Your Tattoo Aftercare
Because a tattoo is a wound the skin undergoes a healing process. The timescale varies depending on the size of the tattoo, but in general the skin will be healed after about four weeks. Although tattoo aftercare will vary between studio, it normally involves applying of cling film immediately after the tattoo is finished. This is left in place for several hours and should be changed and replaced with clean clingfilm 2 or 3 times a day for the first 2 days. before completely removing the clingfilm after 48 hours
Tattoos should not be allowed to dry out because this usually scabs, which can lead to loss of ink. A good deal of clinical evidence suggests that moistened wounds heal faster. Many tattooists, therefore, advise that an barrier cream is applied to the tattoo several times a day, this is not usually necessary while still having the tattoo covered with clingfilm.
In the first two weeks after a tattoo, it is recommended that people avoid prolonged contact with water (eg, bathing, swimming and saunas etc), which is a potential source of infection and may cause any scab to come off too quickly. Some tattooists recommend covering the tattoo with an occlusive agent ,such as petroleum jelly when showering (although, anecdotally, petroleum products are said to fade the tattoo colour and so should be removed after a shower).
It is advisable to avoid intense sunlight or the use of sunbeds because UV radiation can cause the colour to fade — even once the tattoo is fully healed — so it is also worth using high factor sunscreens on a tattooed area. As the tattoo heals there is often some slight degree of scabbing or scaling of the skin. The urge to scratch the skin should be resisted since this can also lead to loss of colour and infection. Tattooists will also advise people to keep a tattoo covered in the early weeks, particularly if it is in contact with clothing.
Using Bepanthen in Tattoo Aftercare
Bepanthen is a cosmetic product marketed for the treatment of nappy rash. However, studies suggest that a main ingredient, dexpanthenol, is effective in the treatment of injured and irritated skin: when used topically, it is converted into pantothenic acid, which is a component of co-enzyme A, which in turn serves as a co-factor for various enzyme catalysed reactions.
Skin regeneration after an injury requires activation and proliferation of fibroblast cells and several studies suggest that pantothenic acid is able to enhance fibroblast activity during the process of wound healing. Although there are no formal studies assessing Bepanthen in the after care of tattoos, its use and recommendation has grown through anecdote and experience.
Other topical treatments which are suggested include Preparation H and various commercial after-care products. Although none of these products has been formally assessed as adjuncts in tattoo healing, they have become recommended based on the experience of the tattooist. Bepanthol is a cosmetic range from Bayer that contains dexpanthenol but it is not available in the UK.
One recent survey of people with tattooed skin, found that 67 per cent experienced skin problems such as bleeding, crusting, itching, oedema and pain directly after having had the tattoo and 6 per cent still experienced skin problems four weeks later. Although uncommon, there are various reports in the literature of dermatological problems arising from tattoos, including infections and inflammatory reactions (including hypersensitivity to the inks). There are even reports of tumours, such as melanomas and basal cell carcinomas, developing at the site of a tattoo although these are uncommon and possibly coincidental.
Advice to patients
The key to successful healing of a tattoo is to ensure that the wound has a moistened environment. This can be achieved through the use of a moisturiser applied two to three times a day. Although there is no formal evidence to recommend a particular product, anecdote and experience suggest that Bepanthen cream is a useful adjunct and there is a little evidence which makes this a reasonable first choice. However, pharmacists should be aware that this is not what this cosmetic product is marketed for.
People who have been tattooed should be alert to the typical signs of hypersensitivity to ink which include tenderness, swelling and itchy papules. Treatment with topical corticosteroids would be a suitable first line approach. However, patients should also be advised to consult their GP if signs of infection such as inflammation, swelling and tenderness develop at the site of a tattoo.