A person should wait at least two weeks after getting a tattoo before going swimming, according to About.com. There should be no more peeling or flaking, and all scabs should be gone. In addition, the wearer should clean the tattoo after emerging from the water.
A newly tattooed person who does not wait to heal before swimming is risking a bacterial infection from the water, About.com explains. The tattoo itself is not fully protected until three months have passed and it has been covered by a new layer of skin. Until this layer forms, the tattoo ink is exposed to bacteria, sun, chemicals and pollution.