It’s no secret that getting a tattoo can be a time-intensive, expensive, and (sometimes) painful process. And after you leave the tattoo artist’s chair, beyond buying stuff to immediately treat your newly inked skin, you’re probably going to want to find the right set of products to keep your art bright and crisp for years to come. When you get tattooed, ‘your skin cell holds that ink, and when that skin cell dies, it releases the ink into a new skin cell,’ explains tattoo artist Mira Miriah, whose client roster includes celebrities like Ariana Grande and Ilana Glazer. This ongoing transfer of ink is why caring for your skin is so important if you want to keep your tattoo looking its best over time.
All eight of the tattoo artists we spoke to agreed that the two most important things to keep in mind when caring for your tattoo are hydration and sun protection. Luckily, according to tattoo artist Tamara Santibañez, you don’t need to overthink it — or spend a ton of money. ‘Any lotions best for your skin type, as well as using body-safe SPFs, are my personal recommendations to my clients,’ she says. Read on for the best lotions, sunscreens, and oils that Santibañez and our other experts say to use to preserve and protect your ink, all of which they say are effective for any skin type.
Best overall product for preserving and protecting tattoos
Four of our experts suggest using coconut oil daily to keep your tattooed skin hydrated and healthy. ‘I apply a thin layer of cold-pressed organic coconut oil on my whole body after showering every morning,’ says Berlin-based blackwork specialist Julim Rosa. Vienna-based Danilo Delfino, who specializes in Brazilian fine-line tattoos, also recommends using coconut oil to preserve tattoos — especially if you live in a dry, cold area — because it is rich in fatty acids that soften skin and help it retain moisture, which is why it is great to apply out of the shower, like Rosa does, when the skin is still slightly damp. The tattoo artists at Brooklyn’s Welcome Home Studio also recommend coconut oil, telling us that, when it comes to tattoo-aftercare products, their philosophy is ‘the more natural, the better.’
Best lighter-weight oil for preserving tattoos
If the fattier coconut oil sounds too heavy for your skin, two of our experts suggested going for a lighter-weight argan oil. New York City–based vegan tattooer Em North says it is ‘the closest you can get to actual human skin oil, and won’t clog your pores like petroleum-based products,’ specifically recommending ArtNatruals organic Argan oil. Rit Kit, who specializes in Ukrainian colourwork, also loves using argan oil, agreeing it does the job when it comes to the ‘keeping tattooed skin hydrated and healthy.’
Best lotion for preserving tattoos
If you prefer using a lotion to an oil, Robert Boyle, owner of Brooklyn’s Nice Tattoo Parlor, suggests using an unscented one like Eucerin Original Healing Lotion, which he says can be used from the time your tattoo starts to heal. Boyle also agreed with our other experts that, outside of sunscreen and lotion, there is really no need to get any other products that promise to ‘preserve or protect.’ According to him, ‘there are currently quite a few products entering the market that purport to make tattoos last longer, but the science is (for the most part) shaky, and we avoid encouraging our clients to buy them; that doesn’t mean we think they’re bad, we just don’t have any reason to recommend any particular product.’
Best lotion for preserving tattoos in hot, humid climates
If you live in a humid or hot climate, Delfino says Nivea Creme is ‘a very inexpensive and effective option that is lightweight on the skin.’ He also calls it ‘the perfect travelling companion,’ because it can fit in your pocket. Delfino also shared another tip to keep your tattoos looking fresh: ‘Drink water! It’s so important to keep your body hydrated from the inside out.’
Best lotion for preserving tattoos on extra-dry skin
North — who exclusively uses ethically sourced, vegan products — told us that Viva Natural Organic Shea Butter is ideal ‘for extra-dry areas,’ because it is chock-full of vitamins A and E, as well as essential fatty acids that will pump your skin full of hydration.
Best sunscreen for protecting tattoos
In addition to using an oil or lotion to hydrate tattooed skin, ‘the best thing you can do is avoid the sun,’ says Miriah. ‘Sunscreen helps, but actually blocking your tattoo from the sun with a scarf or something is the best thing you can do.’ To anyone with tattoos in places that are difficult to shield from the sun using clothing, Kit recommends slathering on a ‘water-resistant, mineral-based, and fragrance-free sunscreen’ like La Roche-Posay Sunscreen SPF 50. She notes that ‘this is especially important with colour tattoos, because UV exposure accelerates natural fading of colour ink and tattoo vibrancy.’ But Rosa says it’s just as important to protect black-ink tattoos from the sun. ‘Even black ink can tint blue or green,’ she notes. North agrees: ‘I can’t stress enough, protect your tattoos from the sun, or they will fade. I’ve seen it happen on my own body.’
Best lotion with SPF for preserving tattoos
If you want to combine your moisturizer and your sunscreen to save some time (and money), Rosa loves Aesop’s Protective Body Lotion, which contains spearmint leaf extract and SPF 50. It is also water-resistant and free of synthetic fragrances. But it it does not contain mineral blockers like the above sunscreen, so it’s probably better to use for brief stints in the sun rather than full days of baking.
Best exfoliators for preserving tattoos
In addition to using SPF and moisturizer, regularly exfoliating your skin is also important for the longevity of your tattoo, according to Mariah and North, who says it will help ‘keep your tattoos bright.’ North’s favorite, Alba Botánica exfoliator, is a revitalizing sea-salt body scrub, which is formulated with Pacific sea salts to exfoliate dry skin, along with nourishing jojoba, macadamia, avocado, and sweet almond oils to provide hydration. The product is also paraben-, sulfate-, and phthalates-free.
Mariah’s favorite exfoliator comes from Fresh, and she told us she uses it on her own tattooed skin. ‘I exfoliate daily with it,’ she says, adding that she thinks it’s best practice to exfoliate daily, or every other day. The Fresh scrub uses brown-sugar crystals to exfoliate, and a blend of evening primrose, sweet almond, and jojoba oil to moisturize.
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