Healing Tattoos Looking Scaly: What Does It Mean?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on October 12, 2019
    Last Updated: November 28, 2020

If you have a new tattoo and it’s looking scaly, you’re probably freaking out. Scaled or flaked tattoo skin might mean you’re experiencing an allergic reaction or that you have an infection. However, most of the time, it’s a perfectly normal part of the tattoo healing process.

Make sure you follow aftercare instructions to avoid infections and contact your tattoo artist or doctor to make sure you are out of harm’s way.

Your new tattoo looks scaly due to:

  • Normal healing
  • Infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Not healing properly

After-Ink Symptoms

Experiencing scaly skin, pus or red lesions might mean that the healing process isn’t going normally. Instead, you might be experiencing an allergy or infection, or most commonly, none of the above!

There are some common symptoms you might experience while your skin is recovering. However, in case of doubt, consult with your tattoo artist, as he or she will be able to best know if what you’re experiencing is normal or not. If you’re particularly worried, you should always consult a medical professional.

Wrinkly or scaly-looking tattoos are completely normal as a tattoo moves through the healing process, and should be absolutely nothing to worry about in most cases. The scaliness will usually subside within 4-8 weeks after the tattoo has finished healing.

Shiny and scaly – a common sight in healing tattoos

Below are a few common symptoms that can accompany a scaly tattoo.

Itching and Swelling 

After getting inked, your skin goes through a healing process that can involve scabs, itchiness, redness and swelling.

Follow aftercare guidelines such as cleaning the area every day, avoiding sunlight and not submerging the skin in water. You can also carefully ice your tattoo if swelling is a problem.


Pimples can also happen on or around your tattoo, especially if you apply too much ointment while it’s still healing. Make sure to avoid doing so, as this leads to clogged pores and skin inflammation. Wash your hands before you touch your tattoo to prevent bacteria from coming in contact with it.


You may experience light bleeding while you’re getting inked and when you get home. This is totally normal, as the tattoo needle creates an open wound in the skin. You may also have some clear liquid leaking out of your skin. This happens because blood and plasma are starting the healing process.


As the tattoo starts to heal, scabbing starts to occur, which sometimes can be confused with skin scaling. Even though it might be itchy, avoid scratching since you’ll interfere with the healing process, and also ruin your design.

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

You can apply a non-scented and alcohol-free lotion to reduce itchiness.

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. Click here to buy from Amazon.

Allergic Reactions 

Scaly or flaked skin may also mean you’re experiencing an allergic reaction. If this happens, make sure to visit a doctor or dermatologist. 

Tattoo Pigment

Your tattoo might look scaly because of allergic reactions, which occurs due to the presence of the ink pigment in the skin. This is common and usually occurs with red tattoo pigments because they may contain cinnabar, which is a mercury derivative that has been proven to cause different allergic reactions.

In case of an allergic reaction, consult your doctor.

Red Rash

You might get a red rash on your tattoo that can also be bumpy or itchy. These symptoms may be an indicator that you’re experiencing an allergy. This can happen after you get a new tattoo or even after months or years have already passed and are signs that your body is rejecting the ink.

To treat this issue, you can cool the area down by applying a cold compress, which will alleviate the pain. You can also take an antihistamine to reduce itching.

How To Avoid Scaly-Looking Tattoos

After getting inked, your skin is an open wound, so it requires time to heal with proper care. You can try to prevent skin scaling by making sure to protect and treat your tattoo thoroughly, which will help to prevent infections or allergies:

  • Pick a tattoo studio and artist with a good reputation
  • Stay out of the sun
  • Keep the skin clean and follow aftercare instructions
  • Avoid using too much ointment during the tattoo’s healing process
  • Don’t scratch your skin or the scabs
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching the area
  • Contact your tattoo artist, dermatologist or doctor if you experience any issues

It must be noted, however, that even if you’ve cared for your tattoo perfectly, it may still continue to look scaly and shiny for a while. As long as there aren’t any infections or allergic reactions present, the tattoo should return to normal in due time.

Goodbye, Tattoo Troubles 

Scaly-looking tattoos can be a sign of skin infections or allergic reactions, but are usually nothing to worry about. After getting inked, be extra careful with how you treat the area and things should turn out just fine.