Why Do Tattoos Look Dull When Healing?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 6, 2020
    Last Updated: November 15, 2020

When deciding to get a tattoo, we like to imagine a vibrant art piece on our skin—the deepest blacks and brightest colors. The reality, however, is slightly different, or at least it is while the tattoo is new.

If this is your first tat, it may surprise or even worry you that its complexion isn’t as expected during the first few weeks.

So, why do many tattoos look dull while healing? We answer that question and also advise what you can do to help your new ink look its best once healing is complete.


Why Tattoos Look Dull While Healing

During the healing stage, your tattoo is more than likely to appear dull or faded. It usually occurs around the scabbing and peeling phases, and it’s a result of the repeated poking and damage caused by the needles, which prompts your body to kill off and shed the damaged skin cells while it regenerates brand new skin over the tattooed area. 

As this old, damaged layer of skin dies, it sits on the surface for a while, forming a translucent layer over your tattoo, giving it a faded, milky appearance. If this is your first tattoo, it’s only normal to feel alarmed or disappointed, but it should soon regain its vibrant look within a month or two (some tattoos, especially larger ones, can even shed their skin twice).

While it can take a while for your tattoo to look completely clean and sharp, be rest assured that the dullness will dissipate over time as more and more dead skin continues to flake away.

The Healing Process

Despite their beauty, tattoos are actual open wounds, so your skin needs time to recover. As a tattoo heals, it goes through different stages, some of which might seem concerning:

  • Discharge and redness: Once you remove the wrap your artist applied to the wound, your tattoo may leak plasma and other fluids, and the surrounding skin will usually be red. Some people also experience ink coming from the tattoo.
  • Itching: Perhaps the most annoying stage is the itching. It might occur late in the first week or into the second, and you may notice some flaking. It’s crucial, however, to resist scratching as it could damage your skin and even lead to an infection. Instead, apply a gentle lotion or an ice pack over your clothes to numb the sensation.
  • Skin peeling: Once you’re a week or two into your healing, the tattoo is likely to begin peeling. This is because the outermost layer of skin—the epidermis—suffered damage and is now being replaced by new skin cells. Don’t worry, the artwork won’t peel off, and it’s a sign that your tattoo is healing well.

My Tattoo Still Looks Dull After It’s Healed

If your tattoo continues to appear faded or milky, there are two likely possibilities, both requiring a touch-up:

The ink might have leeched out

Depending on how your skin reacted and how you treated the tattoo during the healing phase, some pigment could’ve fallen out. This is particularly an issue if you picked at the scabbing or itched the area while it was healing.

Inexperienced tattoo artists can also sometimes tattoo at the wrong depth, allowing the ink to come out easier than it should normally do.

The color wasn’t saturated enough

The tattoo artist has to saturate the pigment just right to get it to settle in the skin. If it wasn’t done well, the tattoo will look dull or toned down. 

What if My Tattoo Isn’t Peeling?

Peeling isn’t always a visible part of the healing phase, and it’s not a sign that something is wrong with your new tattoo.  Everyone heals differently. Some may begin to peel at a later time—others might not experience any significant peeling or scabbing at all. 

If you don’t experience any peeling within the first few weeks, never scratch your skin to self-induce the stage. Doing so can lead to an array of complications, such as scarring and infections, which could affect the outcome of your tattoo. 

Proper Tattoo Aftercare

Proper aftercare is key to a good-looking tattoo, and the best place to get instructions is from your tattoo artist. We’ve gathered a few common tips below:

Gently cleanse

Once the tattoo wrap is off, wash your new ink with gentle soap and warm water about two to three times daily. Gently pat dry with a soft, clean towel.

Use a good lotion

Apply a small amount of tattoo moisturizing lotion to the area for the first few weeks. This not only helps to speed up healing, but also assists in preventing that dull appearance by combatting dryness.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan-friendly 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.

Wear loose clothes

Avoid wearing anything that may rub the tattoo, causing irritation. Try to cover your tattoo with clothing when going outside to prevent sun damage. You shouldn’t apply sunscreen until the tattoo has completety healed.

Avoid pools and baths

Both are bacteria breeding grounds, which can infect the skin, potentially delaying healing and causing permanent damage. 

Final Thoughts

Why do tattoos look dull when healing? It’s nothing to worry about and is to be expected while the body is trying hard to repair the area. 

Stabbing the skin thousands of times with tiny needles causes trauma, killing the top layer of skin. As your body hangs on to this skin for a while, it can give the tattoo a faded or dull appearance. 

Fortunately, with proper aftercare, this dead skin will peel away, leaving you with a bold, vivid tattoo for years to comes.