Tattoo Healing Process
Getting tattoo is always exciting! So, after weeks or even months of preparation and design consultation with the artist, you finally will get your tattoo again (or for the first time). After hours of pain, you finally get that beauty and shimmering tattoo! But, it’s actually not done yet. After the tattoo session is done then comes the next crucial part, and that is the “healing phase”.
So, why this phase is crucial? It’s because the actual final results are also affected by how we treat the tattoo during this healing phase. Even after the artists had done their exquisite works, if we can’t take care our tattoo properly during healing stage, then it will diminish the tattoo quality, and sometimes in extreme case, the damages are quite significant that some touch ups are required. In addition, proper care of the tattoo would decrease the chance of getting infection during healing process.
For those who just got their first tattoo, this phase can be quite confusing and sometimes frightening due to mild or sometimes moderate (but normal!) effects that show up during healing stage. So that’s why I decided to make this article based on insights from some artists and some scientific journals, to increase our understanding about this process.
Now before we begin it’s worth noting that it’s not a good idea to get any tattoo if you have sunburn. The reason is, your skin were already damaged by the UV light (particularly the outermost layer), if you insist on getting tattoo, not only it will hurt you so much during tattoo process, it also will decrease the quality of the tattoo.
During tattoo process, the needles, not just only deliver the inks to our skin but it also will wound the skin. And like any other open wound, tattooed skin will protect itself from infectious bacteria by regeneration process on the site that had been damaged. This process can be divided into three stages, with total duration of four to six weeks. The deeper layer of skin, however, will continue to regenerate at slower rate over the next couple of months. Now we have summarized those stages into a table complete with the symptoms correlated to that stage and what you should do/don’t during this stage, and if you’re interested more about the detail we also have prepared the article down below the table.
Stage One: Open Wound
Referring to an article about wound healing in the Journal of International Medical Research, the skin regeneration process begins immediately after an injury. So, as soon as the artist has finished the tattoo, your skin will immediately initiate healing process. Not only that, it also start to produce plasma to commence clotting and scabbing to close the wound.
For the first aftercare during this stage, your artist will apply some antibacterial foam and will cover your tattoo with bandage or wrapper to protect it from bacteria or dusts. Please, keep the wrap or bandages on for up to 20 hours. However if you observe the bandage/wrapper become badly soaked with plasma or blood then you have to replace it, you can either visit the studio and ask the personnel to replace it or if you have your own wrapper and feel confident, you can change it by yourself.
If you decide to change it by yourself, or the time has come for you to unwrap the tattoo, then you have to do it very gently. Lift up the wrapper/bandage very slowly and gently, and if it sticks when you try to remove it, thoroughly wet the gauze with warm sterile water to loosen any dried blood or fluid. You also need to clean the tattoo, please use fragrance free soap or hypoallergenic soap, to avoid skin irritation caused by strong interaction between the damaged skin with chemicals inside the soap. Apply the soap to the area gently, and rinse it. Please don’t use rough wash cloths or towels as these could pull off any drying scabs and will prolong healing process and it also may damage the tattoo.
Now, during this stage, you will feel sore on your tattoo for several days, most people describe this feeling similar as getting moderate sunburn. Not only sore, you’ll also notice some inflammatory reaction on your skin (like redness on your skin or a little bit swollen). This is normal because your body trying to push more immune system-helping white blood cells to the area to assist in fighting foreign bodies trying to enter the open wound. The warmness, redness, and turgid around the area are caused by increased blood flow.
Not only that, your body may feel slightly tired for couple of days, similar to getting a cold. But this is usually happens if you had large tattoo session that took lots of hours to finish it. But stay calm, This is your bodies way of dealing with the trauma it has recently been put through. However, if you begin to experience extreme inflammation reaction and fever, or the symptoms last for more than a week, we advise you to see doctor to be safe.
During this stage you’ll notice that your tattooed skin will develop scabs, and it is best not to try removing them. And if you feel a little bit itchy, please DO NOT scratch it, as it will pull the scabs and creating open wound that will delay healing time and increase the probability of infection, in addition it also will damage your post-healing tattoo quality. We’d also like to advise you to avoid strenuous exercise, as it will trigger profuse sweating that will irritate your damaged skin. We’d also suggest you to avoid swimming activity as the chlorine inside swimming pool water may damage your tattoo during healing process, and the same rules applies to contact with sea water, please avoid it at all cost during healing process as salty water from sea could ruin your tattoo, in addition, sands and bacteria might increase the chance of infection.
You also need to clean the area routinely (twice a day, during shower), again please use fragrance free soap or hypoallergenic soap. After that, gently pat dry it with fresh paper towel. Make sure the surface is dry and clean before you put some aftercare lotion on it. If you have to alleviate the itch, you could gently tap the tattooed skin or apply some moisturizer (aftercare lotion or if you don’t have one you could use Aloe Vera or coconut oil for the alternatives). Please don’t apply petroleum-based skin products to your tattoo.
It is also important that keep your tattoo covered from sunlight during all stage of healing process as sunlight can actually degrade your tattoo quality and will increase the chance of sunburn which obviously can delay the healing process.
Stage Two – Itchy and Flaking
Now here comes the most annoying phase of healing process, because during this time usually people will feel itchy, and will notice that the skin around the tattoo may become a bit dry. Not only that, you also will notice that the scabs are well formed and some of them might starting to flake off (this process might take a week). Most people also reported that they experience some peeling similar like they would after sunburn.
But some tattoos may peel so lightly, that you may not even be able to observe it. And if that’s the case don’t worry it so much, even though I can assure you that the process will still be occurring. This flaking and itching are caused by dryness of the damaged and dead skin. No matter how tempting is the situation, PLEASE DO NOT PEEL THE SKIN BY YOURSELF, it will peel off naturally by itself, if you force peeled it, it will likely to damage your tattoo.
Please also remember this: DO NOT SCRATCH YOUR TATTOO. This is very important because it can ruin the tattoo quality , and not only that, it can also increase the probability of getting infection, as the flaky skin will forcefully peeled by your nails, recreating the open wound (that supposedly starting to healed!) allowing bacteria or germs from your nails to enter that wound. Instead of scratching just gently give light taps on the area that feels itchy.
Keep the area clean by washing it with fragrance free soap or hypoallergenic soap, not only it will decrease the chance of infection, it also helps the skin moisturize and can actually helps in alleviating the itch feeling. Apply some lotions (aftercare lotion or if you don’t have one you could use Aloe Vera or coconut oil for the alternatives) to further reduce the itchiness. But please make sure that your tattoo is completely dry before you apply the lotion as water trapped between the lotion and the skin can cause your scabs to soak up water. This makes the scabs far more likely to be pulled off by becoming stuck to something, such as bed sheets or clothing. And obviously, please don’t apply the lotion in excessive amount, because you’ll suffocate the tattooed skin-your skin needs to breathe while healing. If you accidently apply too much, gently wipe the excess with paper towel until only a faint shine can be seen on the surface.
Stage Three – Tattoo Looks Cloudy & Faded
During this period, majority of scabs and areas of flaky skin will diminish, although it is possible that some may still linger (again please do not peel them, they will peel by themselves naturally). Please continue to moisturize the area with aftercare lotion whenever your skin begins to look/feels dry.
You may also notice that your Tattoo will continue to look a little bit dull, cloudy or faded. But don’t worry it is normal as there is typically still a very fine dead layer of skin over the tattoo at this stage, and this will naturally flake away over the next month or two until your skin has completely regenerated back to normal. The sharpness and clarity of your tattoo will reappear when your brand new skin reaches the surface, although this can take a couple of months.
Although right now your skin should look back to normal, the deeper layers of skin will still actively regenerating, and it will take up to 4 months to completely heal, though your tattoo will start to look much clearer and sharper long before those 3-4 months are up. Most tattoo healing problems will have totally cleared up by this time too.
Extra: When should I be worried?
Generally speaking, if you follow all aftercare procedures properly, then your tattoo should heal without any horrific incidents. But you may consider visiting doctor just to be safe, if you experience several symptoms like below:
- Redness around the area that lasts beyond few days.
- Excessive drainage and soreness.
- Extreme tenderness that doesn’t ease up.
- Yellow or green pus oozing from the site is, likewise, a sign of serious infection.
Because each individual have different healing rate, it is difficult to say when your tattoo fully healed. Not only that, the size of tattoo will also affecting the healing rate of the tattooed skin-the bigger and more complex it is, the more longer the tattooed skin to heal compared to small tattoo. However, if 4-6 months have passed since you’ve got your tattoo, then it’s relatively to say that your tattoo should be fully healed. In addition, if you follow the aftercare procedure properly your tattoo should heal without any incidents.