I will only be sharing about my foot tattoo after-care experience since my tiny finger tattoo did not need any special attention. Now, if you research on foot tattoo care, there are hundreds of articles available and a lot of post with different views and opinions, most of which are from Western countries. I couldn’t find anything that was specifically for a red-inked foot tattoo done in Manila (with photos) so I decided to post my own.
My situation: I had the tat done on a Friday night by Sarah Gaugler and spent the whole weekend at home (except for going to church and doing a bit of grocery) plus, I worked at home on Monday, but not because of the tat (it was actually because of a storm). During those 3 days, I did not wear any socks and just used my ballet flats, since these are open on the top. I found that if I wear flip flops or house slippers, the straps would still graze my tat so ballet flats were my best bet. It still hurt the whole of Saturday so I rarely walked around the house. I actually walked with a limp so as to not put pressure on my foot. By Sunday, I could already walk with no limp but I still tried as much as I can to just sit and put my foot up. By Tuesday, the 4th day, I already started walking my usual route, about 2 kms. It still hurt a bit and I have to rest my feet after long walks. The slight itchy feeling also started on the 3rd night.
With this in mind, I’ll start with what Sarah, my artist, recommended to me regarding after-care as well as other “given” must-do’s:
1. Take bandage off after 2 hours from inking. If you want to wet it, wait for 4 hours. I decided to just wet/ clean it the next day, which she says is ok.
2. Clean the area with mild soap and put over-the-counter tetramycin ointment on it 3x a day for the next week then switch to petroleum jelly or unscented lotion. I read a lot of articles that PJ is not recommended so I used lotion to keep the tat moist.
3. According to Sarah, I could already wear socks on the third day. I tried it and found it uncomfortable so I stuck to my ballet flats (note: I wanted to wear socks with ballet flats at work since I work in a formal corporate setting but then I just decided to forego it aka pakapalan ng mukha). I did wear socks after a week for a few hours and it wasn’t uncomfortable anymore, though I still prefer to go sock-less.
4. I read that since it’s on the foot, it might hurt during the healing period and so they recommend elevating the foot. I asked Sarah about it and she said this wasn’t necessary but then, I did feel pain during the week after. I found that elevating my foot helped ease the pain. Note: sometimes there would be pain in my calf as well which was lessened when I elevated my foot or rested it after walking a while. The calf pain was gone after a week.
5. Of course, the usual: don’t soak it, don’t let it get dirty, don’t scratch it, don’t sunbath it etc.
6. Lastly, Sarah reminded me that foot tattoos usually fade faster since they are usually subjected to the sun and that it would heal slower since it’s always moving. This is true because when I got my wrist tattoo, I think after 3 days it was starting to dry up and peel already (no more ointment) and I didn’t have to care much for it as much as I have to take care of my foot tat.
What to expect: Given that I had red ink done, I noticed on the 3rd day that some of the ink transferred to my towel (photo below) when I dried it off (pat dry) during cleaning time. I didn’t think much of this but then on the 5th night, I noticed that my tat was not as vibrant as the first day. I compared it with my red-inked finger tattoo and it was definitely paler, like a pinkish with creamy white color. Now this got me concerned so I did my research. Again, there are so many articles and experiences online, some of which I am sure are made up, that you really have to be calm and just simply not believe everything you come across with. Imagine, there were articles saying that red ink has nickel which could cause allergic reactions which the body would reject by oozing out the ink making the tat look paler and less pretty which could then lead to cancer, feet amputation or worse, death. I mean, I probably would have panicked and died on cue if I believed everything that was written on the net. I would probably even blame the tattoo for the pain in my tooth, if I believed some of those articles. So always keep in mind to stay calm. At this point though, I sent a rather long text to Snow Tattoos, even asking if I should get it redone, but they simply stated for me to wait for two weeks, which is the normal healing time. So I did.
On the 5th night, I noticed that my tat was still really swollen and still looked faded/ pinkish; in other words, ugly. Based on the articles I read, usually they switch to unscented lotion already on the 4th day. So I decided to stop using the ointment and switch to lotion. This is the tricky part because here in Manila, there are only a few easily available choices for unscented lotion – either Physiogel (photo above) or Cetaphil. Both unscented, non-comodogenic, hypoallergenic and expectantly, both pricey (at about P600+ for 100ml; available in SM grocery and Watsons). I actually saw another brand made in Australia, which was cheaper. But I didn’t know the brand, I couldn’t research on it, so I didn’t want to risk it. Good thing Physiogel had a sachet (P25 for 10ml) so I tested it first on my tat that night. By golly, my tat looked so much better than when I was using ointment. It seemed as if the swelling had gone down and the color was better. There was no more slimy, shiny look on it as compared to when I was using the ointment (the ointment made my foot look as if it was massacred because of the grease. Haha!). As I mentioned, Sarah recommended petroleum jelly but I read so many negative reviews on using that, like the fact that it clogs the pores, so I ditched it. She said that unscented lotion was an option too so I just bought the Physiogel lotion. Better to take care of your tat at a cost rather than have it look like trash because of lack of proper care.
Speaking of proper care, here’s a funny story. New tats should not be exposed to direct sunlight, as tattooed people know. During the past few days after getting inked, I had no problem with Mr. Sun since it was cloudy, even rainy, in Manila. But then, on the 6th morning, Mr. Sun decided to take a peak. Since I walk to my office, I had no choice but to expose my foot to the sun for a few minutes. Even though I had an umbrella, it still wouldn’t shade my feet. There was no shade on one whole block – except for the shadow of this lady a few feet in front of me. What did I do? Practically “chased” the woman and started walking right behind her, just so my foot could be protected by her shadow. Haha! The things I do. Foot tats really do need so much babying.
A big anyway, I continued with my tattoo routine. After showering, I put on some lotion then about 2 hours after, lotion again. After lunch, I would wash and clean my tattoo and apply lotion again. 2 hours after, lotion again then before I leave the office, lotion again. Once at home, after taking a shower, lotion again and then my last application would be before I sleep. It is advised not to slather too much lotion, just a thin layer enough to cover the tattoo.
The photos below show how my tat looked like in a span of about 4 weeks.
Exactly a week after, my tattoo was really, really itchy. It was extremely itchy for the next two days (the weekend). Since we can’t itch the tattoo because it will ruin the design, what I would do is lightly itch the surrounding area (that helped) or lightly slap/ tap the tattoo itself repetitively, which really helped. If it was super itchy, the slap(s) would be extra hard. It would sting the tattoo, which would then help take away the itchiness, temporarily. When I got back to work on a Monday, I didn’t feel the urge to itch my tat, though this may be in part of being distracted with all the work I had to do. But even at home, I didn’t feel the itchiness that much as compared to those two days. The itchiness is still there but it’s bearable. During this time, my tattoo was really starting to look like one big scab as you can see in the 4th photo above (top right photo). It wasn’t pretty. It looked and felt more like a piece of leather. Haha! I am not even kidding. But the scabbing of the skin itself was really minimal. It simply looked like white lines or white skin on my tattoo. I think most would peel off while I put lotion. But I would never intentionally pull out the scabs myself, since again, that would mess up the design.
I also started to notice that some of the outer lines of my tattoo were beginning to look better, like a real tattoo, like the red lines are now part of my skin. These lines are no longer swollen and have no more scabbing. But it all started with the outer lines of my design. I’m guessing it takes the center of the top of my foot a longer time to actually heal. By the start of the third week, more and more lines of the design were already looking part of my skin (no more scab) and when I touched it, a lot of the parts of the tat were not swollen anymore. It was starting to look like a tattoo! During this 3rd week, I didn’t care much for my tat. I mean, I would still wash it every lunch time but putting on lotion was not as rigid as before. I would just slather lotion when I felt it was drying up, which was maybe 3-5x a day. By mid of the 3rd week, I could feel that only maybe 1/8 of the tat was swollen and rough. Looks like my feet took a while to heal, since each body varies, but I’m glad that it was finally looking better and prettier. Also, during the 3rd week, wearing flip flops and pants that would graze my tat no longer bothered me or felt uncomfortable.
At the start of the 4th week, my tat was looking so much more prettier! And the color was vibrant too, just like on the day of the inking! This made me so happy! Only about 10% of it was still scabbing; literally there were two spots on my tat that looked like huge pimples. Also, during this week, I stopped washing my foot every lunch, simply because I felt lazy already. Haha! And also because my tat was almost completely healed. I put lotion usually just 3-4x a day. During this week too, Snow Tattoos sent me an FB message, asking about my tat, so that’s a good sign that they somehow ‘follow-up’ with their clients (or maybe it’s just with me since I sent them that long text 3 weeks ago). By the end of the 5th week, my tat was already healed: no more bumps, no more swelling so I stopped with the special lotion. When I touched it, it felt smooth and already part of my skin.
After everything you read (or scanned), here’s what you should just simply remember if you’re getting a red-inked foot tat:
It will hurt like hell. It’s normal for your tat to have this creamy white look after a week of getting it done so don’t freak out. Continue cleaning, moisturizing and caring for it. Don’t forget: each body heals at different speeds. Depending also on the tat size, some took only 2 weeks for their foot tat to heal. As for me, it took about a month for it to completely heal. But after everything, the foot is still one of the prettiest placements for tats, at least for me.