Having a tattoo removed has come a long way from when the treatment used a metal brush to literally scrub the ink from your skin, but even having your tattoo removed by laser can affect your exercise regime. But why is this and how long do you need to take off from your workout. Here’s what you need to know about exercise after tattoo removal.
How Are Tattoos Removed?
Today’s tattoo removal process uses lasers that apply light to the tattoo. As this light hits the ink particles in the design it’s absorbed and starts to heat the area. This breaks down the ink particles which are then consumed by cells in your immune system called macrophages and then passed out of the body via your natural waste removal process that’s controlled by the lymphatic system.
The laser doesn’t damage your own skin cells. Because these are larger than the ink particles, they don’t react to the amount of heat produced by the laser, but this doesn’t mean that having a tattoo removed doesn’t show up on the skin of the treated area at all.
You can expect some redness, tenderness and swelling in the treated areas at first – and, sometimes the area will blister and then scab.
It’s very important to protect the skin if it blisters so you don’t make them worse or burst them, and to try and avoid activities or clothing that may cause any scabbing to fall off earlier than it should – which is where avoiding exercise comes in.
So, here we go with the advice…
Can You Exercise After Tattoo Removal?
‘You should definitely avoid strenuous exercise or physical activities for a couple of days following laser tattoo removal,’ says Dr Mark Hudson-Peacock, Consultant Dermatologist and Dermatological and Laser Surgeon at The Canterbury Skin and Laser Clinic.
‘But I would add here that once the swelling and initial acute inflammation has healed, then one can try to reintroduce exercise into the daily regime, but be guided by what the tattoo site is “saying to you”: if it clearly does not like what you are doing, don’t do it!
Our advice to patients is to limit physical activity on day one after your tattoo removal session. Avoid exercising and any activity that results in perspiring. Avoid hot steamy showers and harsh soaps or cleansers.
From day two patients should continue to rest and elevate (especially important for when you’re treating tattoos on the ankle and foot) and limit physical activities such as intensive working out, sports, etc.’
What happens after this depends on the size of the tattoo and how your body is reacting to the treatment.
If there’s very little swelling and no blisters you can start working out – but, keep an eye on the treated area, exercise will increase circulation and this can lead to swelling at the treated site.
If this happens, your body isn’t ready for you to workout yet, so take another day or two off. ‘It may take up to two weeks for the treated site to be fully healed. You may then completely resume activities unless a blister is present,’ says Dr Hudson-Peacock.
Are Some Areas More Prone to Problems?
‘Typically tattoos on the face, especially around the eyes, can be associated with more swelling post laser treatment than other sites,’ says Dr Hudson-Peacock.
‘Lower legs and more peripheral sites can also swell more than more centrally-sited tattoos.
The larger and more complex the tattoo, the more the reaction as well, so this does need to be taken into consideration when planning post-treatment exercise, in whatever form that might take.
If there is more reaction, requiring a dressing as part of the post treatment management regime, wait until a dressing is no longer required before you visit the gym. Once the dressing has gone it will probably be fine to restart that exercise again.
Essentially, when the treated site is no longer swollen or tender and not oozing, then you are “good to go”!
What About Swimming After Tattoo Removal?
Definitely steer clear of pools or sea swims for the first few days or if a blister forms.
Because laser itself doesn’t break the skin, after this it’s okay, unless the treated area has developed a scab. ‘As with exercising after a tattoo itself, you need to avoid swimming, hot tubs or using spas until the scab has dropped off as this may slow the healing process,’ says Dr Hudson-Peacock.
Is This After Every Tattoo Removal Treatment?
Unfortunately yes. As you’ve probably been told, tattoos are not removed in one session. Because the ink is placed in different layers of the skin, it can take a few treatments to completely remove the design and these need to be spaced at least 6-8 weeks apart.
This can be frustrating if you’re trying to get into a fitness regime, but it’s necessary to let the dissolved ink leave the area so your technician is working on a clean area next time, it also gives the skin time to heal between the treatments.
The good news is that taking just 2-3 days off every six weeks or so is not going to destroy your fitness. Just factor these gaps into your training plan as rest periods rather than stressing about them.
Maybe go harder the week before your removal appointment so you feel as if you deserve the rest. It’s also completely fine to workout on the day of your tattoo removal.
Use your days off as times to work on your fitness in other ways (this piece on how to train when it’s raining or snowing can give you some ideas on things you can do when you’re grounded).
If you’re planning on training for a race like a half, a marathon or an ironman, an experienced laser technician should be able to gauge how many treatments you’re likely to need to get results, using a system known as the Kirby Desai Scale. You can then time your main training – and the event itself – to fit between your sessions.
Why Exercise Might Speed Up Your Results
As we said, one reason that the tattoo removal process is slow is that you have to wait for your body to naturally excrete the broken down ink particles and that can take time.
How fast a person’s body breaks down and excretes the ink is known as the ‘host response’ and, while it’s believed to be one of the most important elements for how fast a tattoo fades after laser treatment, even the experts say it’s barely been studied.
However, because exercise stimulates the immune system, the circulation and the lymph system that processes the waste from your body, it’s suggested that the fitter you are the faster the tattoo will fade after your treatments.
It will also help to drink plenty of water, get into a good sleeping routine and don’t smoke which has been shown to slow things down by almost 70%.
You know all those things that are going to help you feel healthier anyway.
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen
‘The skin has been insulted and so remains more sensitive to the harmful effects of UV light, and will do for some 6 months afterwards. Avoid any sun exposure for at least a week following treatment,’ says Dr Hudson-Peacock.
‘After this, I recommend patients use a high SPF product (usually a SPF 50) on any area treated when exposed to the sun.
If your tattoo is on a place hidden by clothing, that clothing can be very effective as a sunblock but make sure that the clothing does not let any light through when held up to a bright light first though: if you can see light coming through the material, put an SPF on as well.’
It’s also suggested that you should try and avoid tanning the skin before your laser tattoo removal, as, as we found out when we looked into the rules for working out after laser hair removal, lasers don’t work as well on pigmented skin.
While with hair removal, burning the skin is a concern if the skin is darker than normal, this isn’t the case with the type of laser used in tattoo removal but, if there’s more melanin in your skin than normal it might slow down your results.
Note, laser tattoo removal does work on naturally darker skin, but ideally choose a technician that’s used to working with darker skins so they know how often to treat your skin and what level of power to use as it can vary from other skin types.
So, there you have it, the rules of working out after tattoo removal. If you have any more questions pop them in the comments and we’ll see if we can ask Dr Hudson-Peacock to answer them for you.