I’ve been getting tattoos since I was 17. (Don’t tell my mama.) Those early years were filled with a lot of questionable, ahem, choices for my inked skin. Sure, I may have a silly robot on my wrist that an ex-boyfriend drew and a leopard-print star that I got as a twin tat with another ex-boyfriend, but I regret nothing, especially when technologically advanced laser removal now exists. I’ve also learned a lot when it comes to tattoo aftercare and have made some pretty interesting discoveries.
In the early days of my teenage tattoos, A+D Original Diaper Rash Ointment ($4)—yes, really—was recommended to me to use post-inking. This makes sense, as it forms a protective barrier on the skin and contains healing ingredients like vitamins A and D. It also seemed like a better choice than other old-school suggestions, like Neosporin and Vaseline, which some believe can make the tattoo fade. After the next couple of tattoos, I began getting recommended Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($13), which is still a standard recommendation from tattoo artists to this day. However, it does contain petrolatum and mineral oil, which, again, is believed by some to pull out the ink. (It also contains lanolin, which is made from sheep’s wool, so it’s not vegan for anyone who avoids animal products.)
While I didn’t seem to have much issue using Aquaphor as a temporary treatment for my tattoo aftercare, I’ve been trying out other things to keep my tattooed skin moisturized during the healing phase. What I found interesting? Some of these products are not necessarily marketed for tattoo aftercare but work surprisingly well—like, for instance, The Outset’s new Botanical Barrier Rescue Balm ($38).
Botanical Barrier Rescue Balm
This balm was not specifically formulated for tattoo care, but it’s a true multipurpose product, as it’s used to bring hydration and nourishment to any dry areas, like the lips, body, hands, and feet. The Outset co-founder Scarlett Johansson even uses it to smooth flyaways! It contains the brand’s Hyaluroset Complex, which is a plant-based alternative to hyaluronic acid for hydration and nourishment. It also has botanical oils that are rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, like rosehip, marula, and camellia. I’ve been using the Barrier Rescue Balm as a major part of my aftercare for my latest tats, which were done by the talented Annie Motel, a tattoo artist based in Los Angeles. One of them is a pink cake, which is inspired by the cake hats I used to make over 10 years ago back in my blogging days. The other is based on the aunts’ house from Practical Magic, my favorite film. (You know the one.) However, I didn’t plan on using the balm for my tats at first.
One day, when I was out of town, I realized I had forgotten my tube of Aquaphor, but I did have The Outset’s Botanical Barrier Rescue Balm on me. I knew it was the same type of consistency as other tattoo balms I’ve tried in the past. Plus, it felt safe as a clean, vegan formula, so I applied it on top of my tat, and it worked! It didn’t irritate, it immediately soothed dryness and itching, and it kept my tattoos looking bright. Of course, I wanted to get approval from an expert, so after I sent her the ingredient list and showed her the balm in person, Motel said it was fine to use. “With aftercare, you want to have a product that is gentle on the skin and is clean and free of additives that could make the tattoo inflamed or irritated,” she explained. Usually, Motel will use Aquaphor or an unscented lotion on a fresh tattoo. “Put it on two times a day, morning and evening,” she advised. “Keep it clean, keep it dry, and don’t put too much lotion on where it floods the tattoo. It just needs a little bit to keep it healing right.”
Admittedly, I can be ill-prepared whenever I get a tattoo. Yes, as someone with a million beauty and bodycare products at all times, I tend to not have something as simple as Dial soap, which is recommended for cleansing the tattoo after getting inked. Instead, I usually have some Halloween-themed, candy-scented soap that may risk irritation. With both tats, I also turned to The Outset for cleansing, using the brand’s Gentle Micellar Antioxidant Cleanser ($32). Disclaimer: I didn’t get approval from Motel for this usage, but it worked! It’s gentle and has antioxidants, and it’s vegan, unscented, and free from a ton of questionable ingredients. I mean… Why not?
Gentle Micellar Antioxidant Cleanser
These days, there are way more options for tattoo aftercare, including some amazing brands and products specifically made for it. But it’s good to know that there are also great alternatives that work in a pinch. Now, the only question is, Which tattoo should I get next?
More of the Best Tattoo Aftercare Products to Try
This classic, affordable ointment is still frequently recommended by tattoo artists to heal fresh tattoos. It might give some people pause due to petrolatum and mineral oil in its ingredients.
Original Diaper Rash Ointment
This old-school diaper rash treatment doubles as a decent tattoo aftercare ointment. It’s the kind of thing that would be a TikTok hack these days, no doubt.
Complete Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap
Here is another classic recommendation that’s also known as the gold standard for immediate cleansing following your fresh tattoo. (Keep your heavily perfumed bodywashes away from the area for a bit!)
Natural Skin Care Salve
Plant-focused bodycare brand Green Goo makes this great salve, which moisturizes and soothes with aloe vera, calendula, and myrrh.
Motel recommends using an unscented lotion to keep your tattoo moisturized during its healing phase, so this Aveeno lotion is a great choice. Not only is it fragrance-free, but it’s also formulated and clinically proven to soothe distressed and dry skin.
Repair Soothing Gel
This cooling gel is a lifesaver for that telltale itchiness during a tattoo’s healing phase. It’s made with calming, anti-inflammatory ingredients such as aloe vera, chamomile, and bisabolol.
Defend Tattoo Sunscreen—SPF 30
Motel has taught me the importance of keeping tattoos away from the sun as best as you can. Otherwise, they can fade faster. We should always wear sunscreen no matter what, of course, but Mad Rabbit’s 100% mineral sunscreen is a great choice for protecting your tat.
Shine Tattoo Spray
Older tattoos sometimes need a little boost, and this spray does just the trick. With organic moisturizers shea butter and papaya and orchid stem cell extract, this spray makes tattoos look bright and refreshed.
Buff Exfoliating Wash
This sulfate-free exfoliator uses fruit enzymes to gently yet effectively buff out old dead skin cells, revealing a brighter, noticeably less faded tattoo.
Deluxe Luxury Tattoo Aftercare & Daily Moisturizing Tattoo Cream
A popular choice for tattoo fans, Hustle Butter’s Deluxe Tattoo Cream features shea, mango, and aloe butters as well as a variety of plant oils to help heal new tats and rejuvenate older ones.
Hustle Bubbles Deluxe
Want to use something more specialized for cleansing your tattoo? Hustle Butter’s foaming cleanser is made with antimicrobial soap and botanical oils to keep it sanitized and moisturized. Bonus: You can use it on piercings.
For past tattoos, I’ve used this petroleum-free balm, which is made with olive oil, lavender, cocoa butter, and wax ester beeswax to soothe inflammation while keeping tattoos moisturized.
This aftercare balm protects and hydrates tattoos with moisturizing tamanu and coconut oils.