How Soon After Getting a Tattoo Can I Train Martial Arts?

Tattoos are a relatively common sight in martial arts and it isn’t unusual to see training partners with 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 martial arts. A new tattoo is an open wound prone to infection until the top layer of skin heals. Training causes friction and additional washing after training at the tattoo site can fade the tattoo.

Since the best of us often ignore any advice to stay out of the dojo, 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 to training as safely as possible with a new tattoo.

What Are the Risks of Doing Martial Arts Too Soon After a Tattoo?

Doing martial arts 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. Solo striking drills and unpartnered training are relatively safer.

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 martial arts results in a greater risk of infections due to contact with other martial artists and the shared training area.

Ringworm and Staph infections are somewhat common skin diseases for martial arts. The likelihood of getting these diseases goes up significantly with minor cuts and abrasions let alone with a tattoo that is effectively an 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 Martial Arts Training Too Early Can Damage Your Tattoo

During martial arts, your skin will be subject to friction and movement. As your tattoo site rubs against your clothes, the training space, or your partner, you will irritate the skin and remove any scabbing and push back your tattoo healing time. Excessive sweat can also fade the tattoo ink.

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 Martial Arts?

If you are unable or unwilling to stop doing training 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 Martial Arts After a Tattoo?

Depending on the location of the tattoo site it might be okay to start drilling 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. Solo drills are highly preferred at this stage.

After that week, you can consider getting back on the mat to start drilling techniques. However, always ensure to cover the tattoo with low friction clothing like a rashguard since abrasions will hamper healing by reopening the skin at the tattoo site.

When Can You Spar in Martial Arts 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.

TimelineAllowed ActivityCare Guidelines
6 hoursN/ARemove covering and clean with lukewarm soap and water. Apply moisturizer without alcohol or tattoo-specific moisturizers.
48 hoursBasic 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 weekGentle solo drilling is now possible if the site is covered.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 weeksLow-intensity sparring without friction against the tattoo site is now more reasonable. Monitor the tattoo site to make sure no damage is occurringKeep 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 MonthsNormal martial arts and exercise routines 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.
Basic Guidelines for Allowed Martial Arts Exercise Activity and Aftercare for a New Tattoo

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.com) 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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoJOmO9CS10&ab_channel=AmericanAcademyofDermatology

Final Thoughts

If you recently got a tattoo and are feeling impatient to get back to martial arts training, have some discipline and follow the basic guidelines. Tattoos are permanent and risking the integrity of the tattoo over a few weeks of training delay seems like a poor risk-to-reward ratio in my opinion.

If you are highly active and need to train tend towards drilling or exercising gently in a clean solo environment. The forced rest from taking a couple of weeks off might actually help your overall performance anyway.

For more check out How Soon After Getting a Tattoo Can I Train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Andre

Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I have always been fascinated with martial arts and train them as often as I can. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and train judo and wrestling as secondary martial arts. I help to coach a kid's grappling program that blends all three martial arts. I hope that you find the value that you are looking for in the articles on this website.

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