So you just got some sick new ink.
Now you're wondering when you can get back on your exercise grind.
Is it safe to go running after getting a new tattoo? How about lifting weights? Yoga?
The general rule is to wait around 24-48 hours before exercising. But advice varies and if you're careful and follow some cautionary guidelines, you can get back to running pretty much right away.
In this article we'll go into some detail about tattoo after care and how it relates to exercise and running, what to look out for, and what to do if you screw up your new tattoo.
Why do new tattoos need to heal?
If you're new to tattoos, you might not be super familiar with the process.
The science of tattoos is actually kind of fascinating!
When you get a tat, the artist uses a needle to inject ink below your epidermis (outer layer of skin) into the second layer of skin (the dermis).
This layer of skin is permanent and not regularly shed, the way your outer skin is, and the ink particles are too big to be disposed of by your body's defenses, like white blood cells. So the ink stays there, just below the surface, essentially forever.
(Over time, the ink can fade, stretch, or spread, causing the tattoo to become faded or blurry.)
By its very nature, the tattooing process repeatedly punctures and damages your skin. Like any kind of wound or skin damage, the affected area needs time to heal properly, even though the individual punctures are very small.
According to Tattoo Authority, here is the basic healing process broken down:
- Days 1-6: The tattoo area may swell, ooze, or generally be irritated. This phase shouldn't last very long, though, and should gradually improve each day after you've gotten the tattoo.
- Days 7-14: Some scabbing (basically dead skin) may form over the irritated area and slowly peel or fall off.
- Days 15-30: The area should be fully healed and feel great, but the affected areas of your dermis (lower layer of skin) may still be healing. The tattoo may look cloudy for a few weeks until the entire area is back to 100%.
In most cases, the tattoo healing process is quick, painless, and free of complications.
But the area can become irritated or infected if you suffer a set back or don't follow proper after care.
Usually, your tattoo artist will thoroughly wash the area and wrap it in plastic wrap and/or or a bandage before they send you home.
What should you avoid doing while your tattoo is healing?
Most of the healing process takes place on its own... there are no complicated medicines or creams in most cases that you need to apply for a tattoo to heal.
But there are a few important things you should NOT do.
Don't get your tattoo wet: Submerging your tattoo in a bath, or especially a chlorinated pool, is a big no-no in the first 24 hours or so of recovery. If the healing area stays too moist, it could easily get infected, or worse, you could cause the rapid formation and loosening of a scab in the area, which could leave scarring. That would ruin the piece!
If anything you can use a very, very moderate amount of unscented lotion to moisturize, or cover the tattoo in a thin layer of Aquaphor. Then leave it alone. You can wash it with some mild soap and gently pat it dry, but other than that it should stay dry while it heals.
Don't allow clothing to rub vigorously against the tattoo: Your tattoo area is basically an open wound. While it's healing, you really want to avoid anything rubbing against it. If the tattoo area is under your clothing, it's best to keep it bandaged for a while until it's healed.
Don't expose it to lots of sunlight: A lot of sunlight on a new tattoo could be a major problem. For starters, the skin in the area is super raw and sensitive, and could be severely burned by too many UV rays.
Second, the sunlight could cause the ink to bleed, fade, crack, or blister, which could impact the way it looks for the rest of your life.
Lots of sunblock over tattoos, even old ones, is really important. But with news ones, it's best not to risk sun exposure at all for at least a few days.
Don't stretch the tattoo area: Before the ink below the surface of the skin has fully set, stretching that area of your body could cause the ink to bleed and spread, ruining the shape of your tattoo.
You won't have to worry about this too much with small tattoos, but big ones that stretch over multiple body parts require extra care while healing to keep them from stretching out.
As you can see, there are a few things to be really careful of with your fresh tattoo that might make exercising difficult (especially clothing rubbing against it, sunlight, and lots of sweating).
But you can totally do it if you're careful. Here's how.
How to run (or exercise) safely with a new tattoo
If you want to exercise after getting your new tattoo, there are a lot of factors to consider, including the kind of exercise, where the tattoo is, how big it is, and how quickly your skin heals.
The best and safest thing to do is ask your tattoo artist what they recommend.
But here are a few best practices you can follow if you're really dying to go for a run within the first 48 hours of getting a tattoo:
Avoid really long, sweat-drenched workouts: You should be fine after the first few days to resume your normal training, but in the immediate aftermath of getting inked, you should be really careful about sweating too much. Remember, tattoos shouldn't be submerged or stay wet for too long (a quick wash and gentle drying is fine, but letting moisture soak in could be a problem).
I probably wouldn't recommend going for a 10 mile run right after you get a fresh tattoo. A light jog would probably be fine, just be careful about sweating too much for too long on that fresh ink.
Bandage your tattoo or wear loose fitting clothing: Anything rubbing against your raw, sensitive tattoo area is a no-no. Avoid compression clothing, sports bras, or tight workout clothes that might irritate the area when covered.
You should also be careful of tattoos on your inner thigh (skin might rub together here) or anywhere else that might experience direct impact during your run or workout.
Keep your tattoo away from the sun: If you're running outside, cover that thing up! Just use a simple bandage. In general, you should leave your tattoo uncovered so it can dry out and heal well, but keeping it covered for short periods of time to prevent damage (and covering it at night) can be advisable.
For tattoos more than a few days old, you can use a little sunblock on it to prevent cracking, bleeding, and fading.
Avoid stretching the area: This is more of an issue for people doing weight lifting and calisthenics with a new tattoo, but definitely be careful about putting that skin under too much tension. It could cause the ink to crack, bleed, or spread, ruining the shape and color of your brand new tattoo.
For example, if you got a chest tattoo, you may want to hold off a few more days before you bench press. Be careful of tough leg workouts after getting a quad or thigh tattoo.
Again, the best thing to do is ask your tattoo artist for specific exercise and aftercare instructions. It's all going to depend on the nature of the tattoo, the location, your skin type, what kinds of exercise you want to do, etc.
But as a general rule, you should be OK for mild exercise within 24-48 hours as long as you follow the guidelines above.
What to do if you mess up your new tattoo
Proper prevention and aftercare is the best way to avoid damaging your new ink, but sometimes things happen that are out of our control.
Most likely, your new tattoo will be fine! So don't panic.
The best piece of advice I've found is to watch out for scabs that form really quickly... be sure not to pull them off before they're ready, which could cause scarring.
Other than that, just follow your artist's aftercare advice as best you can, and if you're worried your new tattoo might be messed up as it starts to heal, contact your artist to see if it needs to be or can be fixed.
Can you run after getting a new tattoo? Totally! You just have to be smart and safe about it. And if it were me, I'd probably go on the conservative side and wait a few extra days.
After all, tattoos are permanent! Better to let it heal properly so it looks great for the rest of your life.
(Or, at least, until it needs to be touched up a few decades down the road).
Again, take the advice of your tattoo artist over mine, and be sure to ask as many questions as you need to.
Good luck getting back on the exercise trail. Hope this helped!