Tattoo Bubbling: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

  • Written By Dan Hunter on January 21, 2017
    Last Updated: January 8, 2021

All tattoos will scab over somewhat while they’re healing. Scabbing can be either heavy or light depending on how your body reacts, and as long as you don’t pick or pull at the skin, scabbing shouldn’t really affect the final outcome of your tattoo’s appearance.

One thing that can cause problems to your tattoo during the healing process, however, is if the scabs begin to bubble.

What Is Tattoo Bubbling?

Tattoo bubbling is what happens 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 it wet, causing 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.

Tattoo bubbling can happen at any point during the healing process and increases the risks of damaging your tattoo and getting an infection.

Why Does It Happen?

When you shower or wash your tattoo, thick scabbing can often soak up water and hold it for a while after the rest of your skin has already dried.

This is not normally an issue but can become problematic if you apply any sort of lotion to the area before the skin/scabbing has completely dried.

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 while the scabs are still holding water can trap the water between the layer of lotion and the skin, and prevent it from escaping.

If the water is trapped within the scabs for too long, the scabs will start 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 goopy that you normally only have to lightly press your finger onto one of them for them to stick to the finger and pull away.

If you’re not careful, anything that touches these bubbling scabs will likely pull parts of the scabbing away, which in-turn could remove some of the ink from below the scab and leave the tattoo looking patchy in areas.

Secondly, these gooey, bubbling tattoo scabs can stick to clothing and other materials.

This can not only cause the scabs to pull off very easily, but the scabs can stick and bind to the clothing (or any other object) as they begin to re-solidify, meaning that any sudden, sharp movements can rip the scabs away from the tattoo, likely pulling ink out in the process.

Finally, bubbling scabs are not effectively protecting the recently tattooed skin, meaning there is a higher probability of an infection being caused by germs and bacteria gaining entry to the wound. Germs love moist environments and scabbing skin.

How To Fix 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.

Patting your tattoo very gently before air drying it for another 10-15 minutes should allow it to sufficiently dry out enough so that applying lotion doesn’t cause any bubbling.

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

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.

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

However, 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 other kinds of cream, ointment, etc.) will only make the situation worse.
  • Do not touch the scab, or let anything else touch it at all costs. Just the slightest of touches can pull off parts of the gooey scab.
  • Allow air to get to the scab so it can slowly begin to dry again. It can sometimes take several hours for a scab to re-harden and return to its original state, so be patient and be careful.
  • Don’t apply any more lotion to the area for the rest of the day, and resume your normal aftercare practices the next day, making sure your tattoo is completely dry before adding small amounts of lotion to hopefully prevent any 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.


Seeing your new tattoo bubbling up can be a worrying experience, and the effects of the bubbling can be potentially 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 tattoo bubbling, and allow your ink to heal exactly how it should do.