If you got a tattoo “back in the day,” you may remember your tattoo artist putting a thick smear of Vaseline on a tattoo before wrapping it with some type of plastic wrap and sending you home to heal. Vaseline, after all, is a petroleum-based product believed to help protect and, thus, heal wounds.
Over the years, though, we’ve learned a lot, and dermatologists now have different recommendations for caring for tattooed skin. For example, they’ll tell you that not only is Vaseline not good for tattoos, but it can be contradictory for healing. Here’s why…
What Is Vaseline?
Vaseline is also known as petroleum jelly. It’s a thick, dense, and non-breathable gel that prevents healing oxygen from reaching newly tattooed skin. In decades past, the idea was to use Vaseline, other types of petroleum jelly, or A&D ointments to protect the newly tattooed skin. (And honestly, a lot of artists may still recommend this type of treatment.)
We’ve since learned, though, that by keeping oxygenated air away from the tattooed skin, the tattoo actually takes longer to heal.
Can You Use Vaseline on Tattoos After Getting a New Tattoo
Again, many tattoo artists will still cover a new tattoo with a thick ointment, wrap it up with plastic wrap, and send you home with the instructions to remove the covering and clean the tattoo after a couple of hours. This is key: within those few hours, you’ll want to gently remove the covering and very gently wash off any ointment along with any blood, plasma, or leaking ink with some lukewarm water and a fragrance-free, antibacterial soap.
You can then use a light layer of a specially formulated balm or lotion to help prevent the new tattoo from drying out. If using a Saniderm bandage, make sure you follow the aftercare instructions to keep your tattoo protected and help it heal.
Can I Put Vaseline on a New Tattoo?
The short answer is no. While your tattoo artist may put Vaseline on your tattoo immediately after, you won’t want to use petroleum jelly again.
In addition to slowing the healing process, the thick layer of non-breathable gel can trap moisture between the skin and the gel, increasing the risk of bacterial growth and, thus, infection.
Bacteria on the skin can ultimately lead to a tattoo that doesn’t heal correctly, resulting in a damaged tattoo. For instance, Vaseline on a tattoo can draw the ink from the lower layers of the skin before it has set. This can lead the tattoo to look faded, patchy, or distorted. It may even lead to an increased risk of scarring.
What’s more, because petroleum-based products can break down protective equipment (such as latex or nitrile gloves) in a mere 20 minutes, any bacteria on the tattoo artist’s hands (or the hands of anyone cleaning the tattoo) may get through the gloves and onto your newly tattooed skin. Remember, a new tattoo is a fresh, open wound.
Fortunately, most tattoo artists change gloves often throughout the tattooing and wrapping process, helping minimize this risk. But it does still exist.
No matter what products you use on your freshly tattooed skin, remember to watch for signs of infection like swelling, heat, redness, or discharge (e.g., pus) and get medical attention quickly to avoid long-term damage to your skin and your beautiful tattoo.
Is Vaseline Good for Tattoos When Showering?
Some tattoo artists recommend using a light coating of Vaseline before showering to protect from the onslaught of water. However, getting a new tattoo wet for a quick shower is okay, as long as you aren’t soaking in a bath, swimming, or spending more than 10 minutes in the shower. If you expect your tattoo to be exposed to more water, there are better ways to protect it. For example, Saniderm bandages provide a layer of breathable protection.
That said, showering should be kept short and sweet, and baths and swimming should be avoided completely until after the tattoo has progressed through the healing stages and has finished peeling (after about three weeks to a month). After showering and cleaning the tattoo with lukewarm water, fragrance-free, antibacterial soap, apply a healing balm or lotion designed specifically for tattoos to help promote healing.
Can You Use Vaseline on Tattoos?
Once your tattoo is fully healed (after three to six months), you can use petroleum-based ointments or Vaseline to help relieve dry skin. Just remember to ensure the skin is clean and completely dry before applying any of these types of gels, so you don’t trap in moisture and possibly bacteria.
That said, the American Academy of Dermatologists reports that water-based moisturizers are a better choice as they’re breathable and don’t smother the skin, so they won’t clog pores. In other words, there are better moisturizing options available to help your tattoo continue to look its best.
Let Your Skin Breathe
While it makes sense to protect a new tattoo from damage, oxygen is healing. And a new tattoo needs to breathe. So, Vaseline, petroleum jelly, and A+D ointment aren’t the best choices.
If you wrap your tattoo, use a breathable bandage like Saniderm for the first few days. Once the tattoo bandage is removed, wear loose-fitting clothing and keep the tattoo moisturized and protected from the sun, even after the tattoo is fully healed. That way, you’ll help prevent it from fading faster than it should, so the tattoo looks great for years to come.