like the newbie I was, I panicked, thinking I took it off too early; I reached out to my contact at the show and frantically searched online. I don’t know if I was calmer or more paranoid after my own research, since no one gave the same answer. Nevertheless, the wrap was only on for about 2 hours, but the tattoo turned out to be just fine.
After the wrap came off, I cleaned it by running the bar of Dial under running water to collect soap residue and water on my hand, then gently glided it up and down the area. After two or three runs, I switched to pure water, again, only using my fingers to lightly touch the fresh wound in the most non-abrasive way possible. I then took folded paper towels and lightly patted the tattoo to dry it. I took care not to rub the area. I saw blotches of ink in the towel, but didn’t worry, as I knew that was normal, My obsessive-compulsive method was doing this by the sink before going into the shower since I wanted to avoid putting the tattoo area directly under the water stream. Also, I avoided sleeping in a position where my tattoo was on the bed sheets or blanket.
Day 2 – My tattoo began to slightly scab, giving it the feeling of something written in Braille. I continued with washing and applying Aquaphor. If you can keep your tattoo exposed for the entire day, let the wound breathe. When my shirt had it covered, I could feel a smothering, slightly scalding sensation on the tattoo area. Luckily, I work in an office at a cubical in the corner of my floor, so I didn’t risk people seeing my tattoo – After all, I had confidential information on my arm!
Day 3 –- The redness started to dramatically fade and become only obvious on the outside areas that are lightly shaded. At this point, I started to get the first sensation of itching. It felt exactly like bad sunburn. I also started to see a little blotch of red skin within the center of the tattoo, but wasn’t sure if that was left over from the initial redness, or something new.
Days 4 & 5 – The tattoo and the area surrounded it officially began to peel; my skin started to look like it was covered in snowflakes. This meant my tattoo was just about through the first stage of healing. However, the red blotch I noticed eventually grew into a whitehead. Either, my skin did not like the heaviness of the Aquaphor, or it was from over-washing that area of my skin, since I was washing that area about three to four times a day; so, I started cutting back, washing it only when I wake up and before bed.
Lucky for me, once I stopped peeling, I stopped using the healing ointment and switched over to moisturizing lotion. I decided to go with Aveeno lotion, fragrance free with natural colloidal oatmeal. Again, I think it’s best to use a clear or white lotion that won’t affect the ink. I used about four pea-sized drops worth of lotion, starting in each of the four corners of the tattoo and working my way toward the center. Less or more can be used depending on the size of the tattoo. I avoided applying lotion to the area with the pimple since I didn’t want to make it any greasier, and ABSOLUTELY DID NOT want to pop-it, otherwise I feared I’d risk scaring my skin and leave areas of missing ink.
Days 6 & 7 – The whitehead began to shrink in size and the blackness from the ink was still intact over the skin. Pimples showed up on and off again until the tattoo fully healed. At this point, nearly all the redness from the outside shading healed into a smoky gray like it was supposed to. Peeling continued, but the new layer of skin started to show more. My ink went from a bold black when freshly applied to a lighter tint of a fully healed tattoo.
After that first week, my skin was well on its way to a full recovery. I started to wean my skin off the Aveeno lotion gradually, going from three times per day at first, to two times per day for half a week, to once per day, and eventually completely off it. Even after that, my skin didn’t start to feel “normal” again until about a month or so after, with it completely healing in two to three months.
Most importantly, I always remembered to apply sunscreen of at least SPF 50 to the tattoo. I prefer non-greasy versions of Banana Boat.
The most important thing to remember is that everyone’s skin is different. Listen to the advice your tattoo artist offers; he or she has probably seen tons of tattoos heal and can give you tips.
Ink Master airs every Tuesday at 10pm EST on SpikeTV. A big thank you goes to the producers, crew and everyone who gave me one of the coolest experiences I will ever have in my life!