February 2, 2023

woman with arm tattoos standing in bathroom

The choices for body lotions and moisturizers are endless, and they often contain long lists of confusing ingredients. As I was searching for a new one recently, I was trying to figure out what descriptors for my skin best matched the claims of the assorted lotions. Since my skin isn’t prone to dryness or sensitivity,  all I could come up with was that it’s pretty heavily tattooed. That made me wonder: Does tattooed skin have different moisturizing needs than non-tattooed skin? Is there a lotion out there that would better serve my tattooed skin?

Outside of immediate aftercare balms for freshly tattooed skin, there aren’t many body care products specifically for the inked population. Unsure if tattooed skin has different moisturizing needs, I reached out to leading dermatologists to get their takes. Read on for their thoughts.

Moisturizing Fresh Tattoos

When it comes to moisturizing, fresh tattoos require diligent care. “Tattoos penetrate the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, and the ink penetrates the dermis, the middle layer of the skin,” Dr. Guanche tells us. “Tattooing inherently involves injuring the skin, initiating a healing response. Tattooed skin is generally more dry and flaky initially after the process, similar to our skin during colder climates. Consistent and frequent moisturizing is essential to the healing process to mitigate further damage to the skin.”

Dr. Guanche also says hydrating freshly tattooed skin can also provide other essential benefits. “Moisturizing tattooed skin also helps prevent infections and mitigates the possibility of itching, creating further damage to the skin,” she adds.

The amount of moisture your fresh tattoo requires depends on if it contains only black ink or other colors. “Color tattoos require more moisture and care due to the shading involved and differences in the ink pigment,” Guanche explains. “Water-based lotions and vitamin C creams can work well because it keeps the vibrancy of the color.”

The Difference Between Moisturizing Tattooed and Non-Tattooed Skin

Experts agree that the moisturizing needs of tattooed skin are different from non-tattooed skin. “Tattooed skin needs a moisturizer with a greater viscosity to combat the excessive dryness and injury to the skin,”  Guanche says. But does tattooed skin absorb lotions and creams differently?

“Long term, there is no difference in absorption rates between skin that is tattooed and non-tattooed,” Dr. Love says. “Once the tattooed skin is fully healed, the skin becomes the same as non-tattooed skin unless the healing of the tattoo causes keloid scarring or unintended scarring.” This means if you have any scarring on your tattoos, you may notice moisturizer doesn’t absorb properly.

The Safest Lotion Ingredients For Tattooed Skin

When choosing a lotion for your tattooed skin, the best thing you can do is stick to simple formulations. “Lotions that are gentle, fragrance-free, and simple are better for tattooed skin,” Guanche says. Her recommended brands include Aquaphor, Aveeno, Lubriderm, EltaMD, and Eucerin.

Dr. Love suggests avoiding any lotions with parabens or lanolin, as they can be irritants, and sticking with all-natural ingredients. Additionally, he prefers emollients with shea or cocoa butter, as these protect and hydrate the skin but are not as greasy as traditional petroleum based products. “In my experience, people (including myself!) prefer the feel of it on their skin compared to petroleum-based emollients such as Vaseline,” he says. “Mad Rabbit’s Tattoo Aftercare Balm ($17) contains shea and cocoa butter rather than petroleum; this spreads much easier and does not leave a greasy appearance or feel.”

The Final Takeaway

Freshly tattooed skin should be cared for with gentle, moisture-rich lotions. Once your skin heals, continued hydration is key to ensuring your ink remains in pristine condition. “Keeping the skin moisturized makes the tattoos appear brighter,” Dr. Love points out. “Dry skin on the surface (epidermis) reflects a certain percentage of light and can make tattoos appear lighter or faded. Skin that is properly moisturized, on the other hand, does not reflect light. As long as the skin remains moisturized, the appearance of the tattoo will be greater.”