When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Home / Training / Swim / How long after getting a tattoo can you swim?

How long after getting a tattoo can you swim?

Just got a new tattoo and wondering how long you need to wait before you can go swimming again? Here's triathlete and tattoo shop owner Cori James with the answers...

Whether you’re getting a classic M-dot to mark your first Ironman or are a swimmer that keeps adding to your tattoo collection, there are some key things to consider before jumping back in the water with fresh ink.

Do so too early and without the right preparations and you could risk your tattoo getting damaged or, worse still, you could leave your body open to infection.

Here, tattoo artist, tattoo shop owner and triathlete Cori James explains everything you need to know about swimming with a new tattoo, including how long you should wait and whether you can waterproof a tattoo for swimming.

How long after a tattoo can you swim?

The best practice when planning your next swim after a new tattoo is to wait until the tattoo is fully healed.

The average amount of time it takes for a tattoo to heal is a minimum of 10-14 days.

It may take a little longer for some folks, though, so don’t freak out if two weeks go by and your tattoo is still doing its thing.

You’ll know your tattoo is healed when all of the scabs that may have formed have fallen off on their own volition (no picking at the scabs, please!) and the tattoo is now settling into your skin.

A tattoo done by Cori James
Credit: Cori James
A tattoo done by Cori James
Credit: Cori James

The skin may remain raised for a week or two after, but once the scabs have all gone then the tattoo is healed enough to go for a swim.

If you decide to swim with the scabs still hanging on, you risk softening them to the point that they may come off prematurely, potentially taking some of your precious tattoo with them.

Not to mention, you’re also risking exposing your open wound (which is exactly what a tattoo is!) to all the germs, bacteria and chemicals that may be swimming around with you. 

Can you swim with a new tattoo if it’s covered?

Some people may think that products like Tegaderm or Saniderm (also known as second skin) will keep their tattoo safe while swimming.

Though these products are considered waterproof, exposing them to water for extended periods of time may loosen the adhesive that keeps the water out.

Therefore, you’re still risking having the water get into the bandage, causing potential infection or other issues while healing.

Does Vaseline protect tattoos from water?

That would be a no, I’m afraid. The Vaseline will eventually wash away and your tattoo will be as exposed as ever.

Also, if you’re swimming in a pool, the lifeguards may get a little annoyed when you leave a greasy sheen in your lane over time. 

You’re asked to shower before entering a pool to avoid contaminating the water with who knows what, so openly applying Vaseline before diving in just seems like bad manners.

Either way, the Vaseline won’t keep your tattoo from being exposed to the water.

How to waterproof a tattoo for swimming

Honestly, the best way to waterproof your tattoo is… patience.

As a tattoo artist and heavily tattooed person who’s also a triathlete, I can fully understand the fear and anxiety that comes with the idea of skipping the pool for a full 10-14 days while a tattoo heals. 

What about the swim fitness that I’ve worked so hard for? Will it disappear in two weeks, leaving me to start from scratch again? Won’t I forget how to do flip turns by that point? 

You sure won’t. But, if you decide to get a tattoo in the middle of your training season, you need to be okay with missing a few pool workouts.

Cori James tattoo artist in a swimming pool
Cori James (pictured) is a tattoo artist, tattoo shop owner and triathlete who’s based in Boulder, Colorado (Credit: Cori James)

You just have to accept that being patient and letting your body heal is the smartest move.

If you swim with a fresh tattoo (which is essentially an open wound) you risk getting a nasty infection that could hinder your season far longer than the 10-14 days it takes for your tattoo to heal.

Or at the very least, you risk messing up the healing process of that tattoo that hurt pretty bad while getting itand need to sit through an equally painful touch up later down the road.

I’m speaking from personal experience after swimming two days after a three-hour tattoo session on my back piece, which ended up healing poorly and required a nice long touch up session the next time I had it worked on (ouch!).

What if I’ve already gone swimming with a new tattoo?

If you’ve already dived into the pool or open water with your new tattoo, here’s what to do…

  1. Don’t panic and assume you have some serious infection right off the bat. That possibility is a risk, not a guarantee. 
  2. Go clean that bad boy off with some unscented antibacterial soap and tap it dry with a clean towel or let it air dry.
  3. Keep moisturising it like you normally would, but keep an eye out for any signs of infection.
  4. Let the dang thing heal before you head back to the pool, lake, ocean or whatever body of water you plan on swimming in. 

What happens if I put sunscreen on my new tattoo?

Sunscreen is absolutely key to keeping your tattoos looking fresh and ageing well over the years, but just hold off until those pesky scabs have said farewell before throwing some SPF on it.

Once again, chemicals and open wounds just don’t mesh very well.

However, if you need to get a workout session-in-the-sun done while healing, try wearing something loose that won’t rub too much, but will keep it protected from direct sunlight. 

How do you tell if your tattoo has healed?

One of Cori James' tattoos
Credit: Cori James
A tattoo done by Cori James
Credit: Cori James

You know your tattoo is healed once you’ve waved goodbye to the scabs that may have formed (they should fall off in their own time, so make sure you don’t scrub or pick at them) and your skin has returned to a more normal state.

It’s worth noting that the skin may remain raised for a week or two after, though. 

If there is a scab hanging on for dear life just be patient with it. It’s just doing its best to heal what’s underneath and if you pick it off before it’s ready, it just might take a souvenir with it (the ink and pigment used in your tattoo) leaving your tattoo patchy and less than ideal.

Admittedly, this may happen even if you do everything right during the healing process.

Sometimes it’s just your body having a tough time healing it and sometimes it’s totally your tattoo artist’s fault.

Either way, it’s just part of the tattoo process and there are never any guarantees that things will heal up perfectly.

Just do your best, treat it like the open wound that it is and leave those scabs alone! 

Excited to get back in the water for some swim training? Upgrade your kit with our lists of the best swimming goggles, the best swimsuits and the best swim jammers.

Profile image of 220 Triathlon Team 220 Triathlon Team Journalists, reviewers, coaches and athletes


The 220 Triathlon team is made up of vastly experienced athletes, sports journalists, kit reviewers and coaches. In short, what we don't know about multisport frankly isn't worth knowing! Saying that, we love expanding our sporting knowledge and increasing our expertise in this phenomenal sport.