The tattoo healing process is one of the most important parts of getting inked. Tattoo aftercare not only ensures your design looks good, but it safeguards your health. While your artist plays a role in educating you about proper tattoo aftercare, it really comes down to you learning how to care for your skin and artwork.
This guide will help you understand everything to expect regarding tattoo healing.
Stages of Tattoo Healing
Below is an overview of the 4 stages you will go through when healing your tattoo. While you should use this timeline as a reference to your tattoo healing process, it is important to remember that everybody heals at a different rate, so you may find yourself healing faster or slower than stated here.
- Stage 1 – Week 1: Your tattoo will be inflamed and tender, and you’ll experience some oozing. This will decrease in severity over the coming week.
- Stage 2 – Week 2: You’ll notice your tattoo has started to form scabs and is itching. Don’t scratch, and keep your tattoo moisturized to ensure optimal healing in this stage.
- Stage 3 – Weeks 3 and 4: Once the itch and scabs are gone, you’ll notice your tattoo looks blurred and ‘silvery’. Don’t worry, as your skin heals the tattoo will become more defined.
- Stage 4 – Week 5: Your tattoo will look as good as new during this stage, but it’s important to realize you’ll still be healing anywhere up to 5 months from now.
Let’s go in-depth into each of these stages to discuss the science behind what your body’s doing and what you’ll need to do to ensure optimal healing.
Stage 1 – Week 1
Once your artist has finished your tattoo, they’re going to clean you up and wrap your tattoo in a protective dressing. Each tattoo artist has their own guidelines for the care you should follow in the hours immediately after getting tattooed. For the best chances at healing your tattoo, you should always follow the recommendations given by your artist.
Eventually, you’re going to take off that protective dressing. While your tattoo has been wrapped, your body has been sending plasma – a key component in your healing process – to your tattoo. This plasma is pushed through your tattoo to begin healing the epidermis. In doing this, the plasma will also push out blood cells and excess ink, leaving your tattoo with an inky, slimy residue.
Your tattoo will continue to ooze for the first 7 days, although the amount of plasma produced will reduce as the healing progresses. During this stage, your tattoo will also be raised and tender (imagine a particularly bad sunburn), so it’s important to keep it protected from any abrasive materials.
It’s also not uncommon to experience flu-like symptoms in the days after a tattoo session, as this is your body’s way of combating the trauma you’ve just endured. Once these symptoms have subsided, your tattoo will move into the second stage.
Finally, unless you’ve chosen one of the most painful spots, your new tattoo should not hurt all that much.
Stage 2 – Week 2
In stage 2, your tattoo is no longer an open wound, so now it’s your body’s task to heal the skin on top of your new ink. During this stage, your tattoo is going to begin scabbing over and you’ll experience tingling and itching as the skin heals. It is imperative that during this stage you do not pick at or scratch your tattoo as this is when the most damage can be done.
Picking at scabs can draw ink out of the tattoo and leave you with light spots in the finished piece, and trauma at this stage can create scarring, which will create permanent imperfections in your new art. To make sure this doesn’t happen, keep your skin lightly moisturized and do not scratch or bump your tattoo.
Stage 3 – Weeks 3 and 4
Once the flaking and scabbing have fallen away from your tattoo, you’re going to notice that your tattoo is blurry and has a silvery sheen. The skin over your tattoo is brand new and hasn’t settled yet, so it’s natural that your tattoo will look a little hazy. Eventually, with your skin’s natural regeneration and exfoliation of dead skin cells, this skin will look just like the rest of your body and your tattoo will be as clear as the day it was done.
During this stage, it is important to moisturize regularly and keep your tattoo protected from direct sunlight. If you do this, by week 4 your tattoo is going to settle and you will no longer need to take active care of it during the healing process. However, this does not mean your tattoo has finished healing.
Stage 4 – Week 5
Now that the hardest part of your tattoo aftercare is complete it can be easy to neglect your tattoo. However, even if it doesn’t look like it, you will still be healing for another 5 months so it’s important you don’t forget your tattoo. While you no longer need to change dressings or refrain from scratching, there are steps you should take in the coming months to help your tattoo look as fresh as possible.
Applying sunscreen daily, keeping your tattoo from direct sunlight, and regularly moisturizing are the best things you can do for your tattoo in this stage. Learning these habits early and keeping them up well after your tattoo has healed will give your tattoo the best chance of looking good 20 years from now.
How Long Does It Take A Tattoo To Heal?
After the initial month of active healing where you’ll experience a week with an oozing, tender tattoo, a week in the itchy, scabby stage, and two weeks of hazy or muddy work, you enter into 5 months of latent healing. That’s a total of 6 months to heal your tattoo, and while that may sound like a lot of work, it’s worth it to have a clear tattoo for the rest of your life.
If you’ve spent all that time and money getting a permanent piece of art, the last thing you want to do is damage it on something as simple as the healing process.
It’s important to understand the risks and precautions before getting inked. If at any time you have any questions or concerns about your tattoo during healing, speak with your tattoo artist or go see a medical professional. Your tattoo represents real physical trauma and while it can be healed easily, you should treat it with the care it requires.