Woman with tattoos standing in the cold shower

Tiles & Tats: The Role of Tattoos in Bathhouse Culture & Fresh Tattoo Guidelines


Not all bathhouses around the world are accepting of tattoos. Namely, Japanese bathhouse culture encourages covering tattoos or won’t allow tattooed folks to use their facilities – we’ll dive more into this history further down. But at Sauna House, we embrace tattoo culture wholeheartedly! We see tattoos as a cherished form of self-expression. A huge portion of our visitors sport tattoos, enlivening the space with their ink in an informal exhibition of personal stories and artistic tastes. Chatting with community members in the public sauna is part of the charm of the bathhouse, and tattoos can be a great conversation starter.

There are important guidelines to follow for fresh ink at the bathhouse – both to ensure your new piece heals beautifully and to keep the bathhouse safe and clean for your fellow bathers.

How to Take Care of a New Tattoo: Sweating & Swimming Guidelines

Getting a new tattoo is always exciting, but it’s also crucial to take good care of it to ensure proper healing and maintain the vibrancy of the ink. One of the common questions that many people have post-inking is, “How long after a tattoo can I sweat, sauna, or swim?” Let’s break down the essential information to guide you through the best tattoo aftercare practices.

New Tattoo Care: Healing Tattoo Care Products & Methods

There are different styles of tattoo healing (including dry versus wrap healing) so we also suggest that you communicate with your artist to understand their preferred style of healing. There are great products like SecondSkin™ and Saniderm that can help accelerate the healing process and get you back into the sauna sooner! Always follow the aftercare instructions given by your tattoo artist tailored for your specific tattoo and skin type.

How Long After a Tattoo Can You Sweat?

Sweating helps regulate body temperature and detoxify the body. However, with a new tattoo, excessive sweating can negatively affect the healing process. Since a fresh tattoo is essentially an open wound, sweating and going into a sauna can increase the risk of infection. New tattoo best practices for sweating are:

  • Wait and Keep It Dry: Aim to keep the tattoo as dry as possible for at least 48 hours after getting inked.
  • Avoid Sauna or Intense Workouts: Avoid activities that induce excessive sweating like the sauna or intense workouts for at least a few days to a week after getting the tattoo.
  • Climate Consideration: If you’re in a hot and humid environment, try to stay in cooler places to minimize sweating.

Should You Sauna or Cold Plunge After Getting a Tattoo?

Swimming exposes the fresh tattoo to water and chemicals, which could lead to fading of the ink and the potential risk of infection.

  • Avoid Water Bodies: Steer clear from swimming in pools, cold plunges, oceans, lakes, or any water bodies for at least 2 to 4 weeks after getting your tattoo.
  • Chlorine and Salt: Remember that both chlorine in swimming pools and salt in ocean water can be harsh on your new tattoo.
  • Shower Quick and Pat Dry: While it’s advisable to avoid submerging the tattoo in water, quick showers are okay. Ensure that you gently pat the tattoo dry afterward.

If you’ve got fresh ink and are still in the healing phase, please wait to come back to the bathhouse until your tattoo has fully healed. It is better for you, your tattoo, and other guests. We’ll see you and your new tattoo soon!

Japanese Onsens: A Look at Tattoos in Japanese Culture

Nowhere else is the association between tattoos and bathhouses more complex and varied than Japan. Japanese onsens (hot springs) carry a historical stigma against tattoos, primarily due to their association with the Yakuza, a prominent Japanese organized crime group. It is not uncommon to see signs outside of both onsens and sentos (non-hot spring communal baths) forbidding anyone with tattoos from entering.  While these rules do not apply to all facilities across the country, the chances are pretty high that you’ll run into a no-tattoo bathhouse if you’re visiting Japan. The good news is that there are thousands of amazing bathhouses across Japan, so if you ever get turned away from a more traditional facility, you can always find a tattoo-friendly alternative.

Tattoo SignImages source: Samurai Tours.

Japanese Tattoo Culture: How Strict are the Rules When Visiting an Onsen?

Do onsens really enforce the no-tattoo rule? It depends. In Japanese culture, there is the notion of Wa (和) which translates in English as “harmony.” The term suggests a peaceful unity and conformity within social groups. The presence of tattoos may be seen as disrupting the Wa, in which case, you may be asked to leave. If this happens, it is fine to politely apologize, do a small bow, and head out. The more egregious faux pas (disruption to the Wa) would be to cause a scene, so it is best to just be cool and not argue. Respecting the bathhouse and its employees is a universal rule!

Are All Tattoos in Japan Treated Equally?

The Yakuza have a very distinct style of tattoo called Irezumi, typically full-body suits with motifs such as koi, snakes, cherry blossoms, dragons and chrysanthemums. However, if an onsen has a no-tattoo policy, it applies to all sizes and styles of tattoos, not just traditional Irezumi tattoos.

Will There Be More Tattoo-Friendly Onsen in the Future?

In recent times, there has been a subtle shift in perspective, primarily fueled by the influx of tattoo-accepting international tourists and a more modern outlook of younger generations. Some onsens have started to relax their tattoo policies, allowing a more inclusive space for inked skin. Tattoo covers and patches are available for people with smaller tattoos and less space to cover up.

Tattoo-Friendly Onsens Throughout Japan

If you just don’t want to risk it, here are some of the coolest tattoo-friendly onsens in Japan. Show up as you are, and enjoy those incredible springs!

1. Hyotan Onsen →

Located in the southern region of Japan, this Beppu onsen was founded over 100 years ago. Consisting of large public baths, private baths, sand baths, and an amazing restaurant, you can drop in for a few hours or make a full day of it.

2. Tsubame Onsen →

Located within the Myoko-Togakushi Renzan National Park, this onsen is off the beaten path. Here you’ll find gorgeous cliffside views and super mineral-rich waters, and what makes it even more appealing is the price tag. Free.

3. Takegawara Onsen → 

Another Beppu favorite. The original onsen at this site was built in 1879, but reconstructed to it’s current form in 1938. This facility is known for their sand baths, which is simply the process of being buried up to the neck with sand heated by thermal springs.



tattoed women in a cold plunge

November 01, 2023
By: Sauna House