Why Does My New Tattoo Look Patchy?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 6, 2020
    Last Updated: December 30, 2020

If your new tattoo is starting to look patchy, you have nothing to worry about. A tattoo is really nothing more than localized skin trauma.

Typically, around five to seven days after getting a tattoo, the traumatized skin develops a thick layer of scabbing, and when this scabbing begins to flake away, the area can look irregular and patchy.

The patchy tattoo stage is when the healing skin will look its absolute worst. In reality, this is just another phase in the healing process. Understanding what’s going on when you’ve reached this stage will help you keep your aftercare regimen on track, so your tattoo can bounce back from its darkest days and begin to shine through for years to come.

Why Do New Tattoos Look Patchy?

The thing you’ve got to understand is that a new tattoo is really just an open wound. It’s an area of your skin that’s been subjected to repeated trauma over a matter of hours and days.

After a week or so, your tattoo will begin to scab and peel, and this is when a tattoo can start to look patchy. Some of the old, dead skin will have fallen off, making way for the sharp, crisp ink in the lower layers of skin to show through. Meanwhile, some areas will still be holding onto the old, dry skin, which obscures the ink below. It’s this difference in new and old skin that gives the illusion that the tattoo has become patchy.

However, what you’ve got to remember is that your tattoo is more than likely fine. In reality, it’s not your tattoo that’s looking patchy and faded, it’s the thick layer of scabbing that’s starting to pull away from the newly regenerated skin below.

When Is Tattoo Patchiness Not Normal?

If you’re looking after your tattoo as best as you can throughout the healing process, it’s very unlikely your tattoo’s patchiness is caused by serious damage. However, not caring for your tattoo properly can perminantly damage the area and affect its long-term appearance. Below are the main causes of permanent tattoo patchiness:

In addition to these factors, an inexperienced tattoo artist can also cause a tattoo to become patchy later in its life. This can be the result of:

  • Applying the ink at an incorrect depth
  • Using low quality inks
  • Not packing enough ink into the area throughout the sitting

How Long Will My Tattoo Look Patchy For?

Tattoos can take many forms as they heal. Some look patchy, while others look shiny, cloudy, dull or scaly. No matter what your tattoo looks like while it’s healing, it normally corrects itself over the course of a few weeks or months.

If your tattoo patchiness is merely caused by normal bodily healing, then the best way to help your skin return to its normal self is by ensuring it’s well-nourished and hydrated. You can do this by applying a tattoo healing lotion to the area at least twice a day, or whenever the area is feeling flaky or dry.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.​

It’s important, however, not to apply too much lotion to the area at any one time, as this can suffocate the tattoo and delay healing.

If the appearance of your tattoo has not corrected itself after a few months, or if you’re worried that your tattoo has been damaged, then it’s best to seek advice from an experienced tattoo artist with regard to the next steps you should take.

Just Leave It Alone

The best thing you can do for your tattoo at this point in the healing process is to not panic and just leave it alone. Sometimes, this is going to be easier said than done. A thick layer of scabbing tissue anywhere on your body is likely going to itch something fierce. 

This is where a consistent aftercare regimen comes in. At this early stage of the healing process, you need to apply a healing ointment to your new tattoo two to three times per day, for a period of a couple of weeks. 

Using a specialized tattoo lotion will help to speed up the healing process and prevent infection. It will also soothe your new tattoo and the skin around it, helping to fight off any burning or itching you might be dealing with.

You’ll Be Okay

If you’ve hit the patchy phase of the healing process, the most straightforward piece of advice I can give you, besides keeping up with your aftercare regimen, is to simply remember that every tattoo gets worse before it begins to look better.

While a patchy tattoo can be worrisome for its respective owner, it’s usually a short-lived problem. Once the skin has completely regenerated over the newly-inserted ink, the tattoo will start to look exactly how you initially hoped it would.

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