If you just got some fresh ink or are thinking of getting a new tattoo, you might be wondering how you’ll know when it’s safe to go swimming and, in general, treat the skin where your new tattoo is just like any other part of your body.
The length of the healing process can vary somewhat from person to person, but be careful about thinking your tattoo is healed before it actually is.
Making this mistake can lead to longer healing times, infection, and even scarring over the ink that has been imbedded into the skin.
So how exactly do you know when your tattoo is healed? Healing times can vary from person to person but, for the most part, you can track the progress over a few general stages.
Stage One: Week One
From the time you are first tattooed, your body begins a healing process. In this first stage of healing, your tattoo should be considered an open would. It will likely be sensitive and red. This is a normal part of the healing process.
During this stage it is critical that you follow your tattoo artist’s aftercare instructions because this is when your tattoo is at greatest risk of infection.
The length of healing can vary depending on the care that your tattoo receives and differences in individuals’ healing times, but anything less than a week during this stage is normal. If you still have swelling after this first week, you should consult your artist.
Stage Two: Week Two
At this time, your tattoo will have scabs that are fully formed and your skin will likely itch, much like a skinned knee itches at this point of the healing process. At this point, swelling should be gone, but there might still be some sensitivity to the touch. Certain parts of the scab might begin to flake off, but you should never pick at the scabs. Pulling scabs off can lengthen the healing process and potentially pull out some of the ink.
Near the end of this healing stage, the scab will completely flake off on its own. Although it will likely be itchy, it’s still important not to scratch because the tattoo is still healing.
Again, healing times can vary between individuals and will depend on the care you give your new tattoo. If you still have watering from the wound or the scabs are not drying out, you can consult your tattoo artist to find out if they have any suggestions on how you should change your tattoo-care routine.
Stage Three: Week Three
At this point of the healing process, all of the scabs will have fallen away. The skin might be slightly tender, and the tattoo’s coloring will likely have a dull look to it.
This is because there is still a layer of dead skin covering the tattoo and, as a result, the full pigmentation is not showing through. It is still possible to damage your new tattoo, so you should still use caution and avoid any harsh cleansers and sun.
Stage Four: Week Four to Week Six
At this stage, the color of your tattoo should be vibrant, but it’s completely normal for it to have a shiny appearance. The final layer of dry, dead skin has fallen off and your body is working to build a layer of dead skin over the currently fresh skin. Don’t worry, though. This new layer isn’t like the dry dead skin of the third stage. All normal, healed skin has a layer of dead skin cells over it. This layer of dead skin cells is what gives skin a matte rather than shiny appearance. Once this layer of dead skin cells has built up, your tattoo will maintain its vibrancy.
It usually only takes a few weeks to a month for your tattoo to appear completely healed, but the top layer of the skin actually heals faster than the deeper layers of the skin. This is why, although your tattoo might look completely healed, if you are interested in when the lower dermis layer is healed, it will take another couple of weeks.
The final healing stage can take a few weeks, but if it’s been six weeks since you got your tattoo and you are having any kind of discomfort, you should consult your tattoo artist. If you are not sure if your skin has finished healing, your tattoo artist will have the experience to tell you if your skin is healing normally.
Additionally, your tattoo should be at the stage that it will look like for years to come, so if the color is still dull, or if something still doesn’t look the way it did immediately after you first saw your tattoo, this is the time to show your artist. If you did have any ink that was pulled out because of an improperly healed scab, your artist will be able to identify that situation and you might need touch-ups.
What Your Tattoo Will Look Like When It is Completely Healed
You will know that your tattoo is completely healed when there are no scabs, the texture of your skin where the tattoo was placed is the same as a similar surface of skin, and the colors on your tattoo are no longer faded.
Once your tattoo is healed, you will be able to enjoy everything you did before you got it, without fear of infection or damage to the tattoo.