There are two aspects to tattoo care: caring for a new tattoo, and caring for a tattoo over its lifetime. Both are critical, to ensure that a tattoo stays clear, crisp, and beautiful. A tattoo which has been well cared-for will look good well into old age, while neglected tattoos will tend to fade and blur, sometimes devolving into formless and unintelligible blobs.
Caring for a new tattoo is the first step in caring for a tattoo over its life. Handling a tattoo well during healing is important, as a healing tattoo is very vulnerable to damage. Most tattoo artists provide specific tattoo aftercare instructions based on their own experience, with instructions usually including a gentle wash of the area several times a day, followed by an application of moisturizer or tattoo aftercare product. Individual artists differ, however. Some, for example, recommend keeping the tattoo covered at all times during the healing process, while others encourage the circulation of air over the new tattoo.
As a general rule, cleaning a new tattoo involves the use of a mild soap and warm water, with gentle swirling motions of the hand to soap the area without disturbing the scabs of the tattoo. The tattoo should be rinsed and either patted dry or allowed to air dry, rather than rubbed, as this can pull the scabs off. Many tattoo artists also recommend going light with the moisturizer, as clogging the pores with a moisturizer can interfere with healing. Moisturizers used in tattoo care should ideally be unscented, as perfumes can irritate a new tattoo.
There are some areas of agreement in tattoo aftercare. A new tattoo should always be kept out of the sun, as sun damage can destroy a tattoo in the first few weeks. It is also important to remember that a tattoo is a wound, prone to the potential of infection, so hands should always be washed before handling the area, and the tattoo should be kept out of water, dirt, and other unclean environments. If people fail to observe these basic rules of tattoo care, a new tattoo can become infected or inflamed, which is not desirable. It is also important to avoid scratching at the scabs on a new tattoo, no matter how itchy they become.
Once a tattoo has healed, the tattoo care process isn't over. Tattoos should be protected from sunburn over the course of their lifetimes, so sunscreen should always be worn on tattoos which are exposed to the sun. Tattoos can also become distorted through rapid weight loss or gain, or as a result of surgical procedures, which is something to consider when thinking about the placement of a tattoo. Some tattoos may also require touchups during their lifetimes. Many artists touchup their own work at little or no cost, in a form of lifetime guarantee, while touchups on someone else's work may be more expensive. The necessity of touchups in tattoo care varies, depending on the placement of the tattoo, the color, and the body. Some tattoos may require no touchups at all, while others may need routine work to sharpen lines, brighten colors, and darken black ink work.