Just recently, my girlfriend came home from a week in Chicago with a new tattoo. After showing me the still-red a-camp mountain on her arm, she went in the other room to rub some lotion on it and – “OW!” As much as I love Vaseline’s lotion, it’s isn’t the most gentle stuff on broken skin.
Wanting to give her something a little less painful and a lot more DIY, I researched tattoo healing and got to work.
While artists disagree over the finer points of tattoo care, the general recommendations tend to be the same. First and foremost, tattoos need to be clean to heal. Just like any wound, they’re vulnerable to infection and need extra care to ensure that they heal well.
Two of the most popular ways to prevent infection – alcohol and Neosporin – are off the table for tattoos. Alcohol dries skin out and prevents healing. Neosporin (specifically the zinc in it) heals skin too quickly, which can lead to blurred lines and dull colors. Instead, this lotion relies on pasteurized water and coconut oil’s antibacterial properties to help prevent infections.
Tattoos also need to breathe to heal the right way. This means salves – especially anything that prominently features beeswax, petroleum jelly, or thick butters – aren’t gonna work. I went with a very light lotion that will hydrate a tattoo without overwhelming it. Over 75% of the recipe is water while the oils I chose are highly moisturizing.
Finally, tattoos are absolute vampires when it comes to the sun. They can’t stand it! Zinc oxide – one of the most typically-used UV blockers – will cause your tattoo to heal too quickly and could irritate or embed itself in your tattoo due to its insolubility. Instead, I went with carrot seed oil. Although there aren’t rigorous studies, cold-pressed carrot seed oil (not carrot seed essential oil) may offer a sun protection factor. Does it make any difference? I honestly don’t know. But since it definitely can’t hurt, I added a few grams to try it out. Feel free to leave it out of the recipe without making any other adjustments – it’s definitely the most expensive ingredient!
As much as I wanted to include a little soothing calendula or lavender, mild, unscented lotions are almost universally recommended. The resulting lotion has a fresh, slightly-fruity scent from the coconut oil while the avocado oil adds a much-needed anti-itch factor.
One more important note: because there’s no preservative in this lotion, it won’t last long and certain isn’t shelf-stable. Storing it in a clean pump-top bottle will extend its shelf life from two weeks to about a month – the perfect amount of time for a tattoo to heal. Make your lotion right before you get a tattoo, throw it out after a month, and you’ll be good to go.
Gentle Tattoo-Healing Lotion
- 2 pots
- 2 heat-safe measuring cups (one large, one small)
- Container for storage
To make a different amount, make your own copy of the spreadsheet below (“File” > “Make a copy” > “OK”). Enter the amount of salve (in grams) you want to make in the pink box and the spreadsheet will auto-calculate ingredient amounts for you.
The second tab, “Price,” will calculate price of the final product based on the ingredient sources that I use.
- Coconut oil is antibacterial to help keep infections at bay.
- Avocado oil soothes itchy skin.
- Carrot seed oil offers a sun protection factor.
- Emulsifying wax blends the water and oils into a lotion.
- Boiling water kills any creepy crawlies living in your tap.
- Place a few cups of water in one of the pots and bring it to a boil.
- While the water is boiling, measure the coconut and avocado oils and the emulsifying wax in a small heat-safe measuring cup.
- Heat in a double boiler, stirring until the emulsifying wax completely melted.
- While you’re waiting for the wax to melt, measure the boiling water in a larger heat-safe measuring cup.
- When the emulsifying wax has melted, remove the small heat-safe measuring cup from the double boiler and add the carrot seed oil, stirring to combine.
- Pour the oil and wax mixture into the boiling water.
- Stir the emulsion for about a minute and then let it cool, stirring every few minutes as the lotion thickens to ensure that the oils and water doesn’t separate.
- Once the lotion has cooled for about half an hour, pour the lotion into your storage container. It will continue to thicken up over the next few hours.
Your tattoo artist will let you know what they recommend as tattoo aftercare, but typically you’ll be told to keep your tattoo clean and uncovered for 3-4 days. Once it begins peeling, you’ll apply this lotion regularly to help it heal slowly and healthily.