We’ll go over the healing stages of a tattoo, what types of tattoos take longer to heal, and the best aftercare practices to keep it clean.
Tattoos go through stages that are a natural and important part of the healing process. The healing process can be divided into four distinct stages:
1. Oozing and redness
Your tattoo artist will bandage your tattoo. They’ll tell you when to take it off, anywhere from a few hours to a week.
Once you remove the bandage you may notice fluid coming from your tattoo, or that the surrounding skin is very red. It’s also normal to see ink coming out of the tattoo, sometimes called “weeping.”
This will likely last for a week or so, but if the redness and oozing doesn’t subside after a week, you’ll want to check in with your doctor.
It’s not uncommon for wounds to itch as they heal — and a tattoo is essentially a wound.
In the first and second week, your new tattoo will likely start to itch and flake. Resist the urge to scratch it. Applying gentle lotion should help. You can also put an ice pack over your clothes to numb the itch.
If it gets unbearable, ask your doctor about taking an over-the-counter antihistamine.
In the second, third, and fourth weeks, your tattoo will probably begin to peel. This skin is sloughing off as the body’s natural response to what it perceives as injury.
The tattoo itself won’t flake off. It’s just a normal part of the process. In fact, it shows your tattoo is healing well.
After the first month, your tattoo will look vibrant and fully healed. It’s easy to remember aftercare in the first few weeks, but it’s essential to keep it up for several months. Doing so will help the tattoo stay clean and look its best.
The length of healing time depends on your tattoo’s location. For example, a tattoo near a joint (like the hand or ankle) or anywhere that flexes (like a wrist) will take longer than a place that doesn’t move much.
Larger tattoos and ones with intricate color work will also take longer to heal.
However, keep in mind the healing timeline also largely depends on each person’s body.
Practicing proper aftercare is essential in preventing infection in your tattoo and making sure it properly heals.
Keep your tattoo clean
Keeping your tattoo clean is essential to avoid infection. Use a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic soap to clean it. If you live in an area where the water is not safe to drink, wash your tattoo with distilled water instead, or boil your water first and let it cool. Let the tattoo fully dry before applying moisturizer.
Your tattoo artist will likely give you a thick ointment to use in the first few days, but after that you can switch to a lighter, gentle drugstore moisturizer like Lubriderm or Eucerin. It will also help with the itching.
Some people even like to use pure coconut oil, which is an antimicrobial. Just be sure to avoid products that contain fragrance, which can irritate your healing skin.
Don’t pick at scabs
Your tattoo will likely scab over and itch. Avoid the temptation to pick or scratch at the scabs. Scratching may change the look of the tattoo or cause scarring. You can apply moisturizer to help ease the itching.
If you notice your tattoo isn’t properly healing, see your doctor right away. Signs of improper healing include:
- Fever or chills. If you have flu symptoms like
fever and chills, it’s possible that your tattoo has become infected, or that you’re allergic to the ink. Instead of going back to your tattoo artist, see your doctor right away.
- Redness. It’s normal for your tattoo to be red and maybe even slightly puffy in the days after you get it done. If the redness persists, it may be an early sign that something is wrong.
- Oozing liquid. If fluid (especially green or yellowish in color) is oozing from your tattoo after a week, see your doctor.
- Swollen, puffy skin. The actual tattoo may be slightly puffy at first, but this swelling should quickly stop. The skin surrounding the tattoo shouldn’t be inflamed. If puffiness persists, it could be a sign that you’re allergic to the ink.
- Prolonged itching or hives. If you break out in hives in the days or weeks after getting a tattoo, see your doctor. Excessively itchy tattoos can also be a sign of an allergy. An allergic reaction to a tattoo
does not always happen immediately. It can take months or even years after getting the tattoo.
- Scarring. Your fresh tattoo is considered an open wound. Like all wounds, it will scab over as a natural healing response. A properly healed tattoo should not scar.
Every tattoo heals slightly differently depending on each person and where the tattoo is located. The healing process follows a four-stage healing timeline that includes oozing, itching, peeling, and continued aftercare.
It’s important to be consistent and strident about aftercare so your tattoo doesn’t get infected. If you see any signs that your tattoo isn’t properly healing, see your doctor as soon as possible.