Tattoo Scabbing: How Much Is Normal?
Tattoo scabbing on your first piece of ink can be extremely worrying if you’re not sure what’s supposed to happen throughout the healing process.
However, while a crusty new tattoo is not the end of the world, picking your tattoo scabs can have disastrous consequences.
Are Scabs Normal During Healing?
Many worry that scabbing indicates that there’s something wrong, but there’s no need to fear. Scabbing is a perfectly normal process during healing; it means your body is responding correctly to the trauma recently caused to the skin.
When you get a tattoo, you’re essentially causing large amounts of damage to a specific area of skin. Your body forms many little scabs during the healing process to prevent infection by sealing the wound against outside germs.
The scabbing process begins when a component within your blood (called plasma) starts to ooze from the wound and begins to harden, covering the damaged area of skin. Your white blood cells will then begin to work in and around the scabbed area to fight off any invasive bacteria that attempt to break through as your skin proceeds to regenerate and repair. Moisturizing and cleaning the area properly throughout the healing period will support this process.
Do All Tattoos Scab?
As it’s impossible to create a tattoo without causing an open wound to the skin, all new tattoos will scab.
You may normally picture scabs as being thick, scaly lumps of pus and blood-filled skin, but this is not always the case. Usually, if you’ve had a good tattoo artist, your skin should form a very thin layer of scabbing all over your tattoo.
It’s also common to see the odd thick, dark, crusty scab on a tattoo. These heavy, unsightly scabs usually appear where the tattoo artist has had to go over the same area multiple times, usually to add darker shading to certain parts of the tattoo.
Heavier scabs are also more prone to forming if the tattoo is particularly large or detailed, as the longer a tattooing session, the more trauma that is caused to your skin.
Another reason that could lead to thick scabbing is the onset of an infection. Infections are relatively rare in tattoos as long as correct studio hygiene procedures are undertaken, but they do happen. Infected scabs are usually accompanied with blood, pus and bad smells.
Tattoo infections can also cause various other unsightly symptoms, depending on the type of bacteria you’re dealing with. If you are at all concerned that you may have an infected tattoo, get in touch with your tattoo artist or a doctor as soon as possible.
When Scabbing Isn’t Normal
While light scabbing over a new tattoo is completely normal, you should be on the lookout for a few accompanying symptoms. If your tattoo develops any of the traits below, it’s probably best to get the area checked out by a doctor to ensure it hasn’t become infected.
• Very thick scabbing throughout the area
• Red, inflamed borders around the scabs
• Excessive swelling
• Bleeding or oozing after 48 hours
• Pain that does not decrease or begins to get worse
How Long Do Tattoos Scab For?
A fresh tattoo will usually begin to form scabs at around the three-day mark. The area will be oozing plasma for the first few days of the healing process in preparation for the scabbing. After these first few days, your scabs will begin to harden.
The scabs will remain on the tattoo until the healing process has finished and the top layers of skin have regenerated. By this point, the scabs will have served their purpose and will begin to peel and flake away. The peeling and flaking stage begins around the seven-day point, and all but the thickest of scabs should have fallen off by the 10-day mark.
If you have any dense, thick scabs that have formed over your tattoo, the general rule of thumb is that the thicker the scab, the longer it will take to heal.
What to Avoid While a Tattoo Is Scabbing
Everybody should adhere to some very important rules when it comes to scabbing tattoos. Failure to stick to these rules can lead to several problems, including increased in healing times, a loss of ink from your tattoo, and infection.
Pick your Scabs – This is the number one rule regarding your tattoo aftercare. No matter how big, small, dark or ugly your scabs are – if you begin to pick them off, you greatly increase your chances of pulling ink from your tattoo.
It takes a while for tattoo ink to set into the lower layers of skin, and while your tattoo is still healing, you will have plenty of ink still sitting in the upper layers. This unset ink can be pulled out when a scab comes off, leading to a patchy-looking tattoo that will take longer to heal and may require a touch-up from your artist.
If a scab is still set relatively deep, pulling it out can lead to pitting and scarring, greatly increasing healing times and potentially permanently damaging the area.
Scratch Your Tattoo – Scratching can cause more damage than picking at scabs in many instances. When you pick at a scab, you are only pulling one off at a time, but when you start to scratch at a tattoo, you can cause more damage by pulling off many scabs in a single movement and tearing through multiple layers of skin.
Your fingernails are also home to a host of infection-causing bacteria that would love nothing more but to find a way into your now-scabless wound.
If your tattoo itches and you’re struggling to resist the urge to scratch it, take a look at our guide on how to stop your tattoo from itching.
Smother Your Tattoo in Lotion – Although you should absolutely apply lotion to a new tattoo to keep it nourished and hydrated, you never want to apply too much. When you smother a tattoo with a thick layer of lotion, any moisture trapped between the lotion and the skin will get soaked up by your scabs, making them soggy and gooey – this is commonly known as tattoo bubbling.
When your scabs have turned to this oozy consistency, it will become much easier for them to get stuck to clothing and other materials. This increases the likelihood that they will get ripped off.
See a detailed review of my favorite tattoo lotions and ointments here.
Submerge Your Tattoo in Water – As above; the scabs will soak up the water, turning them sticky and gooey. Most bodies of water also contain large amounts of varying forms of bacteria. It’s always advisable to keep out of any bodies of water (apart from the shower) for about a month after getting a new tattoo to help prevent infection.
How to Prevent Thick Scabs From Forming
Although it’s impossible to prevent your tattoo from scabbing completely, it is possible to reduce the likelihood of thick, ugly scabs forming on your beautiful new tattoo.
After your artist has completed your tattoo and is happy with it, they will clean the area with antiseptic soap and wrap it with a plastic film or surgical cloth.
When you come around to taking this wrap off (which will be whenever your artist tells you to), you will likely find your tattoo covered in leaky ink, blood, and plasma.
This is completely normal, and the oozing will proceed to happen for the next couple of days, but it is the clear runny plasma leaking out of your tattoo that you should be on alert for.
This clear fluid is the initial building block in the scabbing process, and therefore any thick covering of plasma will lead to a thick scab forming over the area.
To minimize the risk of thick scabs forming, you can gently wash the area with lukewarm (mild) soapy water to try and get as much plasma off as possible. You should continue to wash your tattoo 2-3 times a day to prevent excess oozing.
Can I Swim With a Scabbing Tattoo?
Swimming with a scabbing tattoo is not generally recommended. The delicate healing process of a new tattoo can be disrupted by exposing it to water, particularly chlorinated or salt water found in pools and oceans. These types of water can potentially dry out the tattoo, interfere with the healing process, or introduce harmful bacteria, risking an infection.
Moreover, soaking in water can lead to the tattoo’s ink leaking out, potentially damaging the clarity and brightness of your tattoo. It is advised to avoid swimming until your tattoo has fully healed, which usually takes around 2-4 weeks.
Can I Apply Sunscreen on a Scabbing Tattoo?
While protecting your skin from the harmful effects of the sun is crucial, it’s generally safer to avoid applying sunscreen directly onto a scabbing tattoo. Sunscreen chemicals can potentially irritate the sensitive skin, possibly interfering with the tattoo’s healing process.
Furthermore, rubbing the sunscreen into your skin can disrupt the scabbing process and lead to ink loss. A safer approach is to physically cover the tattoo with clothing or use shade whenever possible until the tattoo has completely healed. Once healed, it’s then highly recommended to apply sunscreen on your tattoo regularly to protect it from sun damage and fading.
Can I Exercise With a Scabbing Tattoo?
Exercising with a scabbing tattoo requires extra caution. Intense workouts that cause excessive sweat can lead to potential complications in the healing process of your tattoo. Sweat carries bacteria, and excessive sweating can also cause the tattoo to become overly moist, which can risk infection.
Workouts involving a lot of movement can also cause friction on the tattooed area, potentially damaging the scabs. If you do decide to exercise, it’s recommended to take it easy and avoid exercises that directly impact the tattooed area. Remember to clean the tattoo thoroughly after your workout. Consult with your tattoo artist or a healthcare professional for personalized advice on exercising with a new tattoo.
Do not worry about scabs forming on your tattoo as long as they’re mostly light and small. Just ensure you follow the tips and suggestions advised above, and in good time, the scabs will drop off naturally, leaving a clearer, sharper tattoo shining through from underneath.