How to Treat and Prevent Tattoo Itching

  • Written By Dan Hunter on May 25, 2023
    Last Updated: May 25, 2023

Experiencing itchy tattoos during the healing phase is a common discomfort, persisting for weeks and made worse by the crucial rule – never scratch a healing tattoo!

Fear not; we’re here to guide you through post-tattoo care, helping you manage the itchiness without jeopardizing the healing process.

Forewarning: Reading this article may make you feel very itchy!


Is It Normal for a Tattoo to Itch?

An itchy tattoo is completely normal during the tattoo healing process and happens to almost everybody to some extent. Some people only get very mild irritation once in a while, whereas others get intense sensations that linger for long periods.

If your tattoo itches and red bumps have appeared around the area, this can sometimes be a sign of either an infection or an allergic reaction. If this is the case, you should get your tattoo checked out by your doctor to be on the safe side.

If you have an old tattoo that still itches or feels irritated, dry skin is usually the culprit. Try to moisturize your tattoo more often and see if there’s an improvement. An allergic reaction is also more likely in an older tattoo compared to infection.

To sail through the aftercare stages as quickly as possible, check out our tattoo healing tips to help speed things up a bit.

What Causes An Itchy Tattoo?

After getting tattooed, your skin will essentially be an open wound.

After the first 6-7 days, your tattooed skin will have completely scabbed over and will begin to shed its scabs and dead skin; this is normally when the itching starts.

An itchy tattoo is a common side effect, and can be caused by several different factors – the most prevalent of which can be found below:

Tickly, Peeling Skin – This is the most likely reason for a terrible itch. As the skin peels, it partially pulls away from the sensitive area, rubbing and tickling the surrounding skin as the loose parts move around.

Regrowth of Shaven Hairs – The tattoo artist will shave every area of skin that is likely to be inked in a session before the tattooing starts. This is to prevent the tattoo needles from getting caught in any hair growing over the area. The hair can feel irritated and itchy as it regrows through the skin.

Allergic Reaction to the Ink – Skin reactions to tattoo ink are quite common, but most are relatively minor and subside after several days and don’t require any medical attention. An allergic reaction can irritate the skin enough to cause itching, and this can be mild or rather severe.

Red is the most common ink color to cause allergic reactions due to the types of metal used in it. Allergic reactions to tattoo ink can take from a couple of days to many years to show up around an affected area of skin.

If your tattoo itches and you’re concerned about an allergic reaction, ask your tattoo artist to see if they can perform a small patch test on your skin. While not 100% conclusive, there’s a chance it will show a positive allegry result.

Skin Conditions – Having an area of skin tattooed can bring on certain skin conditions you didn’t know you had. This is because tattooed skin becomes much more sensitive compared to its usual state, and this can expose previously hidden dermatologic conditions. Skin conditions you may face can range from mildly dry skin to eczema and psoriasis.

If you’re concerned about any new symptoms or skin conditions you were previously unaware of, it’s advisable to see a Board Certified dermatologist who will be able to advise further on the health of your skin.

Scabbing – All tattoos scab as they’re healing. Some will scab heavily, while some scab so lightly you may not even be able to see it. However, if the scabs on your tattoo dry out too much, they can begin to crack open and become sore. These dry scabs can become irritating, and are, in fact, one of the most common causes of itchy tattoos.


How Long Does Tattoo Itching Typically Last?

Tattoo itching can last between a few days to about two weeks. However, each individual and each tattoo may experience a different timeline due to a range of factors, such as the size of the tattoo, its location, the individual’s overall health, and how well they care for their tattoo.

Do bear in mind that excessive itching or itching that persists beyond a few weeks might indicate an infection or an allergic reaction. If you’re concerned, it’s advisable to seek professional medical advice promptly.

How to Treat an Itchy Tattoo

An itchy tattoo, like any other type of skin itch, can be relieved using various methods, all of which are much less harmful than scratching.

Remember, the itching may not go away completely, as after all, it’s the price you pay for getting a tattoo. However, these methods should make your healing period slightly more bearable.

Apply a Moisturizing Lotion

The main reason most people’s tattoos start to itch is because they’ve let their skin get too dry, meaning any peeling skin will stiffen up and start to tickle the sensitive tattooed area.

Apply a thin layer of moisturizer whenever your tattoo starts to look/feel dry; this should keep the itching to a minimum. Don’t apply too much lotion, as your tattoo still needs to breathe to heal. Pat any excess lotion away with a clean paper towel. Do not rub the area.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan 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.​ Click here to buy from Amazon.

This is FAR too much lotion, and some should be blotted off with a paper towel

Gently Pat or Tap the Area Instead of Scratching It

Place a thick, clean cloth over your tattoo and gently graze over it with your fingers. The thick cloth should prevent your fingernails from doing any damage, but the pressure should be enough to relieve the itching. You can apply some ice or gentle pressure to the area until the itching is soothed. Avoid doing anything that will tear your skin or pull scabs away prematurely.

The cloth method ensures no skin or scabs are dragged off from the surface of the skin, and should hopefully help to dull the itchy feeling.

Remember to wash your hands first to minimize the risk of infection.

Take a Shower

A short warm shower may be enough to change the short-term chemistry around your tattoo and stop any itching for a while. Once out of the shower, pat your tattoo with a clean paper towel until it’s completely dry, and proceed to apply a thin layer of moisturizing lotion.

Don’t spend too long in the shower, as you don’t want to saturate your tattoo with water. Submerging your tattoo in any body of water (including baths) is also out of the question for the reason above, and also due to the fact that most water is teeming with bacteria.

Try to Distract Yourself

This works for some people, but not for others. It’s worth giving it a go, though.

Try to get your mind off of the itching by doing anything that involves switching your brain away from the thoughts of itching and scratching. This can be anything from going for walks, playing video games, or phoning a friend. Some people even advise that chewing bubblegum helps them become distracted enough from the itchiness.

Cool the Tattooed Area

Anything cold on the area should soothe the itching sensation. The most gentle way to do this would be to place a clean, damp cloth or towel over the area for a few minutes.

If you would like to try something more extreme, try an ice pack instead. Just remember to place something between the ice and the skin, otherwise you could suffer a burn and damage your tattoo.

Can I Scratch My New Tattoo?

NO! You can’t.

Scratching is one of the worst things you can do to your itchy tattoo. When you scratch your tattoo, any scabs or skin that has begun to heal over the damaged area will be at risk of being ripped off. Dirt trapped underneath your fingernails can also be transferred into the open wound, significantly increasing the risk of getting an infection.

An infection starting within your tattoo can cause a host of nasty problems, depending on the type of bacteria that has enterered through your wound. An itchy tattoo is much better than having an infected tattoo.

Not to mention, if you scratch your tattoo and happen to pull a scab off in the process, small amounts of unsettled ink could be pulled away in the process, leaving your tattoo with small areas of patchiness, which may require a future touch up.

It’s best to leave scabs alone, no matter how big or small

Beware of Sleep

You may have the strongest willpower in the world while you’re awake and conscious to tell yourself not to scratch your tattoo, but when you’re asleep, you do not have control.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do while snoring away in bed if you happen to subconsciously begin to scratch it.

Try to keep your fingernails as short as possible. Some people have even mentioned wearing gloves to bed. It may seem silly, and it may look stupid to your partner, but if it means you can have a beautiful scar-free tattoo for the rest of your life, it may be worth thinking about if you’re paranoid.

Can I Use Hydrocortisone Cream to Relieve Itching on a New Tattoo?

Hydrocortisone cream generally alleviates itching and inflammation for certain skin conditions. However, its use on a new tattoo is typically not recommended. This is because it can potentially interfere with the tattoo’s healing process and might even lead to fading of the tattoo ink.

Can I Take Antihistamines to Relieve Tattoo Itching?

Antihistamines are often used to control itching related to allergies. Theoretically, they could relieve tattoo itching, although their effectiveness will vary between individuals. It’s important to consult a healthcare provider before taking any medication for tattoo-related discomfort.

When To Seek Medical Advice

While most bouts of tattoo itching are completely normal, there are a couple of instances where the root cause may be a bit more serious (such as infections and allergic reactions).

If the itching becomes severe, isn’t getting better, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as a fever or chills, it’s always advisable to seek prompt medical attention to be safe.

Conclusion

Tattoo itching is a common part of the healing process that typically lasts between a few days to two weeks. However, it’s crucial to ensure your itching isn’t a sign of an underlying issue such as an infection or an allergic reaction.

While various remedies such as hydrocortisone creams or antihistamines may seem tempting, it’s essential to approach them cautiously. Always consult with your tattoo artist or a healthcare provider before applying any unfamiliar products or taking medications to alleviate tattoo itching.

Remember, each tattoo is unique, and so is its healing process. Treat it with care, and you’ll be able to enjoy your art for years to come. After all, when it comes to tattoos, it’s always safer to err on the side of caution.

And one last thing – no scratching!

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