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The Causes Of Tattoo Bubbling & How To Treat / Prevent It

Many people aren’t aware about the dangers of tattoo bubbling or what causes it - but it can really damage your tattoo if it isn’t fixed quickly.

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What Is Tattoo Bubbling & How Does It Happen?

During the healing process of a new tattoo, all tattoos will scab over somewhat. Some scab very lightly (where you cannot see much scabbing at all) and some scab over very heavily (this can sometimes be down to the artist being too heavy-handed with the needle).

As long as you don’t pick or pull at the skin, scabbing of any thickness shouldn’t really affect the final outcome of your tattoo's appearance.

Scabbing Tattoo

Raised, light scabbing over the tattoo - this is completely normal

One thing that can go wrong with your tattoo during the healing process is if the scabs start to bubble. Tattoo bubbling happens when lotion is applied to a tattoo when the scabs are not completely dry.

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.

Whilst 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 scabbing for too long, the scabs will start to soften and become gooey and gloopy.

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

Firstly, when these tattoo scabs bubble, they become extremely easy to pull off. They become so gloopy 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 can remove some of the ink from below the scab and can leave the tattoo looking potentially 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 out ink in the process.

Finally, bubbling scabs are not effectively protecting the recently tattooed skin, meaning that there is a higher probability of an infection being caused by germs and bacteria gaining access to the wound.

tattoo bubbling

A bubbling tattoo

How To Fix Tattoo Bubbling

Prevention is always better than a cure. To stop your tattoo bubbling up, always ensure that your tattoo 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.

You should only apply a very small amount of lotion to the area - just enough to thinly cover the tattoo so that there is just a slightly subtle shine to the skin.

Lotion on tattoo

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

However, if you’ve already applied lotion too soon, and your tattoo has begun to bubble, then this is what you should do:

  • Stop applying lotion immediately. Any extra lotion (or any other kind 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 that it can slowly begin to dry again. It can sometimes take several hours for a scab to re-harden and return to its normal state, so be patient and be careful.
  • Don’t apply anymore 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 only 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.

My Favourite Tattoo Healing/Moisturizing Lotion

Hustle Butter Deluxe – Tattoo Butter for Before, During, and After the Tattoo Process – Lubricates and Moisturizes – 100% Vegan Replacement for Petroleum-Based Products – 5 oz

The best tattoo lotion I've ever personally used is a (vegan) tattoo aftercare product called Hustle Butter. This stuff works amazingly during the healing process - not only to keep your tattoo really well hydrated but it's also very good at soothing that annoying itching.

Many other users of the product also advise that when using it from the very start of the healing process it appears to decrease healing times and seems to reduce heavy scabbing.​

Read more about Hustle Butter here. Have a quick look at some of the customer reviews and you'll see why it's one of the most popular tattoo lotions.​


Summary

Seeing your new tattoo bubbling up can be a worrying experience, and the effects of the bubbling can be potentially damaging to the 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.

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