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Vaseline on Tattoos – Why do tattoo artists use it?

Vaseline is one of the world’s most natural lubricants, and you’ll find that most tattoo artists will use it on your skin during a tattoo session itself. Though most would also advise, it’s unnecessary to use it in your aftercare process. Here’s all you need to know about how and why we use it during your tattoo.

What is Vaseline?

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Vaseline is a lubricant that acts as a very natural, greasy, and highly moisturizing cream. There’s a good chance you became acquainted with it as a baby, as it prevents nappy rash while it’s also perfect to treat and protect cuts, as any boxing match will show you. It’s also used for burns and to soften skin or prevent cracks.

Vaseline consists of a semi-solid substance made of mineral oils and waxes called petroleum jelly (also called petrolatum). It was first discovered in 1859 by Robert Augustus Chesebrough. He noticed that oil workers would use a gooey jelly to heal their wounds and burns. He eventually commercialised it as Vaseline and it hasn’t changed much since.

Petroleum jelly is a natural substance and its benefits come from its main ingredient petroleum. This helps seal your skin with a water-protective barrier, allowing your skin to heal and retain moisture.

So I’m sure you’ll realise how the benefits of this jelly can also help you when you get a tattoo. Funnily enough though the use of vaseline is quite a new trend, mainly due to the booming popularity of tattoos within younger generations.

So knowing when best to use it or more appropriate ointments has become really important.

What happens to my skin during the Tattoo Process

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When the needle applies a work of art into the second-most top layer of your skin, your body will view both the ink and the needle as foreign bodies, causing it some distress.

Because of this the artist carefully prepares both their equipment and the areas around your body, before they think about starting.

There are many steps to this process from making sure needles are clean, the artist wearing gloves, right down to making sure you shaved your body hair in the area beforehand.

The needle, after being sterilized by the tattoo artist then goes beyond the epidermis and punctures the dermis, inserting the ink for the remainder of your lifespan. The reason as to why the pigments stay there forever is simple, white blood cells can’t get rid of them because the pigments are too big.

And once done, it follows that applying some ointment to lubricate and heal the skin is another major step in the process. Without it, you could actually be looking at some poor healing, the ink coming out, and a potentially ruined tattoo.

Once the ink is safely in place, the epidermis is much like skin that’s been bruised and scarred, and it requires a week or two to heal. This is where Vaseline comes into its own.

What is Vaseline used for?

Vaseline allows the tattoo to heal properly while also effectively moisturising it. It’s also essential for helping your skin restructure. Our artists recommend applying at the end of the tattoo session. Because it applies thickly, it won’t let the new tattoo get dirty or exposed for the first couple of hours. And because it’s 100% petroleum jelly, it blocks your skin pores, allowing them to safely heal and prevent infection.

What’s the difference between Vaseline and Petroleum Jelly?

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Vaseline is simply the original name brand for petroleum jelly, so theoretically there should be no difference between the named brand and generic brands. However, the company that makes Vaseline, claims it has the highest quality ingredients and a special purification and filtration process. Other brands may vary in their consistency and smoothness, or odor, but there won’t be much difference in safety between products. The best advice is to read the label, which should read 100 percent petroleum jelly.

Should it be used before or after the tattoo?

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It is not advisable to apply Vaseline immediately before a tattoo session as it could make your skin too greasy, and the needles could easily slip on it.

If you really want to apply some, it should be done long before the tattoo. This will help keep your skin well hydrated, but you should stop at least four days before your tattoo session.

A well-hydrated body will reduce the pain felt during a tattoo session, so Vaseline will help with this coming up to your session. However, it won’t guarantee that the tattoo won’t hurt – as that will depend on your overall sensitivity.

It is important to moisturise the skin with water – an internal hydration but also an external hydration to avoid skin cracking.

Your tattoo artist will be best able to advise you here, depending on your skin. But generally you can use Vaseline up to four days before you get your tattoo.

Can I apply Vaseline in the days after my tattoo, as part of my aftercare?

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After the tattoo, you’ll be given specific guidelines by your artist as to how best to look after the newly tattooed area at home. Generally speaking, Vaseline is not best recommended at this point. The reason is that when applied heavily, Vaseline can prevent your skin from breathing, which in turn could result in the ink in the tattoo breaking out, or prolonged wound healing.

So you need to be careful not to overuse Vaseline on tattooed skin. An open wound requires air to dry out and form new skin layers. Overusing Vaseline on your tattoo, or indeed any other aftercare cream or ointment, can deprive it of oxygen and therefore prolong the aftercare process. In most recommendations, it’s essential to apply the right amount of your chosen aftercare product. Too much prevents efficient healing, while not enough could lead to your skin being too dry or sore.

Every artist and tattoo shop should display clear aftercare procedures for you to read at home. While most artists take the time to explain the healing process at the end of the tattoo session, it is completely understandable to skip one or two pieces of information. That’s why most artists remain available to their clients during all stages of the healing process.

Are other moisturising creams as good as Vaseline?

Vaseline is a very nourishing, very greasy cream. We’ve been recommending it for years because it works really well during a tattoo session.

However, it is possible to use similar creams. Some of our customers use “Bepanthen” which also contains petroleum jelly but does not contain any perfume. It is very natural, and it is suitable for after tattoo treatment. It is important not to take just any cream. We often tend to want to take creams that smell good, but this is not recommended for the recovery of the skin after tattooing because these creams are not natural, and they contain chemical indices that do not promote healing. It is important to take natural and very oily creams.

Vaseline, Bepanthen or the Black Hat Tattoo Salve are nourishing protective creams made with natural products. Allergies are very rare concerning these creams, or even non-existent, because they are ointments based on natural products.

Substances like Vaseline are absolutely harmless to the skin because they are completely chemically inert. Better still, it protects the skin by acting as a shield that allows effective healing.

Vaseline has been a top product in the tattooing industry for years. It’s the preference of many artists and works amazingly well when used properly. However, it’s not always beneficial to use it, so you need to check with your artist when is best. The number of benefits outweighs the potential risks and as a natural ointment, it can be considered one of the best for professional artists.

François