Is It Normal For Tattoos To Flake & Peel?
For many tattoo newbies, watching their new tattoo peeling and flaking away from their skin can be an alarming sight. Not to worry, though. Your peeling tattoo is almost certainly nothing to worry about.
Very rarely are things as bad as they seem. What you’re likely going through with your flaky ink is just the completely normal and natural process that comes with getting a new tattoo.
Why Do Tattoos Peel?
While you’re getting inked, the tattooing needles will penetrate your skin thousands of times a minute, and over the course of a tattooing session, a potentially large area of your skin will become a big open wound.
For some time after getting your tattoo, it will be susceptible to infection, and your skin’s natural response to this is to form scabs over the wounded area.
When it comes to tattoo scabbing, everybody is different depending on how their skin reacts to a tattoo, as well as how (in)experienced their tattoo artist was.
Now, when this scabbing forms, it will essentially cover your skin in a protective layer of hardened skin that will eventually need to peel and flake away to expose the new, healthy layer of skin below it. This peeling is your skin’s natural shedding process.
When Does Peeling Start?
New tattoos will peel towards the end of the first week of healing, normally between days 5 and 7, although you may see signs of peeling after only three days.
Again, this will be slightly different for everyone, but you should be seeing at least the start of the peeling phase beginning by the end of the first week.
Don’t get worried if your tattoo hasn’t started peeling by this point, however. As mentioned, all tattoos peel, and all will heal differently, so yours may just be taking slightly longer, or may just be peeling much lighter and less visibly.
Your body sheds around 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells every second of every day without you even realizing it. When your tattoo starts to peel, you’ll likely notice it because the skin cells will shed in more noticeably-sized flakes due to the damage caused to the area.
On smaller tattoos, the peeling can be extremely light, and the area may have already begun peeling without you even knowing. This is much more likely if you’ve been keeping the area well-moisturized. This is because the often dried, flaky characteristics of peeling skin will look much less noticeable.
The 3 main stages of the tattoo healing process:
Is it Normal?
Peeling tattoos are completely normal during the tattoo healing process. Every single tattoo that is inked into an area of skin will cause an open wound that your body will need to protect until it heals.
Bigger tattoos are always going to peel and flake more due to the larger area of skin that has been distressed by the needles.
Some areas of skin are more resistant to peeling, and will peel away at slower speeds than other areas. For example, areas of skin that are constantly exposed to the elements and are moved/used more often will normally take longer to peel because the skin is naturally tougher here, and will shed less frequently.
Sometimes, if you haven’t moisturized your tattoo as much as you should have during the aftercare phase, your skin may dry out and flake away quicker.
Finally, if your tattooed skin contains quite a lot of heavy scabbing, the peeling will naturally be heavier, with larger flakes of skin coming away at once.
This is opposed to if the tattooed area contains only light scabbing. If this is the case, then the peeling skin will probably be quite light.
How Long Does a Tattoo Peel For?
All tattoos will peel for varying lengths of time depending on individual circumstances. However, most tattoos will continue to peel for roughly a week.
Tattoos on more overused areas of skin (like the wrists and elbows) will likely take a little longer to completely peel, but tattoos on more soft and supple areas could be done peeling after just a few days.
Sometimes, tattoos will actually peel twice. Normally when this happens, there will be one relatively heavy peeling phase, followed by some very light peeling that is sometimes barely noticeable.
This is also normal and nothing to worry about – just keep your skin well-moisturized.
What if a Tattoo Doesn’t Peel?
Some tattoos, especially if they’re small, will peel so lightly that they don’t look like they’re peeling at all. In most cases, this is nothing to worry about, and your tattoo will still in fact be healing just as it should be.
It’s also bearing in mind that not all tattoos peel at exactly the same time, so yours may just be delayed by a day or two.
Finally, it’s imperative that you don’t self-induce peeling by rubbing or scratching at the skin, as this can lead to infection, removal of the tattoo ink, and permanent scarring.
How to Care for a Peeling Tattoo
Don’t Pick and Pull the Scabs
This is the worst thing that you can do during the tattoo peeling stage.
While the peeling skin may look like it’s ready to come off, it will likely still be slightly attached to your ‘live’ skin until the moment it drops off naturally.
If you pick or pull at the skin before it’s completely ready, you’re taking the risk of pulling unsettled ink out along with the peeling skin, causing areas of patchiness within your tattoo.
It might be tempting to give the peeling skin a little helping hand, but it’s best to just play it safe and let everything happen naturally.
Don’t Scratch Your Tattoo if It Itches
Again, all this does is cause skin to get ripped off prematurely, potentially leading to patchy areas of ink dropout where ink has been drawn away.
Not only this, but your skin is still very prone to infection while it’s peeling, and your fingernails will be harboring thousands of germs, even if they look clean. Scratching your new tattoo could turn out to be disastrous if an infection is caused. Wait until the tattoo has completely healed before attempting to scratch it.
For more information on how to prevent/cope with crazy tattoo itching, take a look at our itching guide here.
Moisturizing Is Essential
Not only will moisturizing your new tattoo help to soothe any itching that you’re suffering from, but it will also help your tattoo heal faster thanks to the many useful vitamins and minerals that the majority of moisturizing lotions and ointments contain.
Your tattoo may also feel quite tight as the scabs form, so moisturizing helps to bring some elasticity back.
Not only this, but using a good moisturizing lotion on your tattoo can help it look better while it’s scabbing and peeling. The dried, flaky pieces of skin will soak up moisture and start to look more like the surrounding areas of healthy skin, camouflaging them somewhat.
While stopping any scabs from drying out and cracking too much, the extra moisture will soak up the flaky pieces of skin so they lie flat against the body so no unsightly chunks of dead, dried skin are poking out. Moisture also helps them fall off at the right stage of healing.
This also serves to prevent them from getting accidentally ripped off when brushing against various objects.
The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan 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.
Keep Your Tattoo Clean
Keeping your tattoo clean while it’s healing and peeling will prevent potential infections, and will also help to speed up healing by ridding the area of dirt and oil which may be blocking pores and slowing down the repairing process. Check here for my favorite tattoo soaps.
There’s no other way to say it – your tattoo is going to look horrid for a week or two. It’s going to look dull and dry, with chunks of skin hanging off.
Unfortunately, this is just a part of the process and there is nothing you can do until the phase has finished and the skin has completely healed up.
Many tattoo newcomers rightly become quite concerned about their tattoo when it begins to peel. Below are a couple of their common thoughts when they start to see their tattoo flake; and I’ve attempted to provide some reassuring answers.
Why Does My Tattoo Look Like It’s Peeling and Flaking Off?
When your tattoo peels, it will often look like the tattoo is peeling off completely. This is due to the dead flakes of skin containing small amounts of ink. It is not the case that your whole tattoo is coming off so you should not worry.
What is happening is that when your artist was tattooing you, he was trying to pack as much ink into your skin as possible to ensure that the color/contrast remains
When the deeper layers of skin are full of ink and are unable to contain any more, the excess ink will begin to get pushed toward the upper layers. This is what you are seeing.
Sometimes, the peeling skin can look completely colored, and you may wonder if too much ink is being pushed out. This is rarely the case, and very bright, colored pieces of peeling skin are very common.
My Tattoo Looks Like It’s Lost Color After Peeling
Sometimes once your tattoo has finished peeling, your tattoo can look scaly and dull. This, again, is completely normal.
Although the top layers of dead skin have flaked away, the tattooed area will still not be completely healed, and therefore your skin can continue to look quite dull and cloudy for up to a few weeks after the peeling has finished while lower layers of damaged skin continue to fall away.
You must also be aware that your tattoo will likely never look as bright and vibrant as it did the moment you left the tattoo studio.
After healing, a translucent layer of skin will have grown over your tattoo as a form of protection – so while your ink will still hopefully look great, this extra layer of skin will usually cause it to look slightly lighter than it did when it was completely fresh before the healing process began.
This can cause some people to worry that their black tattoos are turning grey. While the ink will not have been changing color during the healing process, the amount of skin over the top of the ink will have increased, making it seem like the ink is lighter.
However, if you’re generally worried about how your tattoo is healing, it’s always advisable to contact your artist so they can give you their professional opinion on the situation.
After Your Tattoo Has Finished Peeling
After your tattoo has finished peeling, you can sleep easy knowing you don’t have to look at a dry and flaky mess anymore. However, it’s important to understand that your tattoo will still be healing below the surface for a few more weeks, so continue to take good care of the area.
Continue to keep up with good practices like keeping your tattoo well-shielded from the sun and moisturizing it on a regular basis, and your tattoo should carry on looking great for years to come.