Is Tattoo Scabbing Something You Should Worry About?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on March 26, 2016
    Last Updated: October 26, 2020

Tattoo scabbing on your first piece of ink can be extremely worrying if you’re not sure what’s supposed to happen throughout the tattoo healing process.

However, while a crusty new tattoo is definitely not the end of the world, picking your tattoo scabs can have disastrous consequences.

Continue reading to learn how you should treat scabbing tattoos properly to ensure they heal quickly and effectively.


Are Scabs Normal?

Many people worry that scabbing indicates that there’s something wrong, but there is no need to worry as it’s a normal process during tattoo healing, and means that your body is correctly responding to the trauma recently caused to the tattooed skin.

When you get a tattoo, you are essentially causing large amounts of damage to a specific area of skin thanks to the multiple needles puncturing your skin hundreds of thousands of times in a single sitting.

This tattooed area is a wound, and the only way for your body to close a wound and regenerate the skin to prevent infection is to produce scabbing at the start of the healing process, while the skin below proceeds to repair itself.

This scabbing process starts when a component within your blood called plasma starts to ooze out of 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.

Do All Tattoos Scab?

In one way or another, yes, they do. You might only normally picture scabs as being thick, scaly lumps of pus and blood-filled skin, but this is not 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.

This scabbed skin will be slightly raised compared to other areas, and will likely look cloudy and dull.

tattoo scabbing
Raised, light scabbing over the tattoo

I’m sure you’re wondering if the commonly-seen thick, dark, crusty scabs are normal on a tattoo too; and yes, they are. These heavy, unsightly scabs usually appear in areas 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.

Scabs are also more prone to forming over the area if the tattoo is particularly large or detailed, as the longer a tattooing session goes on for, the more trauma that is caused to your skin, and the more likely it is for certain areas to form a thicker scab compared to the rest of the tattoo.

This tattoo is scabbing quite heavily, so will probably peel away in larger flakes

On the other hand, if most of your tattoo is covered or scattered with thick, dense scabs, then this may not be an ‘average’ scabbing situation. Sometimes tattoos can scab heavier than others for reasons.

If the tattoo artist is heavy-handed or inexperienced then it’s possible they’re pressing the needle down too firmly into your skin, piercing more layers and causing more trauma than necessary. If this is the case, it may be best to speak about your concerns with your tattoo artist or studio owner.

As well as a heavy-handed artist, 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.

A tattoo that is scabbing, but is also quite clearly infected, as you can see by the areas of pus and discoloration

Tattoo infections can cause a whole host of various unsightly symptoms (including thick scabbing), depending on the type of bacteria. If you are at all concerned that you may have an infected tattoo, get in touch with your artist or a doctor as soon as possible.

Don’t Worry!

As already stated, tattoo infections are rare, and scabbing alone is normally not a sign of infection. If you have some heavy scabbing but no other symptoms, then try waiting for a few days to see if the scabbing reduces/subsides at all.

However, it’s still advisable to see a doctor as soon as possible if your scabs are accompanied by severe or worsening: swelling, bruising, redness or pain.

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 below traits, it’s probably best to get the area checked out by a doctor to ensure your tattoo 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 Does The Scabbing Period Last?

Generally, a fresh tattoo will begin to form scabs at around the 3-day mark. For the first few days of the healing process, the area will be oozing plasma in preparation for the scabbing. After these first few days, your scabs will start to harden and set over the wound.

The scabs will remain until the healing process has completed and the top layers of skin have closed up. By this point, the scabs will have served their purpose and will begin to peel and flake away, along with any other dead skin along the surface. This peeling and flaking stage begins at around the 7-day point, and all but the thickest of scabs should have fallen off by the 10-day mark.

If you do 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’s going to take to heal.

The tattoo scabs will eventually start to drop off/flake away

What Not To Do During Scabbing

There are some very important rules that everybody should adhere to when it comes to a scabbing tattoo. Failure to stick to these rules can lead to a number of problems including, an increase in healing times, a loss of ink from your tattoo, and infection.

DO NOT:

Pick your Scabs – This is the number one rule when it comes to your tattoo aftercare. No matter how big, how small, how dark or how ugly your scabs are – if you begin to pick them off, you greatly increase your chances of pulling ink out of your tattoo along with the scab.

It takes a while for the 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, and any of this ink can easily be pulled out when a scab comes off, leading to a patchy looking tattoo that will take longer to heal and will probably 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 – This is just as bad as picking and pulling at your scabs. Scratching can actually cause more damage in some situations. Obviously, when you pick at a scab, you are only pulling one off, but when you start to scratch at a tattoo, you can cause a lot more damage by pulling off many scabs in a single movement.

Not only this, but your fingernails are home to a whole 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 in order to keep it nourished and hydrated, you never want to apply too much. What happens when you smother a tattoo with a thick layer of lotion is that 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 and 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. Not only this, but remember that most bodies of water 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 completely prevent your tattoo from scabbing, it is very possible to reduce the likelihood of thick, ugly scabs from forming on your beautiful new tattoo.

After your tattooist has completed your tattoo and is happy with it, they will clean the area with antiseptic soap and proceed to wrap it with a plastic film or surgical cloth.

When you come round to taking this wrap off (which will be whenever your artist tells you to take it off), you will likely find your tattoo is 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 is going to lead to a big thick scab forming over the area.

What you can do to minimize the risk of thick scabs forming is to gently wash the area with lukewarm (mild) soapy water to try and get as much plasma off as possible.

You can find out how to correctly wash your brand new tattoo in our huge tattoo aftercare bible.

You should continue to wash your tattoo 2-3 times a day to wipe off any excess oozing.

Don’t Worry!

For the first several days while cleaning your tattoo, you will likely see some excess ink leaking out from your tattoo and showing up on the paper towel you use to pat your tattoo dry.

As long as you’re being gentle to the area and only washing the tattoo with soapy water using your fingers, and only cleaning the tattoo by patting it with a paper towel and not rubbing it, this excess ink being expelled from the area should be completely normal and nothing to worry about.

Summary

Do not worry about the scabs on your tattoo as long as they’re mainly light and small (with the odd big ugly one thrown in). Just make sure you follow the tips and suggestions advised above, and in good time the scabs will drop off naturally, leaving a much clearer, sharper tattoo shining through from underneath.