Tattoo scarring is a condition with multiple causes. Some people get tattoo scars from their initial tattoos due to problems that arise during the tattooing process and healing. Other tattoo scars can form after tattoo removal. Once you get a tattoo, your risk for scarring can rise dramatically in either case.

One possible cause of tattoo scarring is the healing process post-ink. At first, scarring and healing can look alike. During the first few weeks after getting your tattoo, your skin is red and inflamed from the wounds created by the inking needles. This is normal, and not necessarily a scar.

However, if you observe certain symptoms that persist a month or two after your tattoo, after the skin has completely healed, a scar can become visible. Once your tattoo heals, the ink should be smooth along your skin. However, scarring can cause the following symptoms:

  • pink to red skin, even after the tattoo has completely healed
  • raised, puffy lines where the needle was used during tattooing
  • distortion or pitting of the skin
  • distorted coloring within the tattoo

When getting a new tattoo, aftercare is crucial to prevent scars. You shouldn’t scratch or pick at scabs that form around the tattoo. For added protection, wear a bandage over the tattoo for the first 24 hours. You should also avoid submerging the tattoo in water.

Once a tattoo heals and a scar develops, there’s little you can do about it. The scar will fade with time. You can also try some of the following home remedies, but there’s little evidence they’ll remove it completely.

Scar ointment

A scar-fading ointment, such as Bio Oil or Mederma, may help diminish scars. You’ll need to wear sunscreen so the scar doesn’t darken while wearing the ointment.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera is known for its skin-healing properties. It’s most beneficial for wounds, particularly burns. It’s not known whether aloe vera will actually heal a tattoo scar.

Moisturizers

Keeping your skin moisturized can reduce excess dryness around the scar. While the moisturizer won’t remove the scar, it can make it less noticeable.

Tattoo touch-up

If you have significant color distortion, your tattoo artist might recommend a touch-up. This may not be an ideal treatment if you have significant keloid scar tissue, as tattooing these areas is extremely difficult because these types of scars are raised from the skin.

Makeup

An alternative to a touchup is to wear camouflaging makeup. The downside is that the makeup can come off in water and high humidity.

Microdermabrasion

A healed tattoo that leaves a scar behind may be treated at home with a microdermabrasion kit. This technique involves a chemical scrub that removes the top layer of skin. The result is a smoother, more even-tone appearance. You will need to use the treatment at least once a week for optimal results.

Tattoos are a permanent art form. A tattoo artist inserts the ink in the middle layer of skin. When done incorrectly, the process can also cause permanent scarring.

A reputable and experienced tattoo artist will insert the needles and ink just right without going too deep into your skin. Scarring can happen from poor technique resulting from tattooing into the deeper dermal layers. As these tissues attempt to heal, scarring can develop from the skin producing collagen. Instead of a smooth finish, you could be left with art that’s raised like keloids, or sunken in. The colors may also be distorted.

It’s likelier for tattoo scars to be caused by poor aftercare. Follow the artist’s instructions for aftercare. Below are some of the most common scenarios that can lead to scars.

An inability to heal

On average, it takes about two weeks for a tattoo to completely heal. Some people are naturally more susceptible to scarring from lack of healing. This is something to consider ahead of time. If your skin has a hard time healing from wounds, then tattooing can also cause you some problems.

Pulling or scratching at the wound

Tattoos are wounds. They must heal properly before you’ll see the end result. It’s completely natural for a tattoo wound to scab over — you must resist pulling off these scabs, as scar tissue can form.

Tattoo wound-healing can also be an itchy process. You must avoid scratching your new ink, as this can lead to scar tissue, too.

Infection

When bacteria encounter a fresh tattoo wound, an infection may develop. This can lead to more issues with the tattoo itself, not to mention the rest of your body if the infection spreads. Skin infections can quickly become inflamed, which can further disrupt the healing process of the tattoo and potentially warp the ink.

If you think your tattoo is infected, see your doctor right away. Signs of an infection include pus, redness, and significant swelling. Seeing a doctor sooner rather than later can help prevent the spread of the infection. Early treatment with oral or topical antibiotics may also help you save your ink without further damage.

Sometimes scars develop after professional tattoo removal. Laser removal is one of the most standard methods of tattoo removal, but it can cause keloids to develop in place of the original tattoo. Furthermore, lasers may not remove all the colors, which may leave you with both a scar and spotty pigmentation.

If you still want to remove your tattoo entirely, talk to a dermatologic surgeon about all of the removal options and possible side effects. You can also ask them about methods that are less likely to leave scars, such as ingenol mebutate gel.

Other options for tattoo removal that may be less likely to scar include:

Tattoos are a commitment that can’t be removed easily. Getting a tattoo, or getting one removed, can increase your risk for scarring. If you’re thinking of getting new ink, shop around for an experienced artist with an extensive portfolio. Talk to a dermatologist if you’re thinking of tattoo removal. They’ll know the best approach for your situation while also reducing your risk for significant scarring.