Stages Of The Tattoo Healing Process - A Day-By-Day Walkthrough
Each and every new tattoo goes through a certain healing process. This process can normally be split up into about three different stages – and those stages can be split up further day-by-day. We will show you what to expect in your very own tattoo healing process.
Like any other type of open wound inflicted on the body, tattooed skin must protect itself from harmful outside bacteria and regenerate itself back to full health after any damage has been done.
This regeneration is what a tattoo goes through as it heals, right up to the point where the skin is back to how it was before the tattoo, minus the small fact that it is now filled up with thousands of tiny pigments of ink!
Tattoo Healing Process
1. Stage One (Days 1-6) - Oozing, swelling and redness that gets better gradually over each day. Scabbing begins to form over the area.
2. Stage Two (Days 7-14) - Itching and flaking begins, and this continues until layers of dead skin and scabs have fallen off.
3. Stage Three (Days 15-30) - Tattoo looks fully healed but may look slightly cloudy for a few weeks. Deeper layers of skin are still repairing, so continue to look after your tattoo.
Stage One – Tattoo Oozing and Soreness
This first stage of healing starts as soon as you get off the tattooist’s chair. The area in which the ink has been injected into is now a large open wound and the skin will start producing plasma straight away to begin the clotting and scabbing process.
At this point your artist will most-likely clean the area with an antibacterial soap and proceed to bandage/wrap the tattoo for protection against contact with bacteria until you get home. All artists vary with their own approach, but lots of them advise to keep the bandage/wrap on for 12-24 hours.
Once the bandage is taken off (carefully), it’s quite likely that your tattooed area will be weeping and oozing with blood/plasma/lymphatic fluid/ink – this is completely normal and is the bodies way of trying to repair itself.
At this point (which will either be later on in the day of your sitting, or the next day) you will want to very gently wash away as much blood/ink/gooey plasma as you can with warm water and sensitive fragrance-free soap by using your clean fingers only in circular motions (no rough wash cloths or towels). More on how to clean a new tattoo here.
My Tattoo Soap Picks
H2Ocean's Foam Soap is specially formulated to be used on tattoos and is my #1 go-to cleansing soap while my tattoos are healing.
Gently wash your new tattoo with this soap and it will do a great job at disinfecting the area while keeping the colors bright and vibrant. It's also designs to be super-sensitive to the healing tattooed area and contains completely natural ingredients.
Read more about H2Ocean's Foam Soap here.
H2Ocean also do a complete tattoo aftercare kit at a great price containing everything you need to care for your tattoo during the healing process. Check out the full aftercare kit here.
You can also take a look at this article to see our review of the best tattoo soaps currently available.
The oozing plasma (clear gloopy liquid) on your tattoo is what helps your skin to scab. By keeping plasma levels to a minimum you will help keep away the big unsightly scabs you normally see on a deep wound that can dry out and begin to crack if you're not careful.
Therefore it’s important to try and wash off as much wet plasma as possible over the first few days of getting a tattoo.
At this point in the healing process your tattoo is going to be very sore for the first several days, especially if it’s a big piece. The feeling can be described as moderate-to-severe sunburn.
The tattooed area will also feel warm to the touch for a few days (if the warmness hangs around for more than a week, go and see a doctor to ensure that there isn’t any infection present).
Along with the soreness, the tattooed area will be red, probably raised above the skin slightly, and potentially bruised from some blood leaking underneath your top layers of skin.
Bruising is normally kept to a minimum as long as the artist isn't too rough and the needle isn't forced too deep – though you can sometimes also expect some swelling and extra tender areas where the needle has had to pass several times (usually on dark shaded areas).
Did You Know
The swelling around the tattooed area of your skin is mostly down to your body increasing blood flow to the area. This is in order to push more (immune system helping) white blood cells to the area to assist in fighting foreign bodies trying to enter the open wound. The warmness of the area is down to the increase blood flow.
All of the above reactions are completely natural and are totally expected to some extent or another during the first stage of the tattoo healing process.
Having said that though, if you start to experience any extreme bruising or redness around you tattoo, especially if a few days have gone by since getting the tattoo, go and see a doctor. Redness and/or bruising around the tattoo that is getting worse and not better can be the sign of a tattoo infection setting in.
Towards the end of this stage (after a few days) you will start to see the formation of scabbing. As said previously, as long as you're clearing the plasma and excess ink off of your tattooed area occasionally (2-3 times a day initially), the scabbing shouldn't be too thick and heavy. Your tattoo will start to look more 'cloudy' and duller than it initially did, and this is normal. The sharpness will come back slowly following all of the healing stages.
This stage can get irritating when it comes to sleeping if the tattoo is in an awkward location like on your shoulder or side. It will be difficult to get a good sleep in a lot of circumstances due to the soreness of the tattoo and the fact that you'll want to keep the tattoo from rubbing and sticking onto bed sheets.
Check out our article about sleeping with a new tattoo for more information about getting a good night's sleep with new ink.
Blot/dab your tattoo dry instead of rubbing as this can pull the scabs off, removing ink in the process.
Stage 1 Roundup/Tips
- Stage one of the healing process will last for around 1 week, although everybody heals at different rates. Check out this articles to see how to speed up the healing process.
- DO NOT pick off any scabs that have formed, this will delay healing and may pull ink from your tattoo.
- Clean your tattoo 2-3 times a day with a mild fragrance-free soap using your fingers and BLOT dry. Do not rub.
- Don’t worry about mild bruising, swelling or redness for the first few days, but seek medical advice if the symptoms don’t improve or get worse.
Stage Two – Tattoo Itchy and Flaking
A lot of people regard this as the worst stage in the tattoo healing process. This stage is infamous due to the dreaded itching.
At this point in the process, the scabs are hard and well-formed, and a few of the smaller ones are probably ready to start flaking off. This is going to continue for around another week. Your skin is going to become very dry and very flaky (personally, this is my least favourite part of the whole process).
At this stage, the dryness of your healing skin causes it to starting flaking, and this flaking in itself is what starts to cause the itching that everybody talks about.
The secret to preventing itching is to keep the skin moisturized. DO NOT SCRATCH YOUR TATTOO this is very important and can ruin a beautiful tattoo if you’re not careful. If you MUST relieve the itch, instead of scratching, try lightly tapping the area or give it another wash/moisturize. We have an amazing article written specifically to help with tattoo itching.
My Opinion On ‘The Itch’
I think Tattoo itchiness is overhyped – I experience very mild itching occasionally during the healing process but nothing extreme or unbearable. Just keep your skin well moisturized and the itchiness should be nothing more than a mild annoyance.
I personally put my lack of itchiness down to the choice of tattoo lotion I put on my skin. I use an exceptionally well priced and popular product called Hustle Butter which moisturizes and soothes tattooed skin extremely effectively.
I very rarely experience any itching at all while the lotion is applied between washes, and if itching does flare up if I forget to moisturize straight after washing, rubbing in a light layer of Hustle Butter stops it right-away once applied.
During stage 2, you will want to moisturize your tattoo as often as possible – some people advise 6-7 times a day, but moisturizing with a good quality fragrance-free lotion each time after washing should be enough to keep you tattoo moist enough to prevent extreme dryness and itching.
Ensure that you tattoo is completely dry before applying lotion. Water trapped between the lotion and the skin can cause your scabs to soak up water and become gloopy, making the scabs far more susceptible to being pulled off after sticking to something.
If you apply too much lotion, blot off the excess with a paper towel until only a faint shine can be seen on the surface – you don’t want to suffocate your tattoo with lotion, it needs to breathe while healing.
A Pick of my Favourite Tattoo Aftercare Lotions
The best tattoo lotion I've ever personally used is a (vegan-friendly) 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 buyers 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 aftercare products.
After Inked Tattoo Lotion
After Inked is another very popular tattoo aftercare lotion that claims to be all of the following: Non-Petroleum based, Paraben-Free, Fragrance-Free, Vegan, Cruelty-Free and Gluten-Free.
The lotion is super skin-friendly and can be used throughout the whole healing process, and can continue to be used as a normal moisturizer once your tattoo has finished healing.
Tattoo Salve, Natural Aftercare Cream
Tattoo Salve is another entirely natural and vegan-friendly product that is quickly becoming a firm fan-favorite.
Infused with herbs and other totally natural ingredients, the small family-run business that makes Tattoo Salve advises that by using this skin friendly, synthetic free cream regularly throughout healing, the chances are that your tattoo will come out the other side looking bright and vibrant.
Here is a selection of my other favorite tattoo lotions and ointments that are currently on the market.
As you reach the end of this stage, more and more of your skin is going to start hanging from your tattooed area. It will be very tempting to peel these pieces of skin off but DO NOT mess with them, they will fall off when they’re ready, and pulling the skin off prematurely can cause ink to be pulled from the deeper layers.
The half-peeled-off pieces of skin all over your tattoo, along with the dryness means that your tattoo is going to look very unsightly and ugly for a few days, although the heavy peeling only usually lasts for 2-4 days.
When washing your tattoo you may see some coloured pieces of skin flaking away, but this is completely normal during the washing process as long as you’re not being too rough. This is actually how I lost most of my peeling skin and all of my tattoos have healed perfectly well.
Amongst the factors already mentioned, you may also experience some tightness in the skin around your tattoo – this is due to the skin becoming drier than normal as it heals and is normal. Applying lotion if the skin becomes very tight can lessen the problem somewhat.
Stage 2 Roundup/Tips
- This stage is likely to last for around a week (but again, everybody heals differently)
- Your skin/scabs will start to dry up, flake and fall off, do not pull any off prematurely
- Your tattoo may itch, do not scratch. Apply lotion to moisturize the skin and relieve itching
- The skin around your tattoo may start to feel tight, this is normal – apply lotion to reduce tightness
- Your tattoo will look like an ugly piece of shedding snakes skin for a few days – suck it up and wait for all of the skin to peel off naturally. Most of mine peeled off while washing the tattoo (which is completely normal).
Stage Three – Tattoo Still Looking Dull & Cloudy
Nearly there! You've made it to the third and final stage of the healing process. By this point, pretty-much all of your scabs and areas of flaky skin will have dropped off (although a few of the heavier scabs may still be hanging around - excuse the pun).
The tattooed area will most-likely be slightly dry still and a little sore/sensitive to the touch. Continue to moisturize whenever your skin starts to look/feel dry.
Throughout this stage your tattoo will continue to look slightly cloudy, dull and scaly – it can even look a bit glossy/shiny in the light at the same time.
There is typically still a very fine dead layer of skin over the tattoo at this stage, but this will naturally flake away over the next month or two until your skin has completely regenerated back to normal – the clarity and beauty will return when your brand new skin reaches the surface.
This is the perfect time to check your tattoo over for any problems such as patchy spots, fading, or any tattoo blowout that may have occurred during the tattooing procedure. You can then contact your artist to arrange a touchup.
When Is a Tattoo Fully Healed?
Although your skin should look pretty much back to normal after the 2-3 weeks of healing stages, the deeper layers of skin will still be busy repairing themselves.
Your most upper/outer layer of skin will always heal the fastest because it’s the most important part to seal up and regenerate in order to block infection-causing bacteria from entering the wound.
The lower layers of skin will most-likely take 3-4 months to completely heal, though your tattoo will start to look much clearer and sharper long before those 3-4 months are up.
In conclusion, it’s hard to say when a tattoo is fully healed because everybody heals differently. It also depends on lots of various factors such as how large the tattoo is and how good the artist was (if he was rough and pushed the needle harder than needed, the tattoo will probably take longer than normal to heal).
If 4-6 months have passed since your last piece of work on the tattoo (either the initial work or an additional cover-up) then it’s relatively safe to say that your tattoo area is healed, or at least very close to it.
All in all, it may seem like a lot is going on with your tattoo after your initial inking session, but remember that it is only for 2-3 weeks. Here is a quick reminder of the things to look out for. Trust me, they really aren't as bad as they seem.
The Key Stages Of The Tattoo Healing Process
- Oozing (Days 1-2) - Straight after your tattoo is finished at the studio/parlour, and for the next few days, your tattoo is going to be leaking all kinds of fluids. Blood, plasma, lymph and ink are all going to seeping out of the would. Wear baggy clothing where possible and clean with mild fragrance-free soap often.
- Pain, Swelling and Scabbing (Days 3-6) – The first several days will go by with your tattoo essentially still being a raw open wound. It will likely be painful during cleaning or when clothes/other body parts rub against it. Scabs will start to form towards the end of this stage.
- Flaky Skin (Days 7-14) – After about a week your skin is going to start to peel and flake. This can get incredibly irritating and the temptation to pick at the skin will be strong. Resist this urge and don’t pick or pull when the skin starts to hang. Don’t scratch if you start to itch and apply lotion if the area starts to look/feel dry or tight.
Take care of your tattoo as well as humanly possible during this very important time and by the end of it you should be set up to have a fabulous piece of ink etched into your body for the rest of your life – congratulations!