Why Does My Tattoo Feel Sensitive to Touch?

  • Written By Dan Hunter on February 02, 2023
    Last Updated: April 7, 2023

Tattoos can scab, peel and itch, but they can also be quite sensitive to the touch during the healing process. Whether it’s a new tattoo or one that’s been around for a while, sensitivity can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience.

Several common causes of tattoo sensitivity include:

  • Sun exposure and sunburn
  • Bacterial or viral infections
  • Allergic reactions to ink or ointments
  • Scratching or picking at the tattoo
  • Touching the tattoo with dirty hands

These factors can lead to increased sensitivity, swelling, redness, and discomfort. By understanding the root cause of your tattoo sensitivity, you can take steps to relieve the pain and ensure that your tattoo stays healthy and vibrant for years to come.

Common Causes of Tattoo Sensitivity

Sun Exposure and Sunburn

Tattoos are sensitive to UV light, and long-term exposure to the sun can cause your tattoo to fade and become discolored. Sunburns can also cause discomfort and sensitivity, as the skin is already damaged and becomes more susceptible to pain and itching. To avoid sunburn, it’s recommended to protect your tattoo with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and to cover up with clothing when spending extended periods of time in the sun.

Additionally, it’s important to be aware that new tattoos are especially sensitive to sun exposure and can quickly burn, so it’s best to avoid excessive sun exposure for the first few weeks after getting a new tattoo. If you do need to be in the sun, make sure to wear loose, protective clothing to cover up the tattoo because sunscreen shouldn’t be applied to the area until it has completely healed (this could cause even more sensitivity problems).

Bacterial or Viral Infections

If your tattoo is not properly cared for during the healing process, it can become infected with bacteria or viruses. Symptoms of an infected tattoo include redness, swelling, pain and discharge. If you suspect that your tattoo is infected, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible, as untreated infections can lead to more serious health problems.

To prevent infections, it’s crucial to follow the aftercare instructions provided by your tattoo artist. This typically involves cleaning the tattoo with a mild soap and water, and then applying a thin layer of an aftercare ointment or balm. Avoid exposing the tattoo to dirt, bacteria, or other sources of infection, and avoid soaking it in water, such as in a bathtub or swimming pool, until it’s fully healed.

Allergic Reactions to Ink or Ointments

In some cases, ingredients within tattoo inks or (rarely) aftercare products can cause an allergic reaction to the skin during the healing process. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include redness, itching, swelling, and a rash. If you suspect that you are having an allergic reaction, it’s important to stop using the product and to seek medical attention.

In some cases, an allergy test may be recommended to determine which ingredient in the ink or aftercare product is causing the reaction. Your tattoo artist or dermatologist can usually recommend alternative products that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Scratching or Picking at the Tattoo

One of the most essential things to remember when your tattoo is healing is to NOT pick the scabs off, no matter how tempting. This also goes for pulling off pieces of peeling skin. Heavy scabs that are not yet ready to fall off are still forming deep enough into your skin to affect the layers in which the tattoo ink has been set, meaning that pulling a scab off prematurely can pull ink away from the area, potentially leaving pits and colorless spots in your skin.

To avoid scratching or picking, it’s important to keep the tattoo moisturized with an aftercare ointment or balm and to avoid wearing tight clothing that may rub against the tattoo. If the tattoo is itchy, you can gently tap or pat the area to relieve the itching, rather than scratching it.

Scabbing tattoos can become extremely itchy.

Touching the Tattoo

Touching your tattoo with dirty hands can introduce bacteria and other harmful substances into the wound, which can lead to an infection. It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your tattoo and to avoid touching the tattoo with unclean hands throughout the healing process.

How to Relieve Tattoo Sensitivity

Use a Cold Compress

Applying cold compresses to your tattoo can help to relieve sensitivity and reduce swelling. You can use a cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables, or even a clean towel that has been soaked in cold water. Apply the cold compress to your tattoo for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times a day, until you notice an improvement. However, it’s important not to apply anything frozen directly to the skin. Always have a clean cloth protecting the area from anything too cold.

Keep the Tattoo Clean and Moisturized

It’s essential to keep your tattoo clean and moisturized throughout the healing process to avoid sensitivity and discomfort. Clean your tattoo with lukewarm water and gentle fragrance-free soap, and apply a thin layer of fragrance-free lotion or ointment to keep it hydrated. Avoid using creams or ointments that contain alcohol, as these can dry out your skin and increase sensitivity.

Avoid Direct Sunlight

Sunlight can cause your tattoo to become sensitive and irritated, so it’s essential to avoid exposing it to direct sunlight as much as possible. If you do need to be in the sun, cover your tattoo with clothing or apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

Avoid Tight Clothing that Rubs Against the Tattoo

Tight clothing can rub against your tattoo, causing sensitivity and irritation. During the healing process, it’s best to wear loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t come into contact with your tattoo.

See a Dermatologist or Tattoo Artist if Experiencing Severe or Prolonged Sensitivity

If you are experiencing severe or prolonged sensitivity, it’s essential to seek the advice of a dermatologist or your tattoo artist. They can examine your tattoo, diagnose the cause of the sensitivity, and recommend the best course of treatment to help you get relief.


Tattoo sensitivity can be a frustrating experience, but it’s important to take it seriously and take steps to relieve the discomfort. Whether you’re dealing with a new tattoo or one that’s been around for a while, by keeping it clean, moisturized, and protected from the sun, you can help to reduce sensitivity and keep your tattoo looking its best.

Suppose you’re experiencing severe or prolonged sensitivity. In that case, it’s essential to seek the advice of a dermatologist or tattoo artist to help you get relief and ensure your tattoo doesn’t become damaged.

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