Tattoos are a relatively common sight on the mats and it isn’t unusual to see training partners with a lot of ink. While I don’t have any tattoos myself, I was curious about how to care for new tattoos while training, and how long of a training break it might require. I talked to one of my training partners at the time who was a tattoo artist to get some answers.
You need to wait a minimum of 2-3 weeks after getting a tattoo before you get back to training jiu-jitsu. A new tattoo is an open wound prone to infection until the top layer of skin heals. BJJ training causes friction and requires additional washing at the tattoo site which can fade the tattoo.
Since the best of us often ignore any advice to stay off the mats, I wanted to do some extra research on the risks of ignoring these warnings as well as the proper way to care for a tattoo in order to get back onto the mats as safely as possible with a new tattoo.
What Are the Risks of Doing BJJ Too Soon After a Tattoo?
Doing BJJ too soon after getting a new tattoo can increase your risk for fungal and bacterial infections as well as damage or fade your tattoo. Grapplers with fresh ink should wait at least 2 to 3 weeks to mitigate these risks.
Increased Risk of Ringworm and Staph
A tattoo is created by puncturing the skin and injecting ink. This effectively makes the tattoo site an open wound that can become infected or contaminated quite easily. Combining a fresh tattoo site with doing jiu-jitsu results in a greater risk of bacterial and fungal infections due to contact with other grapplers and the jiu-jitsu mats.
Ringworm and Staph infections are somewhat common skin diseases for grapplers. The likelihood of getting these mat diseases goes up significantly with minor cuts and abrasions let alone what is effectively a large open wound. With conscientious washing it is unlikely that you will get these infections, however, with the additional washing at this stage you risk damaging your tattoo.
Doing BJJ Too Early Can Damage Your Tattoo
During BJJ training skin will be subject to friction and movement. As your tattoo site rubs against your clothes, your mat, or your partner, you will irritate the skin and remove any scabbing and push back your tattoo healing time. What’s more, excessive sweating around the tattoo can cause the tattoo ink to fade.
If your tattoo gets damaged or fails to heal properly, it could lead to mucked-up line work, faded colors, and other imperfections you really don’t want permanently etched on your skin.
How To Mitigate Risks at Your Tattoo Site When Doing Jiu-Jitsu?
If you are unable or unwilling to stop doing jiu-jitsu for the recommended 2 to 3 weeks you can mitigate some of the risks of infection and damage by following a few of these suggestions.
- Cover the tattoo site: always wear a rashguard or protective clothing over the tattoo site.
- Create a protective barrier: use a tattoo aftercare skin cream as a protective barrier to prevent outside contact.
- Keep it moisturized: apply a tattoo lotion to hydrate, nourish your skin, and speed up the tattoo’s healing.
- Keep it clean: take lukewarm showers and very carefully wash the area around the tattoo.
When Should You Start Drilling Jiu-Jitsu After a Tattoo?
Depending on the location of the tattoo site it might be okay to start drilling jiu-jitsu in a very controlled setting after a week. Ideally, wait until the tattoo is finished peeling and replace your healing ointment with some form of moisturizer.
After that week, you can consider getting back on the mat to start drilling techniques. However, always ensure to cover the tattoo with a rashguard since abrasions will hamper healing by reopening the skin at the tattoo site.
When Can You Roll in Jiu-Jitsu After Receiving a Tattoo?
You can resume rolling on the mats again around two to three weeks after getting your tattoo. Keep the area covered with a rashguard and wash it carefully but thoroughly in lukewarm water after every session and monitor the tattoo site to ensure healing is progressing and the ink is intact.
|Timeline||Allowed Activity||Care Guidelines|
|6 hours||N/A||Remove covering and clean with lukewarm soap and water. Apply moisturizer without alcohol or tattoo-specific moisturizers.|
|48 hours||Basic exercise with little involvement of skin around the tattoo site. Gentle exercise is permitted.||Keep the tattoo site clean with lukewarm soap and water. Ensure that the area is always moisturized to speed up healing time.|
|1 week||Gentle BJJ drilling is now possible if the site is covered and preferably in a cleaner environment.||Keep the tattoo site clean with lukewarm soap and water. Ensure that the area is always moisturized to speed up healing time. Cover the area during exercise.|
|2 weeks||BJJ classes and low-intensity rolling are now possible. Monitor the tattoo site to make sure no damage is occurring||Keep the tattoo site clean with lukewarm soap and water. Ensure that the area is always moisturized to speed up healing time. Cover the area during exercise.|
|Up to 6 Months||Normal BJJ and exercise routine can be followed at this point.||Keep the tattoo site clean with lukewarm soap and water. Sometime after 2 weeks the top layers of skin will be healed and need less monitoring. Complete healing can take up to 6 months. Monitor the area until fully healed.|
How To Handle the Tattoo Site Immediately Afterwards
Keeping the tattoo site clean, covered, and properly moisturized will go a long way to speed up the healing and allow you to return to normal life as soon as possible.
The healing period tends to vary depending on the tattoo size, the site, and your lifestyle; the bigger the tattoo, the longer it will take to heal. While the outer skin layer typically heals in under three weeks, the skin beneath the tattoo could take up to 6 months to recover fully.
Therefore, it’s advisable to start on a good skincare routine as part of your tattoo aftercare as soon as you walk out of the tattoo parlor.
Cover Up the Tattoo
Your tattoo artist will most likely apply an antibiotic on the tattoo and cover the site with a bandage to protect it from rubbing against your clothes and irritation. The bandage also helps block bacteria from getting inside your wound and absorbs any leaking fluid or excess ink. This covering can be removed after a few hours. At this point, you can gently clean the tattoo site.
Keep the Tattoo Site Clean and Moisturized
Clean your hands with soap and water, then wash the wound using a mild, fragrance-free cleanser in lukewarm water. Use a soft cloth to pat the skin dry. Apply alcohol and fragrance-free moisturizer on the tattoo and keep off the covering to allow your skin to breathe.
If you want to keep the process simple you can use this product, available on Amazon, after getting a tattoo.
Do not use any petroleum jelly products during the healing process as it will slow down the healing process and potentially cause the tattoo to fade.
Remember to keep applying the moisturizer throughout the day to ensure the area remains hydrated.
Use a Pain Reliever if Needed
You might experience some pain and soreness in the general area around the tattoo. You can apply an anti-inflammatory balm on the tattoo site can minimize swelling and redness or simply take some basic ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help with the pain.
Basic Rules to Care for a New Tattoo
Additional ways to take care of the area around your tattoo include the following:
- Don’t let anybody touch your tattoo.
- Wear clean clothes to avoid bacteria and potential chafing issues.
- Always wear sun-protective clothing or SPF when outdoors.
- Don’t pick at the tattoo site.
- Avoid swimming due to chlorine damage.
- Avoid lotions containing alcohol as they might slow down the healing process.
- Avoid petroleum-based products such as Vaseline because they might cause the tattoo to fade.
- Consult your doctor if you notice symptoms of infection such as fever, swelling, drainage, pain, rash redness or bumps, shaking, chills, or sweats etc.
Take a look at this short video below for other valuable tips on how to take care of your tattooed skin:
If you recently got a tattoo and are feeling impatient to get back to jiu-jitsu, have some discipline and just wait for at least two to three weeks before carefully resuming training. Tattoos are permanent and the risk-to-reward ratio is way off for a permanent fixture on your body.
If you are anything like me the forced rest might actually be a great break and you can come back into training rested and even better than before.
Stay away from the gym for a few weeks and protect your brand new ink. The mats will always be there when you are fully healed and ready to return to your routine.
For more check out How Soon After Getting a Tattoo Can I Train Martial Arts?