If you get a tattoo, hopefully the tattoo artist provides you with some aftercare instructions. They’re required to in most states, but in fewer than 10 states do those instructions come from the public health department. Regardless, can you swim after getting a tattoo? As a water lover, that question is undoubtedly on your mind.
No, you shouldn’t swim right after getting a tattoo. Wait at least two weeks—and it’s safer to wait up to three to four weeks—after getting inked to go in the pool, open water, or hot tub.
Why You Shouldn’t Swim Right Away
The main complication to worry about following a tattoo is getting an infection at the site. A new tattoo is basically an open wound, prone to infection. Even in a chlorinated pool, there’s bacteria in the water. On top of being a health concern, an infection can end up affecting the look of your tattoo. Also, pool chemicals and salt water can sting and irritate the tattoo site.
Waiting two weeks is generally long enough for the wounds from the application of the tattoo to fully heal. If you tend to heal slowly, though, more time may be needed.
Also, being in the water and pool chemicals both dry out your skin (that’s why we make a number of hydrating, nourishing, chlorine-neutralizing skincare products for swimmers). Excessive dryness and flaking can diminish the appearance of your skin art. Hot water is particularly drying, and it can also fade the ink early on, so definitely steer clear of hot tubs.
Basic Tattoo Aftercare
Your tattoo artist should coat your new skin art with a thin layer of petroleum jelly and cover the site with a bandage. Leave the bandage on for 24 hours, then remove it and gently wash the site with soap and water. Dab it dry with a clean towel.
Wash the site this way a few times each day. Also, apply an antibacterial ointment to the site twice daily, but don’t put any more bandages on it; the site needs to breathe to heal efficiently. Occasionally apply a moisturizer too to prevent excessive dryness and flaking. Keep this up for two to four weeks after getting the tattoo, and keep it out of the sun as much as possible during this time as well.
Your skin will probably scab and harden at the site of the tattoo. Don’t scratch it or pick at it. Just let these things fall off and let the site heal naturally.
If You Really Need to Swim After Getting a Tattoo
It’s definitely recommended that you wait at least two weeks after getting a tattoo to go swimming or soaking in any body of water. But if you insist on getting in the water sooner, take some precautions.
Coat the tattoo in a thick layer of petroleum jelly, then affix a waterproof dressing over the site as well as possible before swimming. You can never fully waterproof, but be as thorough as you can, covering a significant margin around the tattoo.
Dispose of the dressing when you get out and wash the site with soap and water. Dab it dry with a clean towel, then promptly apply a liberal amount of antibacterial ointment.