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You finally did it; you took the plunge and got a tattoo. Whether it's been one you've been thinking about getting for years or you got it after a bet with a friend, you now have a piece of permanent art on your skin, and that can be exciting. Plenty of people have tattoos; 45 million Americans have at least one. Of course, now that you have that new tattoo, you'll have to take care of it if you want it to last. Here are a few tips to help you take care of your first tattoo and make sure it looks great for years to come.

Help It Heal

Your tattoo will take time to heal, and it can be frustrating in the meanwhile, especially if it's your first tattoo. It's probably going to be a little bit uncomfortable, but if you notice the healing process is painful, talk to a doctor; it could be a sign that it's infected. It's probably going to be a bit itchy, like a healing scab; do your best not to mess with it as it's healing. The more you mess with it, the more likely it is you'll impact how the tattoo looks once it's fully healed.

Instead, do your best to help it heal as quickly as possible. Keep the skin moisturized and clean, especially if you're spending a lot of time moving or in areas where your tattoo might get dirty. When washing your tattoo, be gentle, and avoid scrubbing at it too much. This will give it time to heal fully and have better, long-term results.

Keep Up With Care

Once your tattoo is done healing, you might think you can be less careful with it. However, this will result in a fast-fading tattoo with duller colors and less clear lines. Take good care of your skin, especially when it comes to sun exposure. Sun damage and sunburn can fade tattoo ink more quickly, particularly for color tattoos. Even if it isn't sunny outside, your tattoo can still be exposed to harmful UV rays just by increases in elevation (4 to 5% more UV rays for every 1,000-foot increase in altitude, to be exact). Sunscreen is your friend when it comes to tattoo longevity, so don't be afraid to use SPF regularly.

Tattoo Cover-ups

Mistakes Happen

Tattoos might be permanent, but if you really don't like your tattoo, that doesn't mean you're necessarily stuck with it forever. If you still don't like your tattoo once it's had time to fully heal and settle, there are a few options for fixing it. Laser tattoo removal exists, but can be an expensive option. Instead, consider getting a cover-up tattoo. Around 5% of the U.S. population has covered up a tattoo with another one. If you still like tattoos, just not the one you ended up with, this can be a great option.

Tattoos can be a great way to express yourself and showcase your personality, but they do require a certain amount of maintenance and care.

All Photos: Tattoo work by Adam Gilley of Parker & Barrow Custom Tattoo & Body Piercing, Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Published in Fashion