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Drinking Habits

Can You Drink Alcohol After Getting a Tattoo?

December 1, 2023
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
December 1, 2023
18 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
December 1, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
December 1, 2023
18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
December 1, 2023
18 min read

You did it: you finally bit the bullet and got the tattoo you’ve been thinking about for years. And it didn’t even hurt as much as you thought it would! You want to celebrate, and you’re planning to meet some friends for happy hour to show off your new ink. But, is it ok to drink alcohol right after getting a tattoo — or should you wait?

In this post, we’ll explore how alcohol can affect the tattoo healing process. We’ll look at when it’s safe to drink alcohol and how to care for fresh tattoos properly. Let’s get started!

What Happens to Your Skin When You Get a Tattoo?

Before we look at whether or not it's safe to consume alcohol after getting a tattoo, it’s helpful to understand the process of what goes on under our skin and how it affects our body. Our skin is our largest organ, and tattooing it can be a traumatic process. In fact, tattoos start out as an ink-filled collection of tiny wounds.

A person with a tattoo holding a glass of alcohol

Here’s how it works: for a tattoo to be permanent, ink has to get into the dermis, the tissue just underneath the outer layer of our skin (the epidermis). The ink can’t just be distributed on the epidermis because these outer skin cells are continuously dying off and shedding; a tattoo on the epidermis would disappear in just a few weeks. So, the ink is injected into the dermis by a machine that delivers thousands of tiny pricks into the skin via a needle. Modern tattoo machines work quickly; they can pierce the skin to inject ink at a frequency of up to 3,000 pricks per minute.

But the dermis is incredibly sensitive: it’s a delicate layer composed of collagen fibers, nerves, glands and blood vessels. Because the tattooing process creates tens of thousands of tiny wounds into a deep layer of skin, our immune system goes into overdrive. Our body rushes a team of blood cells called macrophages to the site of the tattoo to remove the foreign substance (i.e. ink participles) that are now in the dermis.

It’s a complex process. Macrophages are why tattoos fade over time — but they’re also what makes them permanent. Some macrophages swallow ink particles and eject them through the lymphatic system. However, other macrophages remain in the dermis and allow the injected ink to remain visible.

The bottom line? In many ways, tattoos are voluntary open wounds. They can be traumatic for our skin, triggering our body’s immune response.

Can You Drink Before Getting a Tattoo?

Getting a drink before getting a tattoo might be tempting (especially if we’re a bit on edge), but ultimately it’s not a good idea. Alcohol can thin our blood, which can cause bleeding and interfere with the process. Moreover, while booze might feel like it’s taking an edge off the pain, it might slow down the healing process, ultimately prolonging discomfort. And last but not least, tattoos are forever — so we want to be fully aware of what we’re doing when we’re working with the artist on finalizing the design!

Why You Should Avoid Alcohol After Getting a Tattoo

While we might also be tempted to celebrate our fresh ink with a drink or two, it’s important to remember that we’ve just created a big open wound on our body that needs to heal. And drinking can interrupt that healing process. This is why it’s generally advised to refrain from drinking for at least 48-72 hours after getting a tattoo. Let’s take a closer look at how alcohol interferes with the healing process:

Alcohol Increases Bleeding

After getting a tattoo, blood and plasma typically leak from the tattoo as part of the healing process. This typically occurs for the next 24 to 48 hours, and it’s our body’s natural response to being wounded.

The problem with alcohol is that it’s a blood thinner, preventing blood cells from sticking together and forming clots. This can be dangerous, as we might experience prolonged or continued bleeding, or even excess bleeding if we drink alcohol after getting a tattoo.

Not only does it get messy, but the excess bleeding could push ink out of our tattoo before it has settled properly, resulting in a faded look. Thinned blood also makes it harder for our body to scab the new wound and form new skin, preventing proper healing. It doesn’t take much — even just one beer or alcoholic drink can thin our blood and reduce our blood’s ability to clot.

Alcohol Increases Risk of Infection

One of the biggest concerns after getting a tattoo is getting an infection. Our immune system plays a big role in fighting off any harmful bacteria at the site of a wound — or a tattoo. But alcohol can actually weaken our immune response, making it harder to fight off a possible infection. If we do get an infection and it’s not managed in time, it can lead to sepsis or send us into a life-threatening condition called septic shock, a widespread infection causing organ failure and dangerously low blood pressure.

Alcohol Increases Swelling

A tattoo often causes swelling at the ink site as part of our body’s normal healing process. Drinking alcohol widens our blood vessels through a process called vasodilation, which can also cause swelling. If we’re already experiencing swelling from the tattoo, consuming alcohol can make it worse, resulting in an extended recovery time.

Alcohol Causes Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic: it promotes water loss through urine. This is why we often urinate more frequently while drinking, but it’s also what causes us to get so dehydrated. Dehydration can also lead to dry and flaky skin, making our tattoo more prone to cracking and scabbing, which can ruin the quality and overall appearance. Plus, being dehydrated can cause further swelling and inflammation.

The bottom line is that consuming alcohol after a tattoo may not only affect its quality, but can put us at a greater risk for infection and delay the overall healing process. While it’s recommended to avoid alcohol for at least 48 hours after getting a tattoo, it might be wise to wait a full week to ensure there is no risk of blood thinning or excess bleeding. Plus, by the end of a week, a tattoo starts to form scabs and dry skin, which means it’s healing properly.

What Else Should You Avoid After Getting a Tattoo?

Now that we understand why we shouldn’t drink alcohol after getting a tattoo, what else should we avoid? After getting a tattoo, the tattoo artist or parlor usually provides after care instructions. Here are some helpful tips: 

  • Avoid sun exposure. Exposing your tattoo to direct sunlight could impact the healing process, as well as cause deterioration in the skin and ink. This might make it fade away more quickly. Obviously you can’t avoid sunlight entirely, but avoid sunbathing for long periods of time. Once it heals, consider investing in tattoo-specific sunscreen to keep it protected from the sun. 
  • Avoid excess water exposure. Avoid submerging your tattoo in water until it’s healed. Excess water exposure can interfere with the healing process or cause infection to develop around the tattooed area. This doesn’t mean not showering, but don’t go for a swim, relax in a hot tub, or take a bubble bath until the tattoo is healed.
  • Avoid scented soaps. Washing your tattoo with soap is essential for keeping it healthy and clean, but you should be mindful of what soap you’re using. Scented soap fragrances can irritate the skin and tattoo. Opt instead for unscented, antibacterial soaps. Wash the tattoo about twice a day until it’s healed.
  • Avoid over moisturizing. As the tattoo heals and the wrap comes off, it might become itchy, dry, or irritated. While moisturizer is good for a tattoo, using too much can trap bacteria and cause an infection. Apply lotion in a thin layer on regular intervals, but allow plenty of time to pass before applying more. Similarly, avoid using medicated products like Neosporin, as they could create an allergic reaction that could lead to a rash or bumps. 
  • Avoid excess sweat. While we can’t stop ourselves from sweating entirely, avoid participating in heavy sweating activities or gym sessions until the tattoo is healed. Gyms, saunas, and activities such as hot yoga can expose the tattoo to bacteria and cause an infection.
  • Avoid touching and picking it. Just as we shouldn’t pick off a scab, we shouldn’t pick at a tattoo as it’s healing. Doing so could expose it to bacteria on our hands that can lead to an infection. Plus, we could end up pulling out some of the ink, leading to discoloration or scars. 
  • Avoid tight fighting clothing. It’s important to let a tattoo breathe for it to heal properly. Tight clothing can stick to the skin, preventing airflow and promoting sweating, chafing, and rubbing. Plus when clothing rubs against a new tattoo, it can cause irritation or itching. Opt instead for losing fitting clothing that lets air circulate.

When Can You Drink Alcohol After Getting a Tattoo?

It’s best to wait until the healing process is well underway — about 24 to 48 hours. Proper hydration and rest are essential for everything to go smoothly, so wait a day or two at the very least.

What Should You Consume or Drink After Getting a Tattoo?

Healing any type of wound is a gradual process, but there are ways to promote proper healing:

  • Hydrate. Hydration is important regardless, but after getting a tattoo, proper hydration can help support our immune system and promote proper healing. Hydration is good for our skin, too – preventing it from getting too dry and wrinkly. So make sure to drink plenty of water after getting inked.
  • Eat dark green leafy vegetables. These vegetables are rich in vitamin K, which is responsible for blood clotting and thickening. This can help prevent excess bleeding after getting a tattoo. Opt for veggies such as kale, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, or collard greens.
  • Eat antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidant-rich foods help heal damaged cells, so they’re particularly beneficial after getting a tattoo. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, dark chocolate, nuts (especially pecans), artichokes, and beans are good sources of antioxidants.
  • Eat vitamin C-rich foods. Vitamin C is vital for our immune system and can help promote wound healing. Citrus like oranges, lemon, and grapefruit are particularly good sources of vitamin C. Bell peppers, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, and broccoli are also good sources.

On the flip side, avoid foods that promote inflammation, such as red meats; foods high in sugar, salt and additives; and overly processed foods. These can interfere with the body’s natural healing processes.

The Bottom Line

Tattoos are fun and they can be meaningful, but the process of getting them can traumatize our skin, sending our immune system into overdrive. It’s important to avoid anything that might prevent or prolong healing — and that includes alcohol. As a blood thinner, alcohol can cause us to bleed excessively after getting a tattoo. It also increases our risk of infection, swelling, and dehydration. All of these things not only make it more difficult to heal, but can impact the quality of our tattoo. Focus instead of staying hydrated and eating foods full of vitamin K, antioxidants, and vitamin C, all of which support our immune system and promote healing.

If you want to cut back on your alcohol intake, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and enhance their overall health and well-being.

Summary FAQs

1. What happens to your skin when you get a tattoo?

During a tattoo, the ink creates thousands of tiny wounds in the dermis – the deep sensitive layer of our skin – causing our immune system to go into overdrive. 

2. Why should you avoid alcohol after getting a tattoo? 

Alcohol can interrupt or prolong the healing process by increasing bleeding and swelling, increasing our risk of infection, and dehydrating us. All of these things may also reduce the overall quality of the tattoo.

3. What other things should we avoid after getting a tattoo?

Until our tattoo fully heals, we should avoid direct sun exposure, excess water exposure, scented soaps, over moisturizing, excess sweat, and tight fitting clothing. We should also avoid touching, picking, or rubbing it.

4. What can we do to help promote healing?

It’s important to stay hydrated after getting a tattoo by drinking water. It can also be helpful to eat a healthy diet full of dark green leafy vegetables, vitamin C-rich foods, and foods high in antioxidants, as these can help support immune function and promote healing. 

Get Strong and Healthy With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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