Getting a new tattoo is a three-part process: First, you get inked, then you let your tattoo heal for a few weeks, and finally, you admire the artwork that’s now on your skin.

It’s important to remember that getting to that last step takes time and will be uncomfortable. What’s more, it’s very important to get the first two steps right so that you can avoid any complications and have a great end result.

Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong in this process. One of the most common issues during the healing process is tattoo bubbling.

When this happens, you’ll notice that the scabs on your healing tattoo swell up and become soft and gooey. These bubbly scabs easily stick to clothing and can accidentally be pulled off when you’re caring for your tattoo.

While tattoo bubbling is often harmless, if you ignore it there’s a chance you could damage the appearance of your tattoo. Untreated tattoo bubbling can also increase the chances of getting an infection.

Taking care of a healing tattoo is tricky. In the beginning, your tattoo may feel wet and gooey but it will dry out as time passes.

As your tattooed skin heals, it will begin to scab. This is totally normal. It’s important not to pick at or scratch off the scabs, as this can ruin your tattoo.

That’s easier said than done, as scabbing tattoos can get itchy as they dry out. Keeping your tattoo moist — but not too moist — can cut down on itchiness.

Tattoo bubbling is what happens when scabs become too wet. This begins when you don’t fully dry off your tattoo after showering, and scabs become saturated with water. Then you apply too much ointment or lotion.

Tattoo bubbling increases your risks of damaging your tattoo and getting an infection.

The more surface area your tattoo covers, the more likely your risk of tattoo bubbling. However, bubbling can affect tattoos of any size and color. Tattoo bubbling can happen during the healing stage of a new tattoo.

Getting a tattoo involves breaking the skin with small ink-coated needles. This damages your skin and gives germs a chance to enter and make you sick.

It’s important to get your tattoo from a licensed professional with clean tattooing equipment in a clean tattoo parlor. Yet, no matter how professional your tattoo artist is, when you get a new tattoo you always run the risk of infection.

A healthy tattoo may be a bit red, raised-up, or itchy when it’s healing, and that’s no concern. It’s also normal for your tattoo to leak a clear liquid called plasma until it begins to scab. Plasma helps your tattoo heal.

Tattoo bubbling can cause the scabs that form to protect your healing tattoo to bubble up and fall or get rubbed off. This gives bacteria a path to get into your skin and cause infection.

The signs of an infected tattoo include:

  • increasing redness around and on your tattoo
  • increasing or continued levels of pain around and on your tattoo
  • an itchy, red, bumpy rash around and on your tattoo
  • fever
  • chills
  • pus leaving your tattoo
  • open sores on your tattoo

If your tattoo starts bubbling, you need to dry out your tattoo as quickly as possible. Here’s what to do:

  • Leave ointment or lotion out of your tattoo aftercare routine for 1 day.
  • Don’t wash your tattoo until it’s fully dry.
  • Be careful not to touch or allow clothing or accessories to touch your bubbling tattoo, as this can rip scabs off and ruin your tattoo.
  • Leave your tattoo exposed to dry until the scabs appear harder and more attached to your skin. This may take several hours.
  • Return to your normal aftercare routine the next day, being extra careful about drying your tattoo completely before applying a small amount of ointment or lotion.

If you’re able to dry out tattoo bubbling before you accidentally rub the scabs off, you probably won’t ruin your tattoo.

You can easily ruin your tattoo if you aren’t careful with tattoo bubbling and your scabs, along with ink, are lifted off your skin. You can also ruin your tattoo if your tattoo bubbling leads to an infection.

If you experience tattoo bubbling, be very careful to avoid clothing or accessories that can rub against your tattoo. Also, avoid touching or washing your tattoo until it dries. This minimizes the risk of removing any scabs and ruining your tattoo.

Always follow the aftercare instructions given to you by your tattoo artist. Most tattoo artists stick to a similar routine. This involves:

  • Leaving the bandage or wrap your tattoo artist placed on your tattoo for a few hours immediately after you get inked.
  • Gently washing your tattoo three to four times a day, for 3 to 4 days, with unscented soap, then drying and applying a very thin layer of unscented healing ointment.
  • Continuing the washing routine for up 2 to 3 weeks but replacing the ointment with unscented lotion after 3 or 4 days.

The best way to stop tattoo bubbling is to prevent it in the first place. Some tips to prevent tattoo bubbling include:

  • Avoid waterlogging your tattoo when showering or washing it.
  • Stand with your tattoo away from the water when washing your whole body in the shower to avoid soaking your tattoo.
  • Avoid baths or soaking of any kind for a few weeks.
  • Make sure your tattoo is fully dry before you apply ointment or lotion.
  • Avoid applying too much ointment or lotion.
  • If you apply too much ointment or lotion, blot the excess ointment or lotion off with a clean paper towel before it starts to bubble.

If you think you have an infected tattoo, see your doctor right away. Tattoo infections, like all infections, can be serious. If left untreated for too long, an infection can also ruin your new tattoo.

Tattoo bubbling is a common issue experienced by many people with new tattoos during the healing process. Usually, tattoo bubbling is not a major cause for concern and can be easily treated.

It’s important to take care of tattoo bubbling right away to prevent infection and tattoo damage. The best way to avoid tattoo bubbling is to avoid oversaturating and overmoisturizing your skin.