When you get fresh ink, the last thing you want to see is the new art seemingly peeling away from your skin.

However, some peeling in the early stages of healing is completely normal. The tattoo process creates a wound in your skin, and peeling is your body’s way of getting rid of dry skin cells that have been affected as your skin heals.

On the flip side, excessive peeling after getting a tattoo could indicate something very different — especially if you’re seeing signs of an infection or inflammation.

Curious about whether your tattoo peeling is “normal”? Read on to learn what’s natural in the tattoo healing process and when peeling skin could be a sign of a problem.

The pain and time that comes with getting a tattoo is just the beginning. Your tattoo artist has just created a wound in your skin that must heal in order for your tattoo to look as it should.

In all, the healing process can take a few weeks.

During the tattooing process, needles penetrate both your upper and middle layers of skin. These are known as the epidermis and dermis, respectively.

As your skin cells do their job of healing, you’ll likely see exfoliation in action in the form of the dead skin cells peeling off, so new ones may be rejuvenated.

Without proper aftercare techniques, though, a fresh tattoo wound is extremely vulnerable to an infection and other issues within the first 2 weeks.

It’s important to follow your tattoo artist’s instructions and report any unusual symptoms.

When does a tattoo begin peeling?

Most tattoos usually start peeling by the end of the first week. This part comes after the initial bandaging required after you first get your tattoo done.

You might also have scabs that peel off on their own into the second week of the healing process.

You may also notice that your tattoo ink looks a little “dull” after your session. This has nothing to do with the ink itself. Rather, it’s attributed to the dead skin cells that have accumulated on top of your tattoo.

Once your skin has completed the natural peeling process, your colors should look fresh again.

Tattooed skin goes through a healing process, just as your skin takes time to heal after other types of wounds. You’ll likely experience:

  • pink or red skin at the site and surrounding area (not a widespread rash)
  • slight inflammation that doesn’t extend outside the tattoo
  • mild itchiness
  • peeling skin

While peeling is a normal part of tattoo healing, there are signs that could indicate your new ink isn’t healing correctly.

Keep an eye out for the following symptoms. If you notice any, see a healthcare provider.

Rashes

Red patches of skin could indicate an allergic reaction to tattoo ink.

If you have an inflammatory skin condition, getting a tattoo can also trigger a flare-up of your condition, which often looks like red patches. These skin conditions include:

  • eczema
  • rosacea
  • psoriasis

Inflammation

If your tattoo and surrounding skin is excessively swollen, red, and peeling, this could indicate a few possible issues. Inflammatory skin conditions could be a cause, as well as allergic reactions to tattoo pigment.

(If you see inflammation in an older, healed tattoo, this could be a symptom of a rare condition called sarcoidosis.)

Excessive itchiness

While some itchiness is expected with a healing tattoo, excessive itchiness isn’t. It may be a sign of:

  • infection
  • allergic reaction
  • inflammation

Do your best to avoid scratching the area. Scratching can make matters worse, and even distort the fresh ink.

Discharge

Any inflammation that’s accompanied by oozing could be a sign of an infection. See a healthcare provider right away if these symptoms are accompanied by a high fever and chills.

Scars

Scarring is a sign that your tattoo didn’t heal properly. You may need to see a dermatologist for advice on how to get rid of the scars while saving as much of the tattoo as possible.

A tattoo that doesn’t peel isn’t necessarily a sign of something wrong with your new ink. Everyone’s skin heals differently, so you might see peeling at a later time, or not many scabs at all.

Don’t self-induce peeling by scratching at your skin. This can lead to complications, including infection and scarring.

Proper aftercare is critical to your tattoo’s overall healing process. To ensure proper healing:

  • Remove bandages used at the tattoo parlor when your tattoo artist says to. This may be a few hours after the procedure or up to a week later.
  • Gently cleanse your tattoo with plain soap and water two to three times per day.
  • Apply petroleum jelly to your tattoo for the first few days.
  • Switch to an unscented moisturizing lotion by the end of the first week.
  • Wear loose clothing over the tattoo.

Remember that peeling is a normal part of healing, even when using the above aftercare methods.

To prevent complications:

  • Don’t use any soaps or ointments with fragrances.
  • Don’t pick at your tattoo or any peeling skin.
  • Don’t scratch your tattoo wound.
  • Don’t use over-the-counter ointments, such as Neosporin.
  • Don’t go swimming or spend time in a hot tub. (Showers are OK.)
  • Don’t place your tattoo in direct sunlight, and don’t use sunblock on it yet, either.
  • Avoid wearing overly tight clothing.

In all, your tattoo should heal within a few weeks. After this time, you shouldn’t see any peeling, swelling, or redness.

However, if peeling or other symptoms last longer than a month or two, see a dermatologist for advice.