This brings us to the next alternative - lotions. Almost all artists will recommend using lotion after the first few days of healing to keep the skin moist, but some will actually advise using nothing but lotion from day one. This is where it can get a little tricky. All different brands of lotions contain different ingredients - some that are OK, but some that can be very damaging to a new tattoo. Watch the ingredients - lanolin is an ingredient some will use, and lanolin causes allergic reactions in a lot of people. Lanolin is the natural oil that comes from sheep's wool - if you're allergic to wool sweaters, you'll probably be allergic to lanolin. Some also contain products such as (unpurified) bee's wax, which can clog pores and even contain contaminants. First and foremost, your tattoo needs to be clean, and it needs to breathe. If the pores are clogged, its likely to cause infection. If you must use lotion, find one that is free of dyes and fragrances.
Specially made tatttoo aftercare ointments have been highly recommended by the artists that use them, some will say they're a waste of money. Now there are more products hitting the shelves that are specifically designed for tattoo care and include other helpful ingredients such as sunblock and pain reducers. Check with your local artists and see if they carry these products and whether or not they think they are suitable.
The best thing to do is to listen to your artist. If you experience any problems with the aftercare they recommend, stop using it but then consult with them. If you already know you are susceptible to allergic reactions, let your artist know and ask them what they would recommend as an alternative. Don't be stingy because the product they recommend is $3.00 more than something else - your tattoo is going to last you for the rest of your life, especially if you take good care of it.
Piercing aftercare is a whole new debate. Tattoo aftercare products are not for piercings. Although they are both wounds, they need to be treated completely differently. What most piercers do seem to agree upon is that alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, ointments of any kind and the "ear care solutions" you get from mall shops are absolutely forbidden. Many will say to just use antibacterial soap and keep it clean - period. Some recommend the same regimen, but prefer an antimicrobial soap like Satin or Provon. Almost all will agree on the powers of a simple sea salt soak. One may tell you to rotate your jewelry while another will say to leave it alone. Then, if you should happen upon a problem like a keloid or infection, that begins a whole new series of arguments.
The best advice I can give you is - relax. All this confusing information can really stress you out if you let it. Same as with the tattoo aftercare - follow your artist's advice. If it works for you, great. If you have problems, try something else. If you know you're allergic to something, don't use it. Keeping your tattoo or piercing clean is the key to successful aftercare.
One more thing - if your friends or associates recommend some "off the wall" regimen or product for your new body art, use common sense. No, Preparation H is not good for tattoos, and no, letting your friend pierce you with a safety pin is not a good idea. Follow your artist's instructions and they are always just a phone call away if you encounter problems.