When is it okay to swim after getting a tattoo?
At some point while in Thailand you’re bound to get soaked. And who can blame you? Whether if it’s diving in Koh Tao, snorkeling in Phi Phi, or bathing an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand is rich with places to get wet.
But if during your trip you plan on getting tattooed, then it’s very important to plan accordingly, because otherwise you risk wasting your time, money and your skin.
Why swimming with a new tattoo is a bad idea.
New tattoos are essentially open wounds. This leaves them at risk for infections. This also means that they can start looking bad if you go swimming or bathing. It doesn’t matter if it’s salt water, fresh water, chlorinated water or a bath tub. Don’t soak your new tattoo!
But how long should you wait before going swimming?
The answer depends on how quickly you heal.
For most tattoo shops the answer is two to three weeks because they use the old method of tattoo aftercare.
At Panumart Tattoo we use a special “second-skin” healing wrap that allows for faster, safer healing. This is why we generally advise our customers to wait 7 days before swimming. That’s also why we recommend visitors to get their tattoo after going to Elephant Nature Park.
Not all tattoos heal at the same speed though.
Which tattoos heal the fastest?
Line tattoos heal very quickly. They do so little damage to the skin that they might as well be scratches. From experience it appears as though the skin closes up completely after only 3-4 days. So if you’re looking to throw caution to the wind, you can feel a bit safer doing so with a line tattoo.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are tattoos that have full color or very heavy shading. These tattoos have done lot’s more damage to the skin and will take longer to heal.
Size is a factor also. Bigger tattoos = more skin area = higher chance of something going wrong.
Do bamboo tattoos really heal quicker?
Yes they do. Whereas machine tattoos tear the skin (by dragging the needle along the body), a bamboo tattoo simply pierces the skin. The results in much less damage to the skin and faster healing times.
In just 4 days after a bamboo tattoo you can go swimming.
Don’t forget about the sun!
While we’re talking about swimming, we have to address the sun.
The sun will fade all tattoos over time, but new tattoos are especially prone to this. Do everything you can to avoid getting burnt, but you don’t treat yourself like a vampire. Getting some sun while going for a little walk around town won’t kill you.
Will it be so bad if you go swimming quickly?
I advise all customers to wait at least 7 days because that’s the safe, conservative approach. And I wouldn’t want you to get a problem after splashing out cash and enduring the pain of the tattoo.
But with that said, multiple customers have told me stories of how they went swimming on the same day as their tattoo (or in the days following the tattoo) and had no problem at all.
Do those stories equal good advice? Not really, no. But they show that the chance of something bad happening is not 100%.
Planning your trip and your tattoo
I find that many of our customers make Chiang Mai their last stop in Thailand specifically so that they can get a tattoo. This is a good strategy to go with.
Others arrange to have their tattoos done at least a week in advance before visiting the islands. Also a good strategy.
But if your tattoo is a last minute decision and your last stop will be in an island, then I recommend waiting until the last day or two of your trip before getting the tattoo. If the place you’re visiting is touristy, then you should be able to find a good quality shop and artist to take care of you.