Can You Exfoliate Over A Tattoo? Here's What To Know

When you first get a tattoo, your artist provides you with a set of instructions for immediate and short-term after-care. But, when the skin's healed and the tattoo's officially a part of your body, the lack of direction for appropriate care can make it difficult and confusing to know how to proceed with securing its vibrancy and longevity. This is especially true for questions regarding how to wash, moisturize, exfoliate, and care for your tattoo and the skin can be perplexing, with improper practices of maintenance and upkeep potentially hampering the tattoo's liveliness. There is likely nothing more discouraging than realizing that your tattoo's pigment is fading and the design is becoming obscured or otherwise losing its vibrancy.


Whether you've gotten a tattoo before or not, most of us know to moisturize our new pieces of art, but can you exfoliate over them to help keep the skin healthy? As it turns out, you can but technique matters tremendously. When exfoliating over a tattoo, moderation and gentle touch make for the perfect balance.

Moderation is key

There are skincare and maintenance practices that can dampen the vibrant colors within a tattoo, and there are skincare practices which can lead to lasting color within the pigmented skin. Knowing which practices fall into each of the categories is a question many people who have gotten tattoos have, and the answer is more nuanced than a simple "yes" or "no" when asking about the well-being of a tattoo exposed to exfoliation such as body scrubs, skincare products with exfoliants like salicylic and glycolic acid, and natural exfoliants like sand at the beach. It all comes down to how an area of skin containing a tattoo is cared for, what types of exfoliating products are utilized, and which additional skincare practices are incorporated into the overall maintenance regimen of the tattoo-containing skin. 


Too much of anything is unlikely to be a good thing, which is true when it comes to tattoo and skincare. Exfoliating too often, with products that are too harsh, or exfoliating with too much pressure can cause damage to the skin, the underlying moisture barrier, and ultimately subdue the colorful aesthetic of your tattoo over time, per Healthline. Conversely, since exfoliation is intended to rid skin of dirt, bacteria, excess oil, and dead skin cells, clearing the area of skin containing your tattoo of these elements and unwanted components hanging out on your skin can actually clear the area and reveal the tattoo which was previously shrouded in dead skin cells and bacteria. 

Gentle is the guiding principle

Consulting with your tattoo artist or dermatologist about which types of exfoliating products will have the best results on the area of skin donning your tattoo can be helpful. Authority Tattoo shares that when in doubt, go with the gentlest of available options. Chemical-based exfoliants found in skincare products and acne treatments, including acids like beta hydroxy and alpha hydroxy, can work to dissolve and remove dirt, oil, and dead skin cells with minimal pressure on the tattoo-containing skin.


Other exfoliants and methods of exfoliating skin, such as placing non-exfoliating soap on an exfoliating skincare tool like coarse body sponges and shower loofahs, are often equally effective in removing the same unwanted elements from skin. Exfoliation efforts utilizing a coarse tool require conscious and intentional mindfulness to inadvertently avoid scrubbing skin with too much intensity and causing damage to the skin's top layers, aka the epidermis, and vibrancy of pigment which brings your tattoo to life. 

Around natural exfoliants like sand, occasional exposure to more intense exfoliating elements is generally fine permitting abrasive exposure to organic exfoliants isn't a regular occurrence. Embracing the energetically vibrant zest of your tattoo indefinitely relies on upkeep of skincare practices like exfoliation, gentle cleansing, and moisturizing. 


Regular use of nourishing organic compounds like coconut oil over skin with tattoo coloring can contribute to the longevity of your body art, as can daily application of sunscreen on the area, recommends Healthline.