Most people, especially first timers at the tattoo parlor, never think about the healing process. All we want is a beautiful tattoo to look good on the body. They go through a healing process and people only panic when they see plasma or blood oozing out.
When your tattoo is getting done, the tattoo artist injects tiny dots of ink using a fine needle into your skin. Holes are made by the needle that will create a wound that must heal. This tattoo healing process will take some time until the body restores itself.
The wound must also protect itself from outside bacteria and this regeneration is what it will have to go through until it heals completely. The skin will go back to normal, except now there will be pigments of ink underneath it.
Your tattoo will go through three main healing stages including:
Stage One: Oozing Swelling and Redness
This stage lasts for at least one week although people heal at different rates. The tattoo, however, starts healing immediately it’s done. The skin on the area tattooed will be an open wound that will start producing plasma for the scabbing and clotting process. The artist will clean off the area using antibacterial soap and wrap it to protect it from bacteria. Most tattoo artists recommend you keep the bandage on for the next 12 or 24 hours.
After the 24 hours, take the bandage off. The tattooed area will be oozing blood, ink, lymphatic fluid or plasma. This is totally normal and it shows that the body is working at healing itself. This plasma oozing out of the area helps the skin to scab.
Use warm water and fragrance-free soap to clean out the substances. Use clean fingers and clean in circular motions without using the rough material on the area. Pat dry the area and give it time to dry out. Airing the tattoo out avoids trapping any moisture in the area which could harbor bacteria. Cleaning the area keeps the plasma levels low to avoid the formation of big scabs that can dry out and begin to crack, if not careful. Once the area is completely dry, apply some lotion on the area. Just a little to keep the skin rehydrated and promote fast healing.
The tattoo will be sore on the first days depending especially on size. It will also be warm to the touch and red. The skin will appear raised and bruised due to blood leaking from underneath the skin’s top layer. The bruising should be minimal unless the artist was rough and forced the needle too deep into the skin. Areas that had the needle pass several times will be extra tender and may swell. This swelling is your body trying to increase blood flow to that area of the body. This pushes whiter blood cells into the area, to help fight foreign bodies that try and get into the wound. The warmness you experience will be due to increased blood flow.
The above reactions are normal, especially within the first six days after you get the tattoo. However, see a doctor if:
- The warmness persists for more than a week. This is an indication that the wound is infected.
- If there is extreme bruising and redness after few days of getting the tattoo. Redness and bruising that gets worse instead of healing, indicates an infection
Scabbing will set in after a few days. Make sure you clean the area at least two or three times a day to prevent the scabbing from getting too thick and heavy. The tattoo will start looking cloudy and dull, but the sharpness will return as it heals.
Tips for stage one of the healing process.
- Ensure that as you sleep or dress, the tattoo is not rubbing onto clothes or bedsheets. This could be difficult especially in some locations, but you can try. Less friction means better result at the end of the healing process.
- Do not pick off scabs from the tattoo. Please restrain yourself because this will delay healing. Doing so can also pull ink from it.
- Clean the tattoo at least twice or thrice in a day using a fragrance-free soap. Use your fingers to clean. Do not rub the area. Blot dry it.
- Seek medical advice if the bruising, swelling and redness do not stop after few days.
- Apply mild moisturizing lotion (I recommend using the one you use daily. No need giving the skin too much work to adjust to a new product while it’s trying to heal the affected area). Use only a small amount of the lotion.
Stage Two: Itchiness and flaking
The scabs at this stage will be well formed and the small ones will start flaking off. The skin gets very dry at this stage with lots of flaking. People heal differently though and for some people, the flaking is light and you may not even notice it. This should not send you into panic mode. No, your tattoo is still healing. This happens especially if your it was made with white ink. This white ink peels and flakes lighter than those blacker and darker tattoos.
The dryness as the skin heals causes the flaking which causes the itching. This is what makes this stage the worst in the healing process. To prevent itching, make sure that the area is always moisturized.
PLEASE DO NOT SCRATCH THE TATTOO. This could ruin it. No matter how itchy it gets, control yourself, you are not 7!
If the itching gets too bad and you can’t control yourself any longer, tap the area lightly. You can also wash or moisturize it.
Tips for stage two of the tattoo healing process
- By the end of this stage, the flaking will increase, and more skin is going to be hanging from the area. DO NOT PEEL OFF THE SKIN. They will fall off at their own time. Prematurely peeling off the skin causes ink to be pulled from the skin’s deeper layers. The tattoo will look a little ugly, but it’s part of the healing process so don’t mess with it.
- When cleaning during this stage, some colored skin will be flaking away. This is normal so long as you don’t get rough during cleaning.
- The skin will also be a little tight due to the dryness. Moisturizing will lessen the tightness.
- Moisturize the tattoo as often as possible especially each time you wash. This will prevent extreme dryness which leads to itching.
- Completely dry the area before moisturizing. If you apply immediately after the wash, water will be trapped between the skin and lotion making the scabs gunky. The scabs will then pull off if they stick on to something.
- Do not apply too much lotion to allow the tattoo to breathe. In case you apply too much by mistake, blot out the excess using paper towels. The lotion should make it only have a faint shine.
Stage three: cloudiness and dullness
Your tattoo is now almost done the healing. You’ve made it!
By this stage, most of the flaking will be done and the scabs will have fallen off. The area will be slightly dry and a little sore to touch. Continue moisturizing any time the skin feels dry or flakes.
The tattoo will look dull and slightly cloudy. It can also be scaly or look shiny. The dead layer of skin will still be on it but will flake away naturally over a month or two until the skin completely regenerates to normal. The tattoo will only look beautiful and clear once the brand-new skin is at the surface.
At this time, you can check your tattoo for problems like fading, patches or blowouts. The artist can then do a touch-up.
Tattoo healing time
It’s hard to put a timeline on when a tattoo will completely heal since different people heal at different rates. Lot’s of other factors are also at play like how large the tattoo is and whether the artist was a professional. The harder or rougher he was with the needle, the longer it will take to heal.
In two or three weeks, the skin will be back to normal, but the healing process will be ongoing in the deeper layers of the skin. The skin’s upper layer heals fast as it seals up and regenerates. This blocks infection like bacteria from getting into the wound.
The lower skin layers can take up to 3 or 4 months to heal completely. It will have however gotten sharp and clear by then.
In conclusion, take good care of your tattoo during the healing process since this also determines your tattoos final look. All the best!