Essential Guide to Swimming After Getting a Tattoo: Risks, Timelines, and Aftercare Tips

Essential Guide to Swimming After Getting a Tattoo: Risks, Timelines, and Aftercare Tips


Deciding to get a tattoo is a significant choice, often accompanied by weeks, if not months, of forethought regarding the design, placement, and timing. However, what often gets overlooked in the excitement is how aftercare activities, like swimming, may affect your new ink. Swimming after a tattoo raises several questions and concerns, primarily because water exposure can profoundly impact the healing process. Understanding when and how you can return to swimming without jeopardizing your tattoo’s integrity is crucial, especially for individuals eager to dive back into their aquatic activities.

This article guides you through the essential considerations and timelines regarding swimming after getting a tattoo. It addresses the substantial risks associated with swimming too soon, such as infection or damage to the tattoo design, and outlines precisely how long you should wait before taking the plunge. Furthermore, it delves into effective strategies for protecting your tattoo if it gets wet and offers practical tips for tattoo aftercare that embrace a healthy healing journey. With a focus on evidence-based advice, this piece will equip you with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about swimming after tattoo work, ensuring your art looks its best for years to come.

Why Swimming with a New Tattoo is Not Advisable

Bacterial Infection Risks

When you get a new tattoo, it's essentially an open wound, making it vulnerable to bacterial infections if submerged in water. Bodies of water, whether a pool, lake, or ocean, can harbour harmful bacteria that pose a significant risk to your fresh ink. One particularly dangerous bacterium is Vibrio vulnificus, often found in warm seawater. This bacterium can lead to severe infections, and in some cases, as reported in the journal BMJ Case Reports, it has even caused death after entering the body through a new tattoo [1]. It's crucial to avoid swimming not only to prevent general infections but also to avoid severe health complications like sepsis, which, although rare, is possible.

Chemical Exposure Risks

New tattoos are also at risk from the chemicals found in swimming pools. Chlorine, used to keep pools clean, can irritate and dry out your new tattoo, leading to delayed healing and complications such as itching, flaking, and scabbing. These issues can not only prolong the healing process but also impact the appearance of your tattoo, causing fading, patchiness, and blurred lines. Even more concerning, exposure to chlorine and other chemicals can lead to irritant contact dermatitis, characterised by a painful, itchy rash and potentially blistering, sores, and swelling, further affecting your tattoo's final appearance [2].

How Long Should You Wait

Giving your new tattoo adequate time to heal before you consider swimming is crucial for both your health and the longevity of your body art. Most tattoo artists recommend a waiting period of at least 2-4 weeks before submerging your tattoo in water. This timeframe allows the upper layers of skin to adequately heal, thereby reducing the risk of infection and ensuring the ink settles properly. For a complete and effective healing, some tattoos, particularly larger or more detailed ones, might require up to 6 months before it's safe to swim [2].

Factors Affecting Healing

Time Several variables can influence how quickly your tattoo heals. The size and location of the tattoo play significant roles; larger tattoos or those on parts of the body that bend frequently may take longer to heal. Your skin type and the quality of aftercare you provide also affect the healing process. It's crucial to follow your tattoo artist's aftercare instructions diligently and consider using waterproof dressings if you must come into contact with water [3].

By understanding these guidelines and factors, you can ensure that your tattoo heals well and maintains its intended appearance, safeguarding your health and the artistry of your ink.

What to Do if Your Tattoo Gets Wet

Immediate Steps to Take

If your tattoo accidentally gets wet, it's essential to act quickly to minimise any potential damage. Firstly, gently pat the area dry with a clean, soft towel. Avoid rubbing the tattoo, as this can irritate the skin and disrupt the healing process. Next, you should clean the tattoo with lukewarm water and fragrance-free soap to ensure no contaminants remain on the skin. After cleaning, apply a thin layer of an alcohol-free and fragrance-free moisturiser or a specific tattoo aftercare product recommended by your tattoo artist. This helps to keep the tattoo hydrated and promotes healing.

Signs of Infection to Watch For

After your tattoo gets wet, it's crucial to monitor the area for any signs of infection. Common symptoms include excessive redness, swelling, a feeling of warmth in the tattooed area, and pus-like discharge. If you notice any of these signs, or if the tattoo becomes increasingly painful, it's important to consult a healthcare professional immediately. Early detection and treatment of an infection can prevent further complications and help ensure that your tattoo heals properly, maintaining its appearance and your health.

Practical Tips for Tattoo Aftercare

Using Ointments and Creams

When caring for your new tattoo, selecting the right products is crucial. It's advisable to choose ointments and creams specifically formulated for tattoo aftercare. These products should preserve the colour of the ink and maintain the integrity of the design by preventing discolouration and ensuring a perfect final appearance. Importantly, avoid using general face or body creams, pure shea butter, or other non-dedicated products, as these can compromise the healing and look of your tattoo [4].

The ideal tattoo aftercare product should contain moisturising, soothing, and barrier ingredients. During the healing phase, it's vital to keep the skin well-nourished and elastic while protecting it from external agents. Products containing beeswax, liquid paraffin, and vaseline are beneficial, though they should be used in moderation to allow the skin to breathe and not clog pores [4].

Covering Tattoos

Initially, it's essential to protect your new tattoo by covering it properly. Remove the bandage 1 to 5 hours after the tattoo is done, depending on your tattoo artist's advice. After the initial period, and particularly if you anticipate any water exposure, consider using a waterproof bandage or a specially designed tattoo cover to prevent water from seeping through and causing infections [5].

After five days, you can switch from using antibiotic ointments to a fragrance-free body lotion to keep the area moisturised without clogging pores. Remember, the right aftercare regimen, including how often to apply the cream, varies depending on the tattoo, so it's crucial to follow the specific advice of your tattoo provider.

By adhering to these practical tips and using the recommended products and coverings, you ensure that your tattoo heals correctly, maintaining both its beauty and your health.


Throughout this article, we've navigated the crucial considerations surrounding swimming after receiving a tattoo, underscoring the importance of allowing adequate healing time to safeguard both your health and the artistry of your ink. By adhering to the recommended waiting periods—ranging from 2 to 4 weeks, and sometimes longer for expansive or intricately detailed tattoos—you ensure the integrity and appearance of your new tattoo remain uncompromised. Moreover, the risks associated with early exposure to water, including infection and chemical irritation, highlight the need for diligence in following aftercare advice to protect your investment and well-being.

As we've discussed, proper aftercare plays a pivotal role in the healing process, with specific practices and products designed to support a seamless recovery. Embracing these guidelines not only facilitates a healthier healing process but also preserves the vibrancy and detail of your tattoo. For those seeking to maintain their tattoo's beauty while ensuring optimal healing, check out our tattoo aftercare products. Remember, protecting your tattoo from water exposure in the initial weeks and employing the right aftercare strategies are essential steps to enjoying your body art for years to come.


Can I go swimming one week after getting a tattoo?

It's advisable to wait between 2 to 4 weeks before swimming after getting a tattoo. Since a fresh tattoo is similar to an open wound, swimming too soon can expose it to bacteria, causing infections, irritation, and potential damage to the tattoo's appearance.

How can I tell if my tattoo has healed sufficiently for swimming?

A good indicator that your tattoo has healed enough for swimming is the absence of flaking, scabbing, and peeling. Once these symptoms have subsided, and the skin appears to have settled, it is generally safe to swim.

Can I shower with a new tattoo?

You can shower with a Saniderm bandage 3-4 hours after tattooing. If your tattoo is covered with plastic wrap, it's best to wait 24 hours before removing the wrap and showering. Use cold or lukewarm water and avoid soaking the tattoo for 3-4 weeks to ensure proper healing.

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