Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Tattoo Healing Process

 Something I get asked a lot is, "what happens while a tattoo heals?".  It had been a while since I had gotten a tattoo, so when Kyle Giffen was kind enough to tattoo me this last July, it seemed like an opportune time to document the process.

 Now, I titled this post "A Tattoo Healing Process" instead of "The Tattoo Healing Process" because everyone has a different body chemistry.  Some people heal faster, some go through more scabbing, etc.  I would consider my experience common to what should happen if you take good care of your tattoo while it heals.  Kind of a base-line example.


 Day 1.  Beautiful, isn't she.  Kyle did a fantastic job, putting his own spin on one of my designs.  This tattoo ROCKS!  See all that redness in the green?  That is normal.  Just a mix of some seeping blood-plasma barely coming to the surface and irritation from the tattoo process.  A tattoo, done properly, should not bleed.  The needle doesn't go deep enough to actually draw blood.

 Day 2.  Still have some redness.  The tattoo is still an open wound.  The seepage isn't as bad, and is probably more noticeable contrasted against the green ink.  The first layer of skin has yet to grow over the tattoo.  Something I forgot from my last tattoo was how much direct sunlight HURTS!  There is a reason you are told to keep your tattoo out of the sun as much as possible, and during these early stages, my tattoo reminded me.  

 Day 3.  I've been showering like normal, but avoiding scrubbing the tattoo.  Instead, I get a lather going in my hand and pat the suds on my tat.  I dry the tattoo the same way, patting instead of wiping.  What little redness remains at this point is from irritation, and she is starting to take on a faded look.  That first layer of skin is getting ready to peel. 


 Day 4.  The redness is almost completely gone at this point.  It is still warm to the touch. Direct sunlight still hurts.

 Day 5.  Starting to see a little bit of scabbing and the slightest beginning of a peel.  

 Day 6.  Now the skin is really starting to loosen up.  I am apply lotion at least 3 times a day after every wash.  These pictures have been taken after the tattoo has been cleaned and moisturized.


 Day 7.  More scabbing and peeling.  You want to keep the tattoo moisturized to avoid the skin peeling off too soon or the scabs cracking and falling off early.  If the skin peels too soon or the scabs crack badly, you might bleed, and along with the blood ink will be carried out leaving a faded area in your tat.

 Day 8.  The peeling is really going at this point.  

 Day 9.  Here is a picture of the tattoo before I clean it and apply moisturizer.  You will be tempted by the look of the tattoo alone to pick at it, let alone the itching of your skin encouraging you to scratch.  DON'T DO IT!  Better to suffer through a little itching than to suffer through the condemnation of your artist AND the pain of a touch-up.  If you thought getting the tattoo hurt, try re-applying it!


 Day 10.  Most of the first peel has completely fallen away.  There is still some peeling going on, and the hard scabs where the skin was really worked are beginning to form.

 Day 11.  As you can see, her right arm was really worked.  Not over-worked, but the healing is rougher there than anywhere else.  This is because Kyle was really working a color blend in a very tiny space.  

 Day 12.  Starting to look bright and shiny again!  You have to love Eternal Inks.  Years ago, the hardest part of my tattoo to heal was the black.  This tattoo though, the black hardly scabbed at all.


 Day 13.  The scabs have fallen off on her right arm, and there is a little redness from the irritation and the fresh skin underneath.  However, no bleeding, which is awesome.

 Day 14.  As expected, the redness under that scab all but faded away, leaving a nice, vibrant color behind.  The tattoo looks as good, if not better than the day it was applied.

 15.  This shot was taken about a month later.  My hair is finally growing back over the tat, which makes it look a little more faded than it really is.  The skin feels completely normal, though it can take up to six months for the skin to be fully healed.  The two-week rule is generally how long it takes to be healed enough to safely touch-up the tattoo.

 So, there you have it.  This is what a tattoo healing process should look like for most people if the tattoo is cared for properly.

Jason Sorrell is a writer, tattoo artist, satirist, artist, and generally nice guy living in Austin, TX.  He loves answering questions about tattoos.  Shoot him a message at https://www.facebook.com/tattoonerdz/





71 comments:

  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I just got my second (first in 17 years) tattoo earlier this week and I'm obsessed with taking proper care. It helps to know that how it looks right now (ie. Raised skin, lifting faded areas) is completely normal.

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  2. This post is very helpful. I just got my first tattoo and was a little paranoid about how it was healing.
    Thanks from a fellow Austinite. :)

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  3. Hey I got my first tattoo about a week ago this was super helpful to ease the paranoia of the healing process. Was wondering when can I Apply sunscreen to protect it from the sun and from fading? It's pealing at a good rate now (by itself don't worry) and wondered when I could get back to being outside with out feeling like a vampire trying to not let the sun hit it. Lol thanks for the helpful post!

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    1. Sunscreen can be great for tattoos after they are healed, but I wouldn't recommend it while you are healing. Best to just keep it out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Besides, being pale will help the color stand out more!

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  4. This is very reassuring, my first ever tattoo is now 3 days old and I was worrying about a little redness around the edge. Totally chilled now!

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  5. My tattoo is completely stabbed over after 3 days. Will it be okay I moisturize 3 times a day after it's washed.

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    1. Really need to know please reply in comments

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    2. Wow. The notifications are a little slow on my end. Bob, while this is probably too late for you, I recommend moisturizing at least three times a day. You do not want to over-moisturize your tattoo and have your scabs turn to mush, but you also don't want to be so dry that they crack. When ever it is starting to feel a little dry or stiff, add a LITTLE moisturizer.

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  6. I hope you are getting paid for the plug, John! In my experience, most aftercare products marketed specifically for tattoos are not worth the additional expense, but I am always open to trying something new and other people's experience. Generally, I try to keep it simple; wash and dry your tattoo about 3 times a day, a small amount of bacitracin ointment after each wash for the first 2 days, and a small amount of simple moisturizer like Lubriderm for the next 12 days after wash and whenever the tattoo begins to feel dry (pulls on the skin around it, etc). Other products may be just as effective, but often cost far more.

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    1. I removed the comment I replied to here, because after a little investigation I discovered that the guy was in fact being paid to spam blogs like mine with plugs for his product. Folks, if you have something you would like me to review, just contact me with your information and I will tell you how to send me a sample.

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    2. Help! My tattoo is 9 days old got it March 1st,2017, and it rubbed off part of it now it's scabbed and still red! :/

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    3. If I understand what you are describing, you rubbed off a scab that may have taken a significant amount of the ink with it. If that is the case, when the tattoo is healed that spot will appear faded. Your tattooer may need to touch-up the tattoo.

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  7. i just got my first tattoo 4 days ago and it looks like day 9 of the picture. i understand everybody heals at different rates. my question is should it feel like a "tightness" or "sun burnt" feeling at this point..will the tattoo be completely healed when there is no more discomfort? and finally when i stretch it feels like the skin will crack from dryness even though i keep lotion on it. will stretching my forearm mess up the tattoo in this stage of healing. thank you

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    1. Thanks for reading the blog. The Day 9 photo was taken before I treated the tattoo (cleaned it and applied moisturizer). Your tattoo may have that look before treating it early and keep peeling for several days. Yes, you should feel a tightness or sunburned feeling, and that is an indicator to apply a small amount of moisturizer. I would be careful with stretch. It should not be an issue, but over doing it if the tattoo is dry could cause some issues.

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  8. Great post especially for a first time tattoo! A daily description and photos was very helpful. I am on day 5 and just starting the itchy peely phase. Good to gague what is fairly normal and what to be careful of above and beyond what my artist has already told me. Excited to make it through the next weeks and enjoy my tattoo in all of its beauty!

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  9. This is so helpful! I'm on day 7 and my tatt looks like day nine, I'm reassured now that my body is not rejecting the ink lol. Thank so much for taking the time to help us newbies out :)

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  10. Hey, I have my new tattoo (on my leg) now for 4days but tomorrow I have go to work. My question is; Can it hurt if you wear jeans over your new tattoo (because of scrubbing enzo)??? And if its not good what can I do.
    thnks

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    1. If your jeans are loose, it should not be much of a problem. The worst thing about clothing over a tattoo is during the first few days while the tattoo is still open. As it drys and scabs, you clothes may stick to the tattoo and pull the dried material from the tattoo when you remove the clothes. Keeping it clean and moisturized can help.

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  11. Do you wash your tattoo every day (3times a day) whit water for the first 2weeks???

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    1. With my tattoos, I washed with soap and water three times a day for the first two weeks. I would get a thin lather in my hands and pat the suds on my tattoo, dry it with a clean paper-towel (again, patting away the water), and then apply a small amount of moisturizer.

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  13. hi,
    i received my 1st tattoo 5 days ago and it is at the itchy stage....i asked my tattoo artist when i should expect for it to start scabbing and she told me that my tattoo should not scab at all. but i thought this was normal? thanks again!

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    1. Scabbing is normal, but it doesn't always happen. Your skin may just itch and peel, and it may itch and peel off-and-on for two weeks or more. Keep in mind that "normal" is a wide range of reactions that vary from person-to-person and tattoo-to-tattoo. As long as your tattoo isn't oozing fluids, isn't overly irritated or red, and you moderately moisturize to prevent it from drying out (resulting in cracking and bleeding), you should be fine.

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    2. aw that is good to hear, thanks so much!!!!!!

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    3. amazing! thanks so much again for the advice!

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  14. My tattoo started peeling on day 4!!!! What does that mean for me?

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    1. That means it took four days for your tattoo to start peeling, instead of five days like mine. Nothing to be concerned about.

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  15. Hi. I got a tattoo on my wrist about a month ago. I've read that tattoos typically have 3 stages of healing - I have had the scabbing and peeling, but not the part where another layer of skin is supposed to peel to reveal the final look of the tatt. What I have at the moment is a splotchy, black hummingbird that looks partially filled (you can see bits of 'normal' skin where it has been filled with ink) and the colored parts look a bit splotchy and transparent in places too. The top layer of skin looks as though it in no hurry to peel. Is this normal? Thanks for taking the time to read my question :)

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    1. Keep in mind that every person, and every tattoo, will heal a little differently. Without actually seeing the tattoo, it is difficult for me to suggest what may be wrong, but it sounds like perhaps the tattoo was too lightly done (in other words, what appeared solid was not), and you may have had some loss of ink through the healing process. Most artists offer touch-ups on there work within a few months of the original work. You may need to see what your artist thinks and schedule another session.

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    2. Hi Book Ninja,
      Would you mind giving an update on this?
      I'm experiencing the same thing and wondering if a touch-up is needed or if it's just not healed yet.

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    3. Dominic, the healing process is completed enough to be touched-up when the tattoo no longer has any scabs, no skin is peeling, and there is no obvious redness or irritation. If you are passed all that, and see spaces of skin where the color did not hold, it may be time for a touch-up.

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  16. Hey I'm thinking of getting my first tattoo on my wrist. What buggs me is that in my mind if I try to stretch and move my wrist a lot the tatt will die basically. So should I stretch a little bit my wrist for the tattoo, or have it on the normal way my hand is. I'm really scared that when I try to twist my wrist months after the tatt is done it will break or sth. Please answer.
    Also will it be a problem if my skin is very sensitive and pale for a tattoo?

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    1. Most tattooers will try to place a wrist tattoo above the bend of your wrist for the reasons you are thinking; the excessive movement of a joint can lead to a tattoo fading or losing ink. Your artist will discuss placement with you, however, you should not stretch the skin to try to accommodate for the tattoo. You want your skin to be in a "resting" state, so the tattoo will not look distorted. In other words, if you stretch the skin to apply the stencil, the tattoo will only look normal when the skin is stretched. Having pale skin is ideal for getting a tattoo, especially color ink. Sensitivity just means you will need to endure a little more discomfort while getting the tattoo.

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  17. Thanks! This is very helpful! Though I have minimal scabbing and on day 5 & 6 was the peeling for me. Luckily I had a great tattooist who actually told me to use an organic natural hemp hand cream on ny tatt and it helps so much!

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  18. Hi Jason,
    I got my tattoo done 7 days ago, it's a huge colour piece. It has a lot of white as well one the day it was done, but all the white is gone now. I had a problem where my pants would be removing the dry skin as it rubbed against it and now I'm freaking out about the whole healing process. If it's right or not. What are your opinions

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    1. There are tricks to using white in a tattoo that not all tattoo artists are well-versed in. As your skin grows over white ink, the natural color of your skin will often over-power or mask the white ink beneath it. Large areas of white tend to look washed out or faded, and white often requires a touch-up to make it as solid or bold as possible (but, it may never be to your liking).

      As to your pants rubbing on the tattoo, as much as you want to avoid pulling skin off a tattoo early, it is inevitable. The biggest concern I would have is the potential for infection, but as long as you are keeping it clean, you should be fine... I mean, you have to wear pants, right? The parts of the tattoo that fade or fall-out because of your pants will simply have to be touched-up. Your tattoo artist should be aware of this eventuality, and will hopefully do the touch-up for free or work with you on a rate.

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    2. Yeah, well some of the smaller white spots stayed, and yes my artist does touch up for free touch ups. But I have to go back to her anyway for another 3-4 hours so she can finish the whole piece. (And for the pants problem i just decided to go out an buy a bunch of long loose fitting skirts and it's been helping with the not rubbing and removing skin/scabs).
      Thank you for your help Jason.
      Have a great night/weekend.

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  19. Hi there, I just got a good sized color tattoo on my clavicle 3 days ago. It's still red on the edges and warm to the touch. The part that's really bugging me is that it is still painfully sore, I can't even move my arm without it hurting. I've been using the H2Ocean products (which have helped with my previous tattoo), but I don't remember the soreness being this bad. Is this normal? If so, what can I do to minimize the pain and how long does it usually take to go away?

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    1. I would say that is a normal response to a tattoo in that area. Your tattoo is on an area that moves a great deal and is far more sensitive than, say, your shoulder. The redness and pain should fade in about a week, although you may notice some discomfort for a while.

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  20. Hi,

    I just got a tattoo today, my first that has colour. It was supposed to be a light blue but it looks really dark -- the artist said it was just the redness of the skin and that it should become lighter soon. Is this true? I'm a little worried!

    Thanks!

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    1. I can say that, more than likely, your tattooer is correct. Lighter colors; yellow, pink, green, light blue, etc, will allow some of your blood plasma to show through while the tattoo heals... The "redness" your tattooer referred to. While the tattoo heals, some lighter colors will appear darker. As the skin goes through its series of peels, the entire tattoo will appear dull. Once the tattoo is healed, if your tattooer used quality inks and proper technique, your tattoo should look fine. If anything, I would expect your light blue to appear potentially lighter than you expected due to under-saturation, requiring a touch-up.

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    2. Awesome, thank you so much for your super-quick reply! I'm no longer worried :)

      Have a great day!!

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  21. Awesome article! I had my first tattoo 5 days ago and it is itching now, but I should resist scratching it. It's a good exercise on mind over matter stuffs!

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  22. Replies
    1. While a touch-up is a normal part of getting a tattoo, the skill of my tattooer and my diligence in caring for the tattoo during the healing process made a touch-up unnecessary. Just keep in mind that a touch-up is normal.

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  23. After your tattoo being all healed that moisturer you used? Long many times a day and a week? And did it make you tattoo color fade away a bit? Thanks

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    1. Since my tattoo has healed, there has been no noticeable fading. When I need to moisturize the tattoo, which is rarely, I use Lubriderm Moisturizer (unscented, no additives).

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    2. There's any problems to use no additives but scented baby moisturizer?

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    3. Once your tattoo is healed, the type of moisturizer you use is entirely up to you. Additives and perfumes are only a concern while the tattoo is healing. I just stick to the moisturizer I use while the tattoo is healing. Perfumes, vitamins, and other additives in your moisturizer can interfere with or irritate a tattoo while it is healing.

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  25. Thanks Jason. Very helpful. Got my tattoo six days ago. Your blog makes me more comfortable. Trying to understand the healing process.

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  26. Great blog, it's amazing for us first time tattoo people. I'm at day 9 and half the peeling has already came off.

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  27. Got two tattoos last Wednesday (7 days ago) one on the inside of my wrist and the other on my side. My previous tattoos were just lines so I experienced a lot less in terms of the healing process (or at least it was less noticeable). Your post helped me a great deal over the past week, thank you!
    I have been using coconut oil on my tattoos since the bandages came off, plus some aveno lotion on the really dry flakey days. I think I hit your day 9 or 10 on my 4th or 5th day. I'm guessing this is just an example of how people heal differently? They are still somewhat itchy with a couple of small areas of scab, but overall so much better than the first few days (whew)
    Should I expect to go through another full peeling or will it just be the areas with left over scabbing that will peel?

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    1. Adrienne, thanks for the kind words and reading my blog. Everyone heals differently, so, yes, your experience is a good example. If you are following your tattooer's after care instructions, the only thing to really be concerned about is redness and irritation... signs of a possible infection. A two week period is about the time that a tattoo needs to heal to be ready for a touch-up. You may see some skin peeling for months, but it should not be anywhere close to the degree during the first two weeks. A little lotion on a regular basis during the life of your tattoo will only help maintain it.

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  30. This was really helpful for me. I just got my second tattoo, the first one was 2 years ago. I have to say that the healing time was different for both, and I was a little concerned about the new one as it's healing slower than the first. After reading this though, I'm not worried at all. My artist recommends cocoa butter, and cocoa butter lotion. It works great. Thank you for the step by step photos!!

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  31. Hi Jason,

    I am due to get my first tattoo on my right arm in a few days - concern I have is about 9 days after I get the tattoo I am due to fly out on holiday and have been told by friends that this isnt long enough to let the tattoo heal and wont be able to go out in the sun or in the pool?

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    1. Your friends may be correct. The first two weeks (14 days) after you get a tattoo is when you are most vulnerable to infection and fading. Sunlight is a major contributor to fading of a tattoo, and pool water with an open wound (your tattoo) is a potential disaster. Most tattoo artists will tell you to minimize exposure to the sun and to avoid submerging your tattoo for the first 14 days.

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  32. Got another tattoo about ten days ago,and today got a bad sunburn on it,Should I be concerned?

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    1. Maybe. Because the skin is technically damaged (abraded) by the tattoo process, the tattoo is more prone to infection if damaged from other sources (like a sunburn). The increased trauma to the area may also prolong the healing process, allowing your body to carry more of the ink away from the tattoo, resulting in fading.

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  33. My tattoo is about 9 days old. The new skin after the flaking looks kinda "milky" and shiny, will that go away ?

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    1. So, yes? If I understand what you are describing, your healing will go through a few peels. The initial peeling may just reveal skin that will also peel off in time. As long as there are no other issues (redness, swelling, pain... all of which would indicate a possible infection) there should be no problem.

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  34. this page is so much help! Had my tattoo done 12 days ago. Black forearm sleeve with lots of shading. Forrest theme. The first four days it scabbed and flaked like crazy. Kept it clean and moisturized as recommended. Still one area with scabs where elbow bends. I'm a little worried because its day 12 and instead of black it all looks milky. I'm sure you've heard this over and over but is this just more layers of skin healing that will peel off? Should I just keep cleaning and moisturizing when needed and let it do its thing? Thanks

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  35. Hey, thanks for checking out my blog. What you are describing is not uncommon; black tends to scab a little harder than most other colors and joints tend to hold less ink than other places (making them look faded or "milky"). Stick to your tattooer's recommended aftercare process, and return to them for a touch-up when the tattoo is healed.

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  36. Hi this blog is great! I'm an experienced tattooed lady already and have at least 15ish tattoos already. I recently got a half sleeve of a Boba Fett pinup hehe ;) I'm a bit of a Star Wars nerd. She's my most detailed tattoo with the most hours put of work put into the tattoo. I'm in the peeling stage and moisturizing with lubriderm, of course. I'm washing and moisturizing multiple times a day and I'm just wondering if it can be moisturized enough and still have flakes attached? Thanks!

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    1. Thanks for checking out the blog! I would say that is common. Typically when my tattoos are healing the only time I did not have some flaking was right after I moisturized. Even after the initial two weeks, there was still some minor peeling.

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  37. Brilliant blog, I wish I had found this sooner. I got my first tattoo about 6 weeks ago and gone through most stages. I've looked after it the best I could and had slight peeling but no scabs. My only concern is that it's still a little itchy. I've had deep colours (much like a sunset) which are fine, but I have a small slightly raised scaley bit on a green and black part which is annoying me (mentally, not physically!) I'm just dabbing tattoo goo salve on it now. Would you recommend still doing this or letting it dry heal?

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    1. Thanks for checking out my blog. I would keep doing whatever your tattooer recommended. If that is using the "salve", then that is what I would do. In fact, it is a good idea to continue to use moisturizer on your tattoos even after they are healed. It doesn't sound like you are over-doing it, nor does what you describe sound abnormal. I would never recommend a dry-heal. That could lead to the dry areas and scabs cracking, which could lead to bleeding, loss of ink, and potential infection.

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