Why Does My Tattoo Look Wet?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on November 6, 2020
    Last Updated: November 27, 2020

It’s been three or four weeks since you’ve gotten your new tattoo, and you couldn’t be happier. You listened to what your tattoo artist told you about aftercare. You’ve been applying a healing ointment multiple times a day, and you’ve been skipping your workouts and not swimming. 

The best part of all of this is that your new tattoo looks great. A light scab is forming over the tattoo, and over the last few days, bits and pieces of the scab tissue are flaking off on their own. 

But now you’re wondering what to do because your tattoo has gone from wrinkly to scabby, to shiny. Your new tattoo looks wet. Don’t panic because a wet tattoo marks the beginning of a new, discrete phase in the healing process.


What A Wet Tattoo Might Mean

To understand what a wet tattoo means in terms of the longer healing process, you have to understand what’s happening with your body’s natural healing response to your new tattoo. Call it body art, call it a tattoo, call it a skin illustration. Any tattoo, large or small, is a sustained, traumatic skin injury. 

You’re subjecting your skin to countless tiny needle pricks, often for hours at a time. If you’ve gone all-in and gotten a larger or more elaborate tattoo, you’re going to be in the chair for days, weeks, or months until everything is over. 

The Role Of Your Immune System In The Healing Process

Naturally, your immune system gets involved in the body’s reaction to all of this. As the needle moves over your skin, it pricks your skin and injects ink into the dermis, the second layer of skin. In response to this sustained trauma, the top layer of skin on the tattooed area (the epidermis) falls off.

Your bone marrow then begins to produce platelets, which rush from the bone marrow to the skin’s traumatized area, where they form an interlocking network that covers the new tattoo. This interlocking network of platelets forms a scab, which falls off and reveals the new, pigmented skin after a time. 

A Wet Tattoo Is Nothing To Worry About 

Your tattoo has a wet and shiny appearance at this stage because it hasn’t started to exfoliate yet. Exfoliation is something that happens naturally to your skin every day. Heat, friction, changes in humidity, or the weather all cause your skin to exfoliate or shed the outermost layer of dead or damaged skin cells. 

If you’ve had your tattoo for some weeks, and you’ve reached the shiny tattoo stage, it means the trauma is over. As the scab layer continues to fall away and the new skin emerges, the new skin needs a little time (usually around 14 days) before it begins to exfoliate like normal skin. 

As the healing process continues and the tattooed area of your skin reaches a point where it can exfoliate naturally, the wet and shiny appearance of your tattoo will begin to take on a more normal, matte appearance. 

Sometimes, a tattoo that is only a day or two old can even feel wet. This is because a new tattoo will leak ink and plasma for a while as the body kickstarts the healing process.

A Wet Tattoo Is Healing Normally

A wet-looking tattoo is a sign that you’re doing everything right. At this point in the healing process, if you’re still using a healing ointment like A&D or Aquaphor, you can probably stop using it and switch over to a tattoo-friendly moisturizing lotion.

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.

Apply your chosen lotion evenly over the entire area of your tattoo, 2-3 times a day. Take care not to over-moisten your skin. Over-moistening your skin over a period of time as your tattoo heals can cause bubbling and potentially permanent damage.

Apply your chosen skin lotion to your tattoo sparingly, in a thin layer. After a few hours passes and it’s time for another application, your tattoo should be dry to the touch.  

Don’t Interfere With The Healing Process  

At this point in the healing process, your tattoo will vaguely resemble an onion, with some tattoo areas taking on a wet look while other areas of the tattoo stay scabbed over. The most important thing here is that you don’t get into the habit of picking off the scab tissue. 

To keep the colors and appearance of your tattoo well-defined and vivid over the long term, don’t interfere with your skin’s natural healing process. Allow the scab tissue to fall off gradually, on its own, even if some parts of your tattoo keep their scabs for a number of weeks. 

Be Consistent With The Aftercare

Most importantly, keep at it. Apply lotion two to three times a day as your new tattoo continues to heal. Don’t submerge your tattoo in water, and keep it out of direct sunlight. If you’re still using a healing ointment at this stage of the game, avoid petroleum-based products such as Neosporin and Vaseline.  

Wear light, loose-fitting clothes over the affected area, and avoid strenuous exercise or anything that might cause you to sweat. If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to your tattoo artist for follow-up.