This one is for the gym rats, the power walkers, the yogis, the surfers, and the ones with a team they can’t let down.
You wanna get your sweat on, but you just got a new tattoo? Is it possible to work out while your new tattoo is healing? If you do work out, how can you do it safely?
Look, it’s not going to be like your regular workout, but we have some tips on how to get in a sweat session while also taking care of your tattoo.
First, let’s get a few solid questions out of the way.
What Happens to the Skin When You Work Out?
The science says working out is good for the skin. It gets your heart pumping which means blood flows and nutrients and oxygen are delivered all over the body.
Now you might believe working out would only improve your healing performance, and maybe that would be true if other factors weren’t at play.
You also get sweating, touching, and frisking about in your skin. This is the not-so-great stuff for wound healing, especially with a tattoo.
When you start working out, you generate energy which makes you hot. Your body’s natural cooling function makes you start sweating. That sweat works to cool you back down to an average temperature.
Usually, it’s good to get your sweat on, but it's a different case when you have a new tattoo. Sweat is generated in the skin, where your tattoo ink is deposited. So sweat disrupts the ink sitting down there and can pull it out of your skin. Nope!
How Long To Wait Before Working Out?
You should wait at least two to three days before attempting any working out at all. Those first few healing days are foundational to your whole healing experience. If you let the new tattoo rest for those two or three days, you will be better off during the whole experience.
Those first few days are when blood clots form, scabs start growing, and your healing processes are in hyperactive mode to get all the nutrients your skin needs to heal properly. Let’s not disturb that process.
After you feel your tattoo taking on a more healed form, you can maybe throw in a little light exercise. But be gentle.
Workout Tips and Considerations
1. Mind Your Tattoo Placement
Where you get your tattoo will determine a lot of what you can and cannot do.
Getting a tattoo on your butt versus getting a tattoo on your forearm are two totally different healing processes. Imagine your day-to-day life with a cheek-covering butt tattoo?
It will limit what you can wear, where you can sit, and how you can move. A forearm tattoo would be much easier to manage.
Depending on your tattoo placement, you will determine what kind of workouts you can do. Probably avoid any stretching or friction on your tattooed area for now. Don’t touch your new tattoo against any shared equipment or mats — there are bacteria galore in those places.
2. Stretching Isn’t Totally Safe
Avoid stretching your tattooed area. If you have a back thigh tattoo - stay away from the RDLs or downward dog.
Stretching your tattoo before it has finished healing will strain the new skin forming. Stretching the area before it’s ready will break the newly formed tissues and impede your healing process. You will feel it too! Those new nerve connections and blood vessels aren’t as elastic as your old ones. Major ouch.
Have you ever had a wound, and it feels really tight? That new skin hasn’t had time to get all elastic yet – so take care when stretching.
3. Sweating Can Cost You Ink
Sweat itself isn’t terribly dirty, but it can collect particles and bacteria on your skin and then pool them into your open wound. When you work out, be careful with how much sweat you work up. We recommend showering before and after your workout and giving your tattoo a little extra (gentle) cleanse.
Excessive sweating can also cause ink loss. The ink that sits in the upper levels of the skin can disintegrate with sweat if the skin doesn’t have time to trap it. Excessive sweating can cause blurriness, fading, and image loss. And that spells money wasted.
4. Good Heat or Bad Heat?
Working out builds energy in your body, and that energy produces heat. You are going to feel warm all over. Heat shouldn’t cause any issues, but it could make your healing tattoo feel weird.
Wounds usually heat up when they first happen because white blood cells fight off bacteria. But the heat from a workout is different.
5. Friction Isn’t Fun
Beware of friction! Don’t let anything rub against your healing tattoo. Your body will cover that healing tattoo with scabs and new, sensitive skin. A bit of friction could rub off working scabs or hurt newly formed skin.
Avoid tight clothing and pressing your tattooed area against equipment. Also, avoid contact sports.
6. Watch Out for Infection
You are at higher risk of infection if you are in a studio, gym, or sports arena. People are sweating, sharing equipment, and near each other.
You must take extra care to protect your tattoo if you work out in an environment like this. Make sure to take proper before and aftercare.
7. Don’t Go Too Hard
How hard can you go when you have a new tattoo? When you approach working out with a fresh tattoo, you should consider the level of intensity. Some types of workouts are safer than others for new tattoos.
Cardio can be a fairly safe way to work out after getting a tattoo, but you’ll need to mind the sweating.
Going for a brisk walk or bike ride can be good if you aren’t going hard enough to hit the massively sweaty point. Avoid excessive sweating until your tattoo is fully healed to protect yourself from ink loss.
Avoid High-Intensity Interval Training with a fresh tattoo. HIIT usually brings out the sweaty pig in all of us. It also usually involves lots of jumping around and stretchy movements. That’s not something you want to subject your healing tattoo to — at least not yet.
Weightlifting is another potentially safe way to work out after getting a tattoo, depending on how you approach it.
Don’t weight lift in ways that will strain your tattooed area. Don’t rep too fast or hard and induce major sweats. Keep it light and easy until your tattooed area is safely healed.
Yoga & Stretching
You would think something low-intensity like yoga or stretching would be fine, but it might be the riskiest activity. Usually, it involves mingling with a mat (lots of bacteria hiding in there) and stretching your skin.
That skin-stretching is not going to be good for a tattoo that’s trying to heal. It’s going to irritate your new skin and disrupt any good scabbing going on.
Scary! Working out solo means a lot of control. Doing a team sport means a lot of potential smashing up against someone and adding injury to injury.
You are also swapping sweat with other people, which is a great way to introduce foreign bacteria into your wound. Avoid team sports and water sports until the healing process is over.
8. What To Wear
Avoid tight clothing. Most sports clothing is pretty clingy so maybe swap it out for something looser. If you are worried about hitting your tattoo or collecting unwanted bacteria during your workout, you can use a Tegaderm or Saniderm for your workout moment.
Just make sure you cleanse properly before and remove and re-cleanse promptly after.
9. Where To Go
Work out in a cool climate if you can. Find a place with AC or go outside if it’s cool out. That way, you avoid excessive sweating, and your body doesn’t get overheated and become a breeding ground for bacteria.
10. Pre and Post-Workout Care
Post-workout wound aftercare is the same as your usual aftercare routine, with extra care and a more watchful eye.
Wash your hands!
Rinse the tattooed area with clean, room temperature water.
Lather your hands with anti-bacterial, fragrance-free soap and gently lather the tattooed area. Let the soap rest a moment and work out any yucky stuff.
Rinse the area off with the same water.
Pat dry with a clean paper towel.
Check the area out and ensure there aren’t any weird particles you’ve collected from your workout. If anything looks amiss – give it a second wash.
Apply a thin layer of antibacterial moisturizer.
Keep your eye on your tattoo. Make sure you don’t see any oozing, redness, or ink blurring. If you do, cease working out and consult a doctor if you think you have an infection.
Now You Have It All Worked Out!
If you have a new tattoo, you shouldn’t be working out for the first two or three days — or more if you can hold out. When you give your tattoo those first few days to heal uninterrupted, it’s going to give you a better healing experience overall.
After those initial healing days, you may attempt to work out. You’ll have to proceed cautiously, though.
Depending on your tattoo's placement, you’ll want to avoid certain workouts and stretches. Don’t do anything that could strain the tattooed skin or put it in contact with dirty surfaces (we’re looking at your yoga mats and machine seats).
Take care with the intensity of your workout. Excessive sweating could literally sweat your ink out, and you could lose parts of your tattoo.
When you go for your workout, exchange the spandex for some loose-fitting workout wear. You don’t want your clothes rubbing against your tattoo and disrupting its healing process.
Carefully clean your tattooed area before and after your workout session to prevent infection.
Look, we know taking time off from working out can be annoying and disrupt your personal schedule, but if you want a properly healed tattoo – just take it easy and be mindful when making muscle-y moves.
The Association Between Activity Levels and Skin Moisturising Function in Adults | PMC
Friction Characteristics of Preventative Wound Dressings Under Clinically-Relevant Conditions | PubMed
Simple Effective Ways to Care for Skin Wounds and Incisions | PMC