Safe + Natural Tattoo After-Care

I got a tattoo!

Surprise! If you’ve known me (in person) for very long, it’s actually not much of a surprise that I ended up getting one. I’ve been talking about it for 10 years. My college roommate and I spent many a night scheming up the perfect tattoo design and placement. She got one last summer, so it was only natural that it was time for me to follow suit.

Why a bee?

My nickname growing up was Leah Bee. There’s no origin story there, it just flowed nicely and was picked up by my relatives. My older cousin, Meghan, even gave me a cute little bee backpack for my birthday (I must have been 8 or 9) and I cherished it for years until I felt I had grown too old for it.

I was stung by a bee at Disney World as a very young child. But my mother told me that the bee was just afraid and didn’t mean to hurt me. That has stuck with me, and as an adult I appreciate the way she diminished my fear by allowing me to empathize with that little creature instead of learning to hate it.

I vividly remember a moment in elementary school – I must have been 9 or 10 – when the class was sitting cross-legged outside waiting for our teacher to pick us up from the cafeteria. A bee approached us on the hunt for flowers and, seemingly in slow motion, each child jumped up into the air, shrieking and fleeing. But I stayed, leg over leg, calm as Yoda, just observing. I’d learned, thanks to my mother, that bees didn’t want to hurt me.

I wonder now if that story, embedded in me, has affected my approach toward inclusive relationships. If even the bee is worthy of being given the benefit of the doubt, how much more grace should we extend to humans?

Anyways, I’m happy that I got it and have been pleasantly surprised with the speed of the recovery process. (And yes, it hurt, but I found breathing through the pain to be very effective.)

This list contains a few affiliate links.


After interviewing Kerrie Pierce on safe cosmetics, I’ve changed my tune a bit when it comes to “all natural” products. While my sensitive skin thanks me for using mild, naturally derived ingredients in most cases, I’m learning to trust my skin when it tells me it isn’t responding to a particular product.

I’ve eliminated the aggressive skin oils that burn on my skin and thrown out the mascara I was using that contained no preservatives, allowing bacteria to thrive.

Apply Two Times a Day:

Anti-Bacterial Soap

When my tattooist recommended I use an antibacterial soap for the first few days, I decided to listen. Antibacterial hand soaps are generally a bad idea for everyday use because they encourage the bacteria that survives to mutate into super bacteria, but when it comes to cleaning an open wound, it can still be the best choice. After the first week, I transitioned to an unscented bar soap. My friend, Faye, recommends Dr. Bronner’s.

Dial Gold Liquid Handsoap (for first few days)
Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Bar Soap (contains palm oil)
Tree Hugger Soap Co. Castile Soap (palm oil free!)

Coconut Oil

My tattooist also recommended coconut oil in place of ointment, because it has mild, anti-microbial properties that may aid in healing and absorbs into skin more effectively than a product like Aquaphor. I know I’m way late to the coconut oil party, but now I see why everyone was (is?) obsessed with it. It smells incredible and leaves you with soft skin free from residue. I used store brand unrefined, organic Coconut Oil.

Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

Apply as Needed:

Unscented Lotion

To ease itching and skin discomfort during the day, I brought a bottle of Cetaphil to work. Every few hours, I rub a little bit on the tattoo for quick moisture that doesn’t suffocate the skin.

Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion
Tree Hugger Soap Co. Unscented Whipped Body Butter (palm oil free)

Shea Butter

Faye also recommended Shea Brand Whipped Shea Butter for after care (Shea Brand sent me some products for review). Shea Brand uses hand-whipped, sustainably and fairly harvested, organic shea butter with a hint of Vitamin E and essential oils.

I didn’t start using this on my tattoo until about a week and a half in because it needs to be thoroughly rubbed into skin and a flaking tattoo can’t handle that. But while I was waiting for the tattoo to heal a bit more, I applied it to a rash I’d had for over a month and it started to fade almost immediately. Within a week, it was gone! Shea is a nut-based cream that goes on thick, but dries matte. It’s great for cuticles and chapped lips, too. I’ve been carrying a little tin of it in my purse to ease the dryness caused by cold wind and indoor heaters. I highly recommend it as a multipurpose skin product.

Shea Brand Original (Unscented)
Shea Brand Rose

Shop Shea Brand here.

Are you thinking about getting a tattoo or do you already have one? Feel free to ask questions and make suggestions in the comments. 

Related Reading: 
How Ethical Are Tattoos?

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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