How to Treat and Prevent Tattoo Itching
Tattoo itching is the number one pet-peeve for many, many people who go through the tattoo healing process. It can last for up to a couple of weeks, and is made even more insanely irritating due to the fact that an itchy tattoo should not be scratched under any circumstance while it’s healing!
Not to worry, however. We’ll tell you everything you need to know to ensure you don’t go insane as you travel through the aftercare stages.
Forewarning: Reading this article may make you feel very itchy!
Is It Normal For a Tattoo To Itch?
During the healing process, an itchy tattoo is completely normal and happens to almost everybody to some extent. Some people only get very mild irritation once in a while, whereas others get extremely intense sensations that won’t go away for long periods of time. If you’re one of these people, we’ll discuss ways to help you relieve tattoo itching – don’t worry.
What Causes An Itchy Tattoo?
Straight after getting your brand new tattoo from a studio, your skin is essentially going to be an open wound.
After the first 6-7 days, your tattooed skin is going to 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 your horrid itch. As the skin peels, it will partially come away from the already very sensitive skin, rubbing and tickling the surrounding area as the loose parts move around.
Regrowth of Shaven Hairs – Every area of skin that is likely to be inked in a session will be shaved by the tattoo artist before the tattooing starts. This is to prevent the tattoo needles from getting caught in any hair that may be growing over the area. As the hair regrows and pierces the skin, it can feel irritated and itchy.
Allergic Reaction to the Ink – Skin reactions to tattoo ink are actually 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 reaction can be mild to rather severe.
Red is the most common ink color to cause an allergic reaction. This is due to the types of metal used in the tattoo ink to specifically make the red color bright on this skin. Allergic reactions to tattoo ink can take from a couple of days to many years to show up around the affected area of skin.
If your tattoo itches and you’re concerned about allergic reactions, ask your tattoo artist to see if they can perform a small patch test on your skin. While not 100% conclusive, they can definitely help.
Skin Conditions – Having an area of skin tattooed can bring on certain skin conditions that you didn’t even know you had. This is because the tattooed skin will become much more sensitive compared to its usual state, and this can expose any previously hidden dermatologic conditions.
A skin condition you may face can range from mildly dry skin to eczema and psoriasis. As previously mentioned, an allergic reaction to the ink is also a common cause of new and adverse skin reactions.
If you’re concerned about any new symptoms or skin conditions you were previously unaware of, it’s advisable to see either a Board Certified dermatologist who will be able to advise further on the health of your tattoo and skin underlying your tattoo.
Body Chemistry – All of these processes can have an effect on various organs throughout your body; and remember, your skin is an organ also. Although these potential side-effects such as itchiness during the healing process can be annoying, they are often short-lived as your body chemistry slowly gets back to normal.
Scabbing – All tattoos scab when they’re new and still healing. Some tattoos scab heavily, while some scab so lightly that 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 extremely dry scabs can become very irritating, and are in fact one of the most common causes of an itchy tattoo.
How To Treat An Itchy Tattoo
An itchy tattoo, like any other type of skin itch, can be relieved using a variety of different methods, all of which are much less harmless 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 at least make your healing period slightly more bearable.
Apply a Moisturizing Lotion
The main reason why most people’s tattoos start to itch is because they’ve let their skin get too dry, meaning the loose 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, and this should keep the itching to a minimum. Don’t apply too much as your tattoo still needs to breathe in order to heal. Pat any excess lotion off with a clean paper towel – don’t rub.
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.
Gently Pat or Tap The Area Instead of Scratching It
This will ensure that no skin or scabs are dragged off from the surface of the skin, and should hopefully help to dull the itchy feeling slightly.
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 somewhat. You can apply some ice or gentle pressure to the area until the itching abates. Avoid doing anything that will tear your skin or pull off scabs prematurely.
Remember to wash your hands first to minimize the risk of infection.
Take a Shower
Taking a short warm shower may be enough to change the short-term chemistry around your tattoo to stop it itching for a while. Once out of the shower, pat your tattoo with a clean paper towel (your bath-towel will be swarming with bacteria) until it’s completely dry, and proceed by applying a thin layer of moisturizing lotion.
Do not spend too long in the shower as you don’t want to saturate your tattooed skin with water. Submerging your tattooed skin in any water (including baths) is also out of the question for the above reason, and also due to the fact that most water is teeming with bacteria.
Try and Distract Yourself
This works for some, but not for others. It’s worth giving it a go though.
Try to get your mind off of the itching by doing anything involving 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 damp (clean) cloth/towel over the area for a few minutes.
If you would like to try something more extreme, try an icepack instead. Just remember to place some sort of material between the ice and the skin otherwise you could suffer a burn.
Can I Scratch My New Tattoo?
Basically… NO! You can’t.
One of the worst things you can do to your itchy tattoo is scratch it. What will happen is 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.
Not only this, but the dirt trapped underneath your fingernails can be transferred into the open wound, significantly increasing the risk of getting an infected tattoo.
An infection starting within your tattoo can cause a whole host of nasty problems depending on the type of bacteria that has been able to enter through your wound. This risk alone should be enough for you to resist the urge of scratching until the healing is complete. An itchy tattoo is much better than having an infected tattoo.
After getting a new tattoo and the ink has been injected into the lower layers of your skin, some of the tattoo ink will become trapped in the middle and upper layers before it properly sets. While the tattoo ink is sitting in these areas it is much more prone to being drawn out by rubbing or picking at scabs.
If you scratch your tattoo because it’s itchy, and you happen to pull a scab off in the process, small amounts of unsettled tattoo ink can be pulled away, leaving your tattoo with small areas of patchiness which may requite a future touch up.
That is not the only issue though. Pulling a scab off prematurely can cause a pit to form in your skin. These pits will take much longer to heal compared to the rest of your skin, and can even lead to permanent scarring.
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 extremely severe or isn’t getting better, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms such as a fever or chills, it’s always advisable to seek prompt medical attention.