Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Top Ten Tattoo Healing Concerns (In No Particular Order)

 Since starting my blog on tattooing, I have gotten asked a lot of questions from people who have recently been tattooed or are planning to get a tattoo about the healing process. It is awesome that so many people are seeking my opinion about their tattoos, and I am always happy to offer my advice. Often, the questions asked are about common concerns. Here are the ten most common questions I have been asked, in no particular order.

-Can I exercise/participate in sports while my tattoo is healing?

 I'm getting a tattoo this weekend, and the next weekend I will be participating in a tennis tournament.  Should I wait to get my tattoo until after the tournament, and are there any risks involved with getting a tattoo and working out?

 Generally, there are no real concerns with exercise effecting your tattoo.  The biggest concern I would have is the tenderness of the tattoo effecting your performance.  You would want to lightly moisturize the tattoo before and after the event, to prevent any possible damage from the skin stretching a "dry" tattoo.  You also want to make certain you can clean the tattoo after the event (assuming that you will be sweating more than normal), and if the tattoo is normally under your clothes you will want to put on a clean outfit.  

Not for at least two weeks.
-Can I use a tanning-bed?

 I am really excited about showing-off my summer-bod.  I have lost a LOT of weight, have been going to a tanning salon, and now I want to get a cute little tattoo.  I know I have to keep the tattoo out of sunlight as much as possible.  Do tanning beds effect tattoos?

 The guidelines for keeping your tattoo out of the sun as much as possible are the same for tanning beds.  You would probably notice that the light from the bed would irritate the exposed tattoo. Tanning can also fade your tattoo, and the darker your skin gets the less bright your tattoo will be.  The tattoo is a few layers under the outer-most layer of skin, so it will be like seeing your tattoo through a tinted window. You will want to hold off your visits to the tanning bed for at least two weeks.

-Are raised areas of skin normal in the tattoo?

 It has been about three weeks, and my tattoo seems to be healed (no skin peeling or scabs).  I noticed that some of the lines feel raised.  Will this go away in time and is that normal?

 Your skin is one huge organ with lots of different areas and types that react differently to being tattooed.  The thickness of your skin is not consistent throughout.  The raised areas are your skin's response to being perforated by a needle repeatedly.  Initially, you may have noticed that the entire tattoo was slightly raised, but most of it went down to normal. Some areas, however, take longer or will remain raised. Your skin is, in essence, scarred. While more experienced tattooers are better able to avoid damaging the skin in this manner, it can sometimes happen even when every precaution is taken. Once the tattoo is healed, you may want to try a scar reducing agent, like aloe vera sap. 

After a few days, this may be a problem.
-Is it normal for my tattoo to be red and hot?

 I noticed a few days after getting my tattoo that there is some redness around the area and the tattoo feels warmer than the rest of my skin. Is this normal?

 Redness and a fevered feeling is normal with a new tattoo for the first few days. Your tattoo is basically an abrasion, and the redness and heat is typical of your body trying to heal the wound. If the redness radiates from the tattoo, it has the appearance of a rash, has bumps or weeps anything more than a thin, clear fluid, talk to your tattooer and/or a doctor.

-How long does it take to heal?

 I am getting my first tattoo in a couple of weeks, and I was wondering how long it will take to heal.

 Healing times for a tattoo vary, and it can of depends on what you mean by "healed".  A tattoo can take three-to-six months to heal "completely", and even then the area is still technically contaminated with a foreign material (tattoo ink).  You body will be working to remove the ink from your skin for the rest of your life, which is one of the factors that contributes to fading.  That said, the time generally given for the skin to return to being relatively normal is two weeks.  This is an average, as the real indicators are that the tattoo no longer has any scabs and is no longer peeling.  This is when the integrity of the tattoo skin can handle sunlight and being submerged in water without any real risks.

Really not normal.
-How long before I go swimming?

 I want to get a tattoo, but I also really want to go tubing on the river in a week with my friends. How long do I need to wait after getting a tattoo before I get in water?

 The best time to get a tattoo is in the winter, and this is just one of the reasons. In the winter, there is no real urge to "hit the beach", and by the summer your tattoo will be healed and looking great. That said, you should wait until all the scabs have fallen off your tattoo and the skin is done peeling.  This generally takes about two weeks.

-When should I apply skin cream?

 My tattoo artist told me to apply a skin cream with no perfumes or dyes during the first two weeks while the tattoo is healing, after I wash it three times a day.  Sometimes it gets really dry.  Should I apply more moisturizer?

 In my opinion, yes.  The reason you moisturize after washing your tattoo is because the soap and water can dry it out.  If your tattoo becomes too dry, the scabs can crack, leading to bleeding and ink-loss.  However, you do not want to over-moisturize, either. When your skin starts to feel dry and taunt, apply a very small amount of moisturizer.

Normal scabbing.
-Is heavy scabbing on some parts of the tattoo normal?

 I noticed that some parts of my tattoo, in particular the large, black areas, are more heavily scabbed that others.  Is that normal?

 Yes, that is normal.  The more worked the skin is, the heavier the scabbing will tend to be. Black is the least forgiving when it comes to open or light spots, so tattooers tend to hit black heavier than other colors. However, heavy scabbing will probably also lead to fading in that area.  Keep it moisturized, definitely do not pick at it, and if it needs a touch-up speak to your tattooer.

-My tattoo really itches.  What should I do?

 It has been about 8 days since I got my tattoo and it has really started to itch. What causes the itching and what should I do about it?

 Your skin goes through a phased-healing process, which involves a layer of skin growing over the tattoo that will initially die and peel off.  Another layer typically grows, dies, and peels off as well.  Your body's reaction to peeling skin is to become itchy so you will scratch the old skin off and reveal the layer of new skin beneath.  DO NOT ITCH YOUR TATTOO! You can try slapping your skin AROUND that tattoo, or itching near the tattoo (tricking the brain into believing the area has been relieved).  Other than that, it is best to just tough it out.

-When should I speak to my tattooer or a doctor about problems with my tattoo?

 I don't know if I am being a baby or not, but this is my first tattoo and I have some concerns about the way it is healing.  Reading your blog has let me know that most of what I am worried about is probably normal.  I was wondering when I should be worried enough to see a doctor?

 I wouldn't want to just assume that anything medical I read about on the Internet was applicable to me.  Treat what you read as a suggestion.  If your worried about anything to do with your tattoo, start by talking to your tattooer.  They can verify if what you are seeing is worthy of concern and suggest what you can do if there is a problem, probably saving you hundreds of dollars in doctor's fees in the process.  However, if you are not confident in your tattooer's advice, see a doctor.  Better safe than sorry.

 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

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    This is very reassuring, my first ever tattoo is now 3 days. Scratching can cause damage and ultimately spoil the look of your tattoo by the time healing is complete. So I'm half way through the second week of healing after getting my second tattoo and all I want to do it scratch it. You Can also grab our Tattoo Healing for more details