Your new ink is bright and beautiful. But the tattoo is red, sore, and an open wound. To prevent infection, you need to care for that tat meticulously as it heals. Don't skimp on the soap - it's a first line of defense against germs.
Top Choices in Aftercare Soaps
Tattoo artists and customers weigh in on the products they use, post reviews on websites, and provide invaluable details about the most loved and purchased antibacterial tattoo aftercare soaps. The same names crop up again and again. (There are more exotic post-tat cleansers but, typically, they are not widely available - although they may be local favorites.) Look for these well-known aftercare soaps at your tattoo shop or at your local store. All of them can also be found online.
H2Ocean Blue Green Foam (or Liquid) Soap
This product is all-natural, vegan, antimicrobial and antibacterial, fragrance-free, and contains soothing aloe vera. Ink Vivo, a site about all things tattoo culture, says H2Ocean "meets all of the criteria for maintaining your color and ink in your new tattoo," in addition to its antimicrobial properties. The downside for this popular aftercare soap is the small container - it's not cheap and you may run out if you're caring for a larger tat.
Seventy-seven percent of reviewers on Amazon gave H2Ocean Blue Green Foam five stars and 83 percent gave five stars to the liquid version. Buy a 1.7 oz. foam for about $5 or a 16-oz. bottle of liquid for about $13, plus shipping.
Plenty of ink aficionados love this product. It's a really mild, broad-spectrum germicidal soap designed to preserve the vibrant color of your new tat, even as it gently removes dead skin. Ink Done Right, an online tat mag and review site, says Tattoo Goo "works incredibly well and minimizes the number of artificial ingredients. As a result, even the most sensitive skin feels great…" Tattoo Goo also contains a little olive oil to help prevent dry skin.
Walgreen's sells a complete Tattoo Goo Aftercare Kit (2-oz. tube of soap, sunscreen, aftercare lotion, skin care salve) for about $20 plus shipping. Or, get a 2-oz. tube on Amazon - where 78 percent of buyers gave it a five-star rating - for just under $6 (plus shipping).
Liquid Dial Gold Antimicrobial Soap
This soap comes in various sizes, including a 7.5-oz. pump-action bottle that lasts for a while. Designed as a professional-level home and office hand cleaner, the soap moisturizes as it works to inhibit infection and help dislodge dried dead skin. Tattoo Healing Pro rates Liquid Dial "best in terms of quality, moisturizing ability, and price."
Because it's a common cleanser and not a specialty product, the soap is widely available and economical. The flowery fragrance may not be your thing - and added fragrances can be drying for very sensitive skin. But, at under $7.00 for a 7.5-oz. pump bottle (Walmart), Dial is easy to find and easy on your wallet.
Provon Medicated Lotion Soap
This one can be tough to find in your local stores but is readily available online. Tat shops recommend Provon because it's unscented, lathers easily (so a little lasts a long time), is germicidal and antimicrobial, and soothes irritation and itching. It's a concentrate, so be sure to dilute it - use a small amount with a lot of water.
The squeeze bottle can be a messy traveler but Provon gets top tat-cleaner marks from skincare site ThankYourSkin reviewers, and shops like Jacksonville's Elite Tattoo Gallery, which stocks the soap for sale to its customers. Find it fast on Amazon (where 80 percent of customers give Provon 4.5 out of five stars) at under $8 for two 4-oz. bottles. (Shipping costs vary.)
Best Green Solutions
Safeguard your ink art as you keep it green with all-natural cleansers that are kind to your tattoos and your habitat. The following are top-rated products that have natural antibacterial ingredients.
Cosco Tincture of Green Soap
Tat shops swear by this stuff for everything from all-purpose cleaning to the wetted wipes they use to keep swabbing the area of your skin they are working on. It's biodegradable, environmentally green, gentle - made from glycerin, lavender and pure vegetable oils - and will clean your tat without the downsides of antibacterial chemicals. (Lavender, however, is believed to have some natural antibacterial and antiviral healing properties).
Medline, a medical supplies distributor, points out that Green Soap, introduced in 1966, is "the original and most recognized Tattoo Green Soap on the market." But you don't get that added boost of proven antibacterial protection from chemical agents, and you do need to observe dilution protocols carefully as the soap is a concentrate. Eighty-three percent of Amazon small-quantity (non-industrial sizes) buyers give it five stars. Try an 8-oz. bottle for just under $6.00 plus shipping.
Dr. Bronner's Tea Tree Soap
Dr. Bronner's iconic soaps are mild, vegan, and made with gentle, pure ingredients that endear them to the health-conscious and environmentalists. Tea tree oil makes Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 Hemp Tea Tree Pure Castile Soap a natural antimicrobial (basically the same as antibacterial) soap. Sacred Fire Tattoos recommends Dr. Bronner's Soap with Tea Tree oil for aftercare. Remember that Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps are concentrates and you need to dilute them before use. Check this suggested dilution guide to avoid causing any irritation to your new tattoo.
But be aware that some people are sensitive to tea tree oils. Patch-test the soap on your own unbroken skin to be sure you have no reaction to the tea tree oil before you get your tat and begin your aftercare protocol. Buy a 32-oz. bottle of concentrated Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 Hemp Tea Tree Pure Castile Soap or 4-in-1 Organic Tea Tree Sugar Soap (pre-diluted) in a 24-oz. pump bottle for just under $18 each. (Free shipping is available on orders of $35 or more).
The Skinny on Soaps
You'll be washing that tattoo gently three times a day as it heals, and as frequently after the scabs fall off. It's critical to use the right soap to safeguard your investment, and your health. The biggest danger is infection - that's why a non-drying antibacterial soap is recommended by many tattoo shops.
Here's what to consider:
- Organic - Harsh chemicals and artificial ingredients can irritate sensitive skin and the injury caused by tattooing. Organic soaps eliminate most of those irritants so you start out with something safer and healthier for you and for the planet.
- Unscented - Fragrances can cause reactions and are an add-on that contributes nothing to healing. An unscented soap is "purer" than one with an artificial fragrance added.
- Natural - Products advertised as "natural" are unregulated - natural is a generic term with no specific ingredients limitations. But a true all-natural soap doesn't contain chemical additives that could have unintended side effects. Check labels carefully for ingredients.
Antimicrobial/antibacterial - Antimicrobials tackle bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and other invasive nasties. So, they are also antibacterial. Either term signifies that the product fights bacteria.
- Alcohol-free - Alcohol is drying. The healing process for your tat involves the shedding of dead skin as the new healthy skin replaces it. This can feel itchy and stress the area as it copes with a temporary lack of natural moisture. Skip the alcohol.
- Moisturizing - A moisturizing product can be good or bad. You don't want a lot of greasy film clogging pores and attracting sticky dirt. You do want very dry skin to get a little help with staying supple and smooth. It's all about the balance for your skin type.
- Economical - You paid a fair price for that tat; a good ink artist isn't cheap. You don't want to break the bank with aftercare. Since you're more likely to use the soap if you can afford it and the package isn't sample-size, an economical choice makes sense.
Choosing the Right Soap
Antibacterial soaps are a short term solution to the need to care for a new tattoo which may be vulnerable to infection. For all the environmental reasons you've been cautioned not to over-use antibacterial hand washes and other soaps, limiting your use of these soaps to the time it takes for your tat to heal is a good idea. Here's another reason. Scientists have linked triclosan, once a common antibacterial chemical in hand soaps, with potential neurological and muscular impairment. In 2016, the FDA gave manufacturers a year to eliminate triclosan and a number of other questionable chemicals from soaps. There is ongoing research into additional chemicals associated with antibacterial cleansers. It's best to treat a new tat like a minor medical emergency and resume your normal environmentally friendly ablutions once the healing is complete.