Is Tattoo Scabbing Normal? What NOT To Do When Your Tattoo Scabs
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 see how you should treat scabbing tattoos properly to ensure they heal quickly and effectively.
Is Tattoo Scabbing Normal?
For the most part, a healing tattoo with a light layer of scabbing over it is completely normal. When you get a tattoo, you are essentially causing large amounts of trauma 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 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.
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 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.
On the other hand, if mostly all 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 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 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.
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.
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 Do Tattoos Scab and How Long Does Scabbing Last For
Generally, your new tattoo will begin to form scabs at around the 3-day mark. For the first few days, the area of skin will be oozing plasma in preparation for the scabbing. After these first few days, your scabs will start to harden and set over the wounded skin.
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 – so be patient if this is the case with your specific tattoo.
What NOT to do when a Tattoo Scabs
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.
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 into your skin, 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.
Important Tattoo Aftercare Steps You Must Ensure You Take
Some of our other awesomely-helpful guides:
How to Prevent Thick Scabs from Forming
Although it’s impossible to completely prevent your skin 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.
For the first several days while cleaning your tattoo, you will likely see some excess ink leaking out from your skin 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 skin should be completely normal and nothing to worry about.
How to clean a new tattoo:
Another thing to look watch out for is your scabs sticking to your bed sheets at night. If this happens, drag your sheets to the bathroom and soak the stuck area with lukewarm water until the bedding is damp enough to pull free with no effort.
This tactic should also be applied if any other types of material/clothing might become stuck to a tattooed area.
What to do if a Tattoo is Scabbing Badly
As already mentioned, the number one rule if you have one or many scabs that have formed heavily is to not pick or scratch at them. Although the bigger and badder the scab, the more inviting they are to pick off, thicker scabs will normally do a lot more damage to your tattoo than smaller ones if they are pulled away prematurely. So resist the urge.
Also, the bigger the scab, the easier it will be to catch it on clothing and other objects, so you’re going to have to be extra-cautious when putting on or removing clothing, and doing general day-to-day tasks, etc.
When taking a shower, try as best as possible to keep the scabbed area away from direct water contact. The more water that lands on the tattoo, the more water the scab is going to soak up, making it more prone to catching on things until the water dissipates.
Be very careful when cleaning and drying the tattoo, especially when going over the scabbed area. When drying, very gently pat the area dry and continue to check that the scab doesn’t stick to the paper towel as you pat.
If the tattoo scab becomes dry and starts to crack, apply a small amount of moisturizer in order to rehydrate the area. Don’t apply too much though, and make sure there’s no water or moisture on the area before adding the lotion. If any moisture is trapped between the skin and the layer of lotion, the scab will soak up the moisture and go sticky and soggy.
The best tattoo lotion I've ever personally used is a (vegan) tattoo aftercare product called Hustle Butter. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process - not only to keep your tattoo really well hydrated, but it's also very good at soothing that annoying itching and irritation.
If your thick scabbing is accompanied with extreme redness, bruising or swelling, then it's recommended to go and see your artist or doctor as soon as possible in case there’s an infection present.
My Tattoo looks Faded after Scabbing...
Please note that it will take at least a month or two for your tattoo to return to its full clarity and sharpness after getting a new tattoo. Even though the scabs will have peeled and flaked away, your tattoo will still generally sit underneath a layer or two of dead skin. It’s not until these dead layers of skin flakes away that you will begin to see the true color and sharpness return to your tattoo.
However, if you are concerned that your tattoo may have lost some ink during the scabbing process, you may wish to return to your artist for their opinion/reassurance.
My Tattoo Scab is Bleeding – What Should I Do?
Sometimes, as with any type of scab, the scabs forming over your tattoo can accidentally be pulled off or get caught on another object/piece of clothing, which may cause the scab to bleed.
The bleeding in itself means that the scab was probably set quite deep into the skin at the point of being pulled off, meaning that depending on how big the damaged area was, there is a chance of ink being lost in the process.
You won’t have much of an idea of how badly your tattoo was damaged until the whole scab has dropped off and the healing has completed, but once you're able to see the full extent of the damage, and you can see that there are some patchy areas, you should go to your artist to enquire about a touch-up.
Of course, just because your tattoo scab has been bleeding doesn’t mean that any damage has definitely been done. There is a big change that your tattoo will likely still turn out absolutely fine.
You have probably reached this article in a quest to make sure the scabbing on your tattoo is normal and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it - and you should now hopefully be aware that, apart from a couple of uncommon circumstances, tattoo scabs are most-definitely completely normal!
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.
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