Tattoo Bubbling: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

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

Navigating the tattoo healing process can sometimes lead to unexpected issues, one of which is tattoo bubbling. This phenomenon, where the healing skin saturates with excess moisture, causing a raised appearance, can potentially jeopardize the beauty of your tattoo and elevate infection risk. Alongside these complications, wet scabs that easily peel off may further impair the integrity of your tattoo.

This article aims to guide you through ways to prevent tattoo bubbling post-inking and how to manage it should it occur

What Is Tattoo Bubbling?

Tattoo bubbling is when scab formations on a new tattoo soak up too much moisture and become soggy. This usually happens when your tattoo doesn’t fully dry off after getting wet. This causes the scabs to become saturated with water. Ointment or lotion is then applied over the wet skin, which traps water inside the scabs with no way to escape.

Can Tattoo Bubbling Cause Permanent Damage to a Tattoo?

Tattoo bubbling has the potential to cause permanent damage to a tattoo. Excessive moisture can lead to raised skin or wet scabs that may peel off easily, potentially disrupting the tattoo’s design. If not properly addressed, these changes can lead to permanent distortion or loss of detail in a tattoo.

Why Does It Happen?

When submerging your tattoo in water, thick scabbing can often soak up moisture and hold onto it long after the rest of your skin has dried.

This is not normally an issue but can become problematic if you apply a moisturizing lotion to the area before the scabbing has completely dried out.

While you should definitely be applying a good lotion to the area to ensure your tattooed skin remains well-nourished and hydrated, applying lotion too soon after showering or submerging the tattoo can trap water between the layer of lotion and the skin, preventing it from escaping.

If water is trapped inside the scabs for too long, they will begin to soften and become gooey and gloopy.

tattoo bubbling
A bubbling tattoo

This change in appearance and texture of the scabs is what is known as bubbling, and tattoo bubbling can be problematic for several reasons.

Firstly, when these scabs bubble, they become extremely easy to pull off. They become so gloopy that just a light press of a finger is enough for them to stick and pull away.

If you’re not careful, anything that touches these bubbling scabs can pull parts of them away, which could remove ink and leave the tattoo looking patchy.

Secondly, these gooey, bubbling tattoo scabs can stick to clothing and other materials. As the scabs begin to re-solidify, sharp movements can rip them away from the tattoo, likely pulling ink away in the process.

Finally, germs love moist environments, and bubbling scabs are not effectively protecting the tattooed wound, meaning there is a higher probability of infection.

Can Tattoo Bubbling Occur Even If the Tattoo Is Not Exposed to Water?

While direct exposure to water is a common cause of tattoo bubbling, it can occur even without such exposure. Factors such as high humidity, excessive sweating, or excessive usage of healing lotions can also lead to bubbling. It underlines the importance of comprehensive tattoo aftercare to prevent this issue.

How Prevent Tattoo Bubbling

Prevention is always better than a cure. To stop your tattoo bubbling up, always ensure your skin is completely dry before applying lotion to the area.

Patt your tattoo very gently and let it air-dry for 15-30 minutes after exposing the area to water. This should allow it to dry out enough so that applying lotion doesn’t cause any bubbling.

Remember; more lotion is not always better. Applying too much lotion can greatly increase the chances of your tattoo bubbling up.

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It’s also important to note that water exposure isn’t the only contributing factor to tattoo bubbling. Your skin’s moisture levels can also be elevated by excessive sweating or high-humidity environments, both of which can increase the likelihood of bubbling.

If you’re living in a humid region or find yourself sweating more due to physical activity, you might need to take extra precautions. Consider patting the area dry throughout the day, and opt for breathable clothing to minimize sweat accumulation.

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

What to Do if Your Tattoo Begins to Bubble Up?

If you’ve already applied lotion too soon, and your tattoo has begun to bubble, this is what you need to do:

  • Stop applying lotion immediately. Any extra lotion (or creams, ointments, etc.) will only worsen the situation.
  • Do not touch the scabs or let anything else touch them at all costs. Just the slightest touch can pull parts of the gooey scab away.
  • Allow air to get to the scab so it can slowly begin to dry out. It can sometimes take several hours for a scab to re-harden and return to its original state, so be patient and careful.
  • Don’t apply any additional lotion to the area for the rest of the day, and resume your normal aftercare practices the next day, ensuring your tattoo is completely dry before adding small amounts of lotion to hopefully prevent further bubbling.
  • If you accidentally apply too much lotion at any point, use a clean paper towel to dab/blot away most of the excess before any bubbling begins to occur. However, do not dab or blot a bubbling tattoo – just leave it completely alone until it dries.


Seeing your new tattoo bubbling up can be a worrying experience, and the effects of bubbling can be damaging to the long-term appearance of your ink.

However, if you follow the advice and the steps set out above, you should hopefully be able to overcome any possible issues and your ink should heal exactly as planned.

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