Ask Jeeves for Half Sleeves
October 8, 2010 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Hooray for half sleeves! I'm going to be a sticky disgusting mess from shoulder to elbow for a week. What sort of material should I wrap it in? What are the easiest, cleanest, best options for keeping a fairly large new tattoo clean and covered?

I know there is no definitive consensus on proper tattoo aftercare, but assume I already know the basics (hypoallergenic lotion, no soaking, let it air out sometimes, don't keep it in saran wrap forever, listen to your tattoo artist, etc). This question is specifically about what to bandage it in while it heals.

I work in a conservative office where I couldn't show my bare arms even if they weren't covered in ring pops and cupcakes. I generally wear cardigans, and if I just wear a cardigan over my bare new tattoo I'm going to end up with an open wound full of lint and a sweater sleeve soaked with lotion and full of dead skin flakes, which is fairly disgusting and probably not best practice.

What should I cover it up with? Last time I used unbleached cotton muslin purchased from a Portland co-op secured with medical tape. Now I'm in Chicago, I don't even know where to find something like unbleached medical-grade cotton muslin, and I worry a little that there's not going to be enough room to tape it; the only areas I can tape to the skin will be at my shoulder and elbow, which both have to bend a lot.

OTHER IDEAS (please add to or refine this list)

-use a tube cut out of a pair of tights-I'm not sure if this will be too tight or if synthetic fabric is the best choice

-gauze and medical tape; where do you even find gauze that isn't in tiny wee squares or rolls? I would prefer not to wrap myself up like a mummy.
posted by Juliet Banana to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
When I got my full sleeves, I slathered with lotion and used paper towels for the sticky period. Reapplied as needed, and took that sweater and the paper towels off the second I wasn't at work.
posted by Zophi at 2:58 PM on October 8, 2010

My latest big tattoo was covered - by the artist - in plastic wrap. I just changed it daily, using athletic tape to hold it in place. A bit awkward, but very-non-messy, and the tattoo came out perfect.
posted by Invoke at 3:00 PM on October 8, 2010

Oh, I forgot to say that I also put tons of lotion under the plastic, the first day or two was neosporin, then I changed to something my GF had sitting around that advertised itself as hypoallergenic.

Love the big tattoos!
posted by Invoke at 3:02 PM on October 8, 2010

No experience with actual tattoos, but I would go to Target and get cheap 100% cotton clothing to cut up. You could try the sleeves or legs cut out of long underwear ('tis the season), or men's tube socks with the toes cut out. If you want to get really fancy (are you doing both arms?), you could take a long underwear shirt, cut the sleeves out but leave a strip of the back fabric to connect them, so they stay up on their own without any tape/adhesive at all. The more I think about it, the more I think long underwear would be the best route to go--it breathes really well.

If you plan to use anything that's not medical grade, I would definitely boil it first. Props to my homie.
posted by phunniemee at 3:05 PM on October 8, 2010

My artist used this crazy awesome stuff very much like Tegaderm the last few times she worked on my chest piece. It stays on wonderfully, doesn't adhere to the tattoo itself, but protects it. I'm not sure how you would get it on by yourself, but if you had help, it would certainly do the trick.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 3:08 PM on October 8, 2010

Cheesecloth is food safe, and comes in good sizes for coverage.

But I think phunniemee may have it. Thin cotton shirt. Washed, and cut to fit.
posted by freshwater at 3:09 PM on October 8, 2010

I have a lot of large tattoos, and am similarly covered up at work. I have never once worn covering during the healing period because I use a healing method that makes the tattoo stop oozing after the first washing. I am told it is a Japanese healing method, but who knows if that's true or not. All I do is 1) remove the initial bandage that the artist placed on it, usually a few hours after getting tattooed; 2) take a shower and wash the tattoo in the hottest water I can stand, as long as I can stand it; 3) follow standard lotion-and-leave-it-the-hell-alone method. I usually continue the superhot shower bit on days 2 and 3 as well, which in my case has virtually eliminated scabbing (but not the delightful peeling phase).

I know this may seem counter to advice not to soak fresh tattoos, but you're not sitting in a tub for an hour, you're washing it for a few minutes, and the hot water forces all the lymph (the oozy stuff) to come up and out of the skin instead of leaking out slowly over a few days. After using this method for years, I can say that the key is to run your clean hand over the tattoo after a few hot rinsings to see if you feel any lymph on the skin - the skin should just feel like wet skin with no lymph on it. That's when you know you're done with the hot rinsing.

This method is not without its drawbacks, the only one of note being that it hurts like a motherfucker. But it works, and I've had zero leaking from healing tattoos after the initial washing for the entire 5 years and 30+ hours of tattooing that I've been using it.
posted by bedhead at 3:16 PM on October 8, 2010 [17 favorites]

Retired tattooist and proud owner of 2 full sleeves and covered legs/chest/hands here!

My advice is always the same; leave it wrapped for the first 10 or so hours after it is done, and then do not wrap it again. Wash with hot water and a mild, fragrance free hand soap 4 times a day or so, and apply A&D after washing. Only use enough ointment to cover it (a pretty small amount) and do not slather it on. After 3 days or so of A&D, switch from that to a fragrance-free, nonallergenic lotion (I use Curel brand, but any will work as long as it is unscented and sterile).

One note: do not use cotton cloth or toilet paper to dry. It leaves a lot of fibers, and can contribute to scabbing and itchiness. I like the Viva brand paper towels myself.

When washing, blot dry with a paper towel before applying your ointment or lotion. Keep that up until healed (you will see when it gets to the point when you can do the whole routine just a couple times a day... should be about a week or 10 days depending on your skin and the heaviness of the artist's hand). And, of course, do not itch it or pick at scabs if they show up. Personally, I have never had a single tattoo scab, except on my fingers where the whole process of care is just impossible. I credit that to the care methods I have employed!

Congrats! It looks good. Can we get a pic of the finished sleeve?
posted by broadway bill at 3:17 PM on October 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

Or, just do what bedhead said! Basically, the same method as mine, just without A&D (which is really the only debatable part of my method anyway!).

I also failed to reinforce exactly how the water should be: very damn hot.
posted by broadway bill at 3:19 PM on October 8, 2010

broadway bill: yeah, I prefer unscented lotion to A&D, mainly because I feel like A&D doesn't allow my skin to breathe enough, but each person has their own preferred moisturizing method. Agreed that the water needs to be really, really damn hot.
posted by bedhead at 3:25 PM on October 8, 2010

I got a large back tattoo done about two weeks ago, and just finished with the scabbing phase. Wear clean, slightly loose dark-colored cotton shirts with long or 3/4 length sleeves, will look fine under whatever clothes you normally wear. Sleep in them too. You're going to be careful putting on and removing the shirt anyway, so I don't see the point in ruining one just to cover the exact area you need and no more.
posted by lizbunny at 3:42 PM on October 8, 2010

I used the same method recommended by bedhead and broadway bill for my tattoos:
- leave it wrapped until bedtime
- have HOT shower, rinse off all the lotion/ointment, dried blood and dead skin
- apply small dab of unscented lotion, reapply as skin gets dry or itchy but never gob it on
- wear clean, breathable fabric
- leave it the hell alone

I've never had so much as a single pinpoint of a scab with this method. The tattoos left prints on my bedsheets for a day or two but they were never oozy or sticky. I had to put a bra on over part of my rib piece two days after it was done and I had no issues with chafing or irritation. It did start to peel and itch like hell after a few more days, but within another week it looked and felt like normal skin again.

Some friends, who healed their tattoos with other methods, were astounded when they saw mine after the second day and the only indication that it was fresh was a little bit of pink around the edges. One of them remarked that I must have Wolverine-like healing powers. Nope, tattoos just don't like to be suffocated.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:44 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding bedhead and broadway bill. Do not rewrap the tattoo. It's going to be itchy and gross and ripe for infection, really, if you cover it beyond the first day. I sympathize, since I got my big ol' chest piece finished while working in a conservative workplace (and a big ol' sidepiece that goes from my ribs to my upper thigh a few years earlier while working in another conservative workplace, come to think of it), but the smartest thing to do would be to wear loose, long sleeved-cotton shirts and not to wrap it tightly underneath.

(At least you'll be able to wear a bra! And underpants!)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:10 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Oh, and I agree that you should figure out your own moisturizing method. I found that unscented lotion, even when applied lightly, made me exxxtreeeemely itchy, but a very thin layer of A&D applied each morning while it was healing was enough to keep it from drying out until it was healed completely.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:13 PM on October 8, 2010

Agreeing with the hot shower folks. It actually feels really good to me, but then again, I do keep paying people to shove ink under my skin with needles.
posted by clockbound at 4:32 PM on October 8, 2010

But guys, she has to cover the tats for work. That's the point of the question.

Maybe cover it with something bandage-grade and non-linty, and then put thin cotton socks over them to smooth it all out and help you need less tape? If you cut half of the feet out of the socks you can use the heel over your shoulder as a natural anchor point, or even, when cutting, leave a sort of tab so when the heel cups your shoulder, the tab of sock also goes along your shoulder and up to anchor near your bra strap or something, maybe almost at your neck. Might be good to prototype this before getting inked so you can muck around without it hurting/getting linty.

I also think there's merit to the previously-mentioned idea of cutting a tight cotton shirt into a sort of ballet shrug (ps, omg how funny is that stepford ballerina, she's the exact cosmic opposite of a cupcake tattoo).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:29 AM on October 9, 2010

But guys, she has to cover the tats for work. That's the point of the question.

Maybe cover it with something bandage-grade and non-linty, and then put thin cotton socks over them to smooth it all out and help you need less tape?

I think what you're missing is that most of us are suggesting that she cover it with loose clothing, rather than add another layer of tight covering underneath clothing. Yes, it's likely this will stick to the tattoo slightly, but the more you can let the tattoo breathe, the better.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:02 AM on October 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the whole point of most of the responses was "do not wrap the tattoo." The benefit of proper care is that, if you do it correctly, you can just do your normal thing. Just care for it, and wear what you would normally wear.
posted by broadway bill at 10:39 AM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

What broadway bill said. That is how I dealt with my half sleeve when I got it done. Ideally, tattoos should never be covered with saran wrap as that traps in any bacteria directly against a large open wound. Unfortunately, more and more tattoo artists are going to that.

When I got my half sleeve done the artist saran wrapped it (I was too tired to argue) I had to go to the store and halfway through it, I had blood running down my arm and out from under the wrapping. The initially wrap should be something lint free and absorbent in case you bleed like me.
posted by SuzySmith at 8:10 PM on October 9, 2010

Initial not initially. I've been awake for 39 hours, so, yeah, deal.
posted by SuzySmith at 8:10 PM on October 9, 2010

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