Top Tips To Reduce Tattoo Healing Times
It's sometimes hard to estimate how long a tattoo will take to heal, but there are many ways to prevent healing from becoming a drag. All of our tips and tricks below should help to ensure that healing times are kept as short as possible.
We'll explain how long an average tattoo takes to heal and the many factors that come into play that can affect healing times.
How Long Does It Take For a Tattoo To Heal?
In terms of appearance, your tattoo should look completely healed within 2-3 weeks (although it may appear slightly shiny and scaly for several more). This is as long as all goes well with no infections or extreme scabbing taking place.
The skin below the surface however generally takes longer to heal – this can take up to 2-4 months, which is why getting tattooed over the same area can be much more painful the second time around if not enough time has elapsed between sittings.
The long answer:
This probably isn't what you wanted to hear, but I'm going to say it anyway; Asking how long it takes for a tattoo to heal is like asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’
Everybody is different. Everybody has their own unique skin properties and immune systems so no two people are ever going to heal in the same way as each other.
As with most questions, there are many variables that affect the answer – and with this specific question, no single answer is correct, but continue reading and you'll what you can do to make sure your tattoo heals as well and as quickly as possible.
How To Make A Tattoo Heal Faster / Healing Speed Factors
There are many factors that are going to come into play that will alter the healing times in your tattoo healing process – take each of the below factors into consideration and you'll have the best chance at healing your tattoo at a very efficient rate:
Scabs and Skin Being Pulled off Prematurely
One of the most essential things to remember when your tattoo is healing is to NOT pick the scabs off no matter how tempting. This also goes for pulling off pieces of peeling skin.
Heavy scabs that are not yet ready to fall off are still forming deep enough into your skin to effect the layers in which the ink has been set, meaning that pulling a scab off prematurely can pull ink away from the tattooed area and leave pits and colorless spots in your skin.
Pulling thick scabs off can delay healing times considerably and will potentially cause your tattoo to require extra touchups from your artist if any color is lost.
Although some scabbing is common on new tattoos, especially bigger and darker pieces, heavy scabbing covering large areas of a tattoo are not normal and this could mean that your artist may have been too rough/went too deep with the needle – go back to see your artist if scabbing is excessive.
The same goes for peeling skin – this stage of healing can be very uncomfortable with large areas of half-dead skin hanging off of your tattooed area and varying bouts of extreme itchiness depending on skin dryness.
Read our great guide on how to stop your tattoo itching.
Just remember that this stage only normally lasts for several days, so try and see it out by letting the skin fall off naturally without pulling it off. Peeling skin off that isn't yet ready to fall off can pull ink from the skin just like scabbing can.
As you wash your tattoo daily in the peeling stages, you will see pieces of colored skin falling off as you rub the area with soap/water. Some people worry about seeing this as they are concerned that they are pulling ink out.
This is completely normal. As long you’re not too rough while washing, the skin that does fall off should have been ready to fall off anyway and will contain some small traces of ink, which is also totally natural.
With personal experience, most of my peeling skin seems to come off during the cleaning process and all of my tattoos have come out perfectly, so don’t worry!
Applying Aftercare Products
Although not necessary by any mean, applying a good aftercare lotion help speed up healing by keeping your tattoo nourished and well-moisturized.
Don't overdo it though - you should only need to apply lotion after each time you wash the area, so around 2-3 times per day depending on how clean you can keep your tattoo between washed, or whenever your tattoo looks/feels very dry.
What you mustn't do though is smother your tattoo in a thick layer of lotion. While the skin is healing it needs to breath, and a 1inch thick block of tattoo cream isn't exactly going to help the process. This can delay healing and cause your tattoo to bubble up.
If you accidentally apply too motion lotion/ointment/cream, simply gently dab off any excess until there's only a very thin layer remaining on the tattoo.
Like mentioned, lotions and ointments aren't required, but can definitely help towards speeding up the healing process and ensuring that the tattoo looks clear and bright afterwards.
My Favourite Tattoo Healing/Moisturizing Lotion
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.
Here is a selection of my other favorite tattoo lotions and ointments that are currently on the market.
Submerging Your Tattoo in Water
Along with scabbing, this is up there with one of the worst things you can do to your new tattoo. You mustn’t submerge your tattoo in water for any length of time at all for the first couple of weeks. See below for information on what can be done around water with your new tattoo:
- Cleaning your tattoo – This should be done with sensitive, fragrance-free soap and lukewarm water (your skin will be very sensitive and hot water can cause the skin to swell and rash). Cup the water with your hands and pour it over your tattoo. Gently rub the tattoo with your fingers in a circular motion. More here on cleaning your tattoo.
- Showering - Try not to keep your tattoo in the firing-line of the shower-head for too long and try to limit your showers to below 5 minutes each to prevent water and steam sweating the ink out. PAT the tattoo dry afterwards, do not rub!
- Bathing – After sitting in your bathtub for a few minutes the water will be harbouring with bacteria and can easily cause an infection in your tattoo – avoid baths for at least 3-4 weeks.
- Swimming in pools – Although bacteria is killed by the chlorine, the chlorine itself is very damaging to your tattoo. It will dry out your skin, can potentially cause a rash on sensitive areas and can fade/draw the ink out. Stay out of swimming pools for 3-4 week.
- Swimming in the sea – Along with chlorine, the sea-salt will dry out your skin and cause irritation. Stay out of the sea for at least 3-4 weeks.
- Lakes and other bodies of water – This is due to the primary reason that there are many horrible types of bacteria festering in most large (and often small) open bodies of water. Stay clear for at least 4 weeks.
Going Out in the Sun
This can be a serious tattoo killer. Nothing is more harmful to your tattoo than the almighty big ball of fire – especially when the tattoo is fresh. You skin will be extremely sensitive to UV rays during the first couple of weeks, and any sun exposure for more than a few minutes can cause skin irritation and burns - and trust me, sunburn over a new tattoo is not fun. Expect a large delay in healing if this happens to you.
Check out our post on how to have fun in the sun without worrying about damaging your tattoo.
Tattoo Location and Clothes Contact
Depending on where on your body your new tattoo is, various materials are going to come into contact, and rub against the tattooed area. Any prolonged or vigorous rubbing over recently tattooed skin is going to be detrimental to the healing process and will most likely prolong recovery somewhat.
It is not only the rubbing motion that can irritate a tattoo, but also the material itself. Recently tattooed skin is going to be much more prone to irritation and you may find that certain materials (such a latex for example) that do not usually cause irritation can quite easily bring tattoos out in a bright rash if left in contact with the skin for any extended periods time.
Wear loose-fitting/baggy clothing over your tattooed area whenever possible – not only does this reduce the likelihood of rubbing but it also allows the tattoo to breath more effectively – potentially speeding up healing time.
If the tattooed area does become irritated by rubbing against a certain material, uncover and wash the area with fragrance-free/sensitive soap and warm water as soon as possible – this should sooth the irritated area.
Below is a list of areas that you will need to be extra careful of when deciding what to wear after getting some new ink.
- Feet – Probably the worst place to get a tattoo if you have an active job. It’s pretty much a given that you’re going to need to take it easy for a few days and not wear any socks or rubbing footwear. You may get away with sandals depending on the exact placement of the tattoo, but if not then it might be best to call off work for 2-3 days to let the initial healing take place as effectively as possible.
- Shoulders – These areas of upper-body clothing are usually the places that hug against your skin the tightest. There’s not much you can do about this except trying to find the loosest possible clothing to wear. Try not to wear any materials that may irritate the area (no latex, leather or rubber as these will cling to the tattoo and can suffocate it. These materials can also cause sweating, which could push ink out).
- Bottom/Upper Legs – Tight wearing denim is your enemy, especially as these places naturally tend to rub against your clothing lots. Try to get away with wearing a more breathable/looser material for a week or two - and sit down carefully!
- Back – This area is mainly problematic when sitting down on a chair/sofa with a backrest. Over time, this can press your clothing against your tattoo and can potentially cause sticking. Try to remember to move often and refrain from sitting against a rest for too long.
If a piece of clothing does manage to get stuck to your tattoo, DON’T just pull it off! This can cause a scab to loosen/break away, potentially causing scarring and/or ink loss.
Get a cloth and soak it under warm water – proceed to dab the stuck area with warm water until the clothing pulls away with no force required.
Tattoo Location and Skin Rubbing
In relation to the advice about avoiding prolonged clothing contact – it may also be advantageous in some instances to try to avoid contact with yourself (huh?).
There are many parts of your body that naturally rub against other parts all day long – think inner thighs, fingers and under-arms. All of these places naturally rub against other body parts on a regular basic – this, just like clothing, can also cause irritation and any skin-on-skin contact should be avoided as best as possible.
Obviously I’m not telling you to wobble about in a squatting duck position to prevent your thighs from slapping together, but try and be as proactive as possible. If you know you’re getting your tattoo done in an area that is likely to rub in your day-day activities, take 2 or 3 days off to rest and let your tat heal a irritation-free for a while before going back to your normal daily life.
Being tattooed in/over/around joints can also be a bit of a nuisance. Places like the wrist, inner elbow and neck are constantly on the move meaning that when a tattooed area tries to scab over and grow new skin, these areas are constantly being broken down again due to the skin twisting, stretching and pulling.
Now I'm not asking you to start straight-arming all of your drinks at the bar, but try and move your tattooed joints as little as possible – it’s tough for a week or so, and joints do generally take longer to heal than other areas, this can’t be helped, but try to keep movement as minimal as possible.
For example, if you've gotten the ditch (inner elbow) of your dominant arm recently covered, try brushing your teeth, combing your hair and doing ‘other’ (ahem) activities with your less dominant hand arm - warning, some things are tougher than you think! (and I don't mean 'that' you dirty people.)
Whether the Tattoo is in Color or Black and Grey
It’s well understood that color tattoos do generally take longer to heal than B&G (black and grey) due to the contents of the ink. All colored inks contain very small amounts of metal that the human body finds harder to accept.
Some people react worse than others to these metals and in some situations the body can actually push out some of the ink, increasing healing times and meaning that a touch-up could likely be required.
Out of all the colors, red ink causes the most adverse reactions to healing by far – this is due to the makeup of the ink compared to most other common colors. Please bare this in mind as if you are one of the unlucky people to have an unfortunate reaction to red ink, your tattoo may take a while longer to heal.
Your General Health and Immune System
You have to remember that no-matter how popular and common tattoos are these days, they are still essentially large open wounds caused by trauma carried out over long lengths of time (having needles passed in and out of your skin thousands of times in a single sitting injecting a foreign substance into your body).
Therefore, as with recovery to all other types of damage your body goes through on a regular basic (cuts, scrapes and bruises) – healing is going to be at it’s fastest when you’re mentally and physically well-rested and properly nourished.
If you know that you don’t get your recommended amount of daily fruit and vegetables, it may definitely be worth looking into getting a good multi-vitamin to try and boost your bodies healing properties as best as possible.
My Favourite Multivitamin
Nature's Way Alive! is my favorite multivitamin. It gives an extremely well-balanced dosage of all required vitamins and minerals needed for you skin heal heal as well and as quickly as possible after going though a traumatic event such as getting a tattoo.
Its immune system boosting properties are also great, especially to get you through the first few days straight after having your tattoo finished when your immune system is at it's lowest.
This multivitamin is especially good if you know that you don't get your recommended fruit/vegetable dosage everyday.
Please note that if you are currently unwell or have any ongoing health/medical conditions, your immune system is likely to be running lower than normal and therefore your new tattoo may heal a little or a lot slower than what it would do with a full-strength immune system, depending on your condition.
I know this is the last thing you want to do if you’re excited about getting your new tattoo, but if you're currently fighting a short-term illness (like a cold or flu), it is sometimes better to postpone your appointment and wait until the illness has passed by. Not only will your tattoo likely heal faster/better, but you will also minimize the risk of passing your plague onto somebody else at the studio.
If you have any serious ongoing health conditions, it is always strongly advisable to seek advice from a medical expert before getting a tattoo to ensure that the tattooing process will not cause any adverse health effects by making your immune system any weaker than it already is, which will thus make you more susceptible to further illnesses and infections.
Working Out and Physical Jobs
It’s not advisable to go to the gym or conduct any vigorous activity for at least a couple of days after getting a new tattoo – your immune system will probably be slightly weakened and overdoing it can add delays to healing. Gyms and many places of work can also be very dirty so ensure your tattoo is covered to minimize risk of infection and clean it as soon as you’re home.
Weightlifting and cardio can also cause your tattoo to rub against clothing, which can cause rashes and sores to develop, so watch out for this.
Whether Your Tattoo Needs a Touchup
Sometimes the healing process can proceed to go slightly worse than hoped. Maybe you've applied too much ointment and that has drawn some color out, or maybe your skin hasn't reacted so well to the ink and some of the color has been lost.
Any of the above scenarios could likely prompt a trip back to the chair of pain for a touchup to go over all of the little bits that may not have turned out how you would have liked. Obviously this is going to add to you healing time as essentially some parts of your tattoo will need to heal twice (pre and post touchup).
Your Aftercare Process
Petroleum based ointments can suffocate a tattoo if used too generously, which can increase healing time. Keeping a tattoo wrapped for too long can cause the same problem.
Any type of infection is going to delay healing considerably. Click here for further information on tattoo infections, symptoms and prevention.
So - how long does it take for a tattoo to heal? I hope you can now see why this is such a tough question to answer. I also hope that this article helps shed some light on all of the different ways that certain scenarios can affect the healing of your lovely new tattoo. See below for a quick tattoo healing cheat sheet to assist in helping your tattoo to heal in the quickest time possible.
- Everybody heals differently
- Tattoos will generally look healed within 2-3 weeks (but could appear slightly shiny for a while longer)
- The skin below the surface layers usually takes longer to heal – up to 2-4 months
- DO NOT SWIM OR BATHE WITH A NEW TATTOO
- DO NOT PICK YOUR SCABS/PEELING SKIN OFF PREMATURELY
- DO NOT GET YOUR TATTOO OUT IN INTENSE SUNLIGHT
- Previous tattoos may help give you an estimate on your next/new tattoo's healing times, but no two tattoos are ever the same
- Tattoos rubbing against clothing can take longer to heal – wear baggy clothes where possible (especially on feet, shoulders, bottom, upper legs and back)
- Colored tattoos generally take longer to heal than black and grey, and red is the hardest color to heal quickly
- Your general health and immune system strength will dictate how long your tattoo takes to heal. Take a good multivitamin to help boost your immune system and general health
- Seek medical advice before getting a tattoo if you have any serious long-standing health problems
- Don’t worry if colored skin peels off as you wash your tattoo – this is normal as long as you’re not washing to vigorously
- Working out and doing hard manual labour straight after getting a tattoo should be avoided - wait for a couple of days
- Requiring touchups will add to healing times
- Petroleum based ointments can suffocate a tattoo if used too generously and can extend healing times
- Any type of infection is going to delay healing times considerably