After getting freshly tattooed it generally takes three to four weeks for the top layer of skin to heal so that you can start showing it off to friends and family in its finished state.
After this point, there is still healing to be done underneath the top layer skin so be careful with your tattoo aftercare
As is the case with most things, the time it takes your tattooed skin to heals and recover may be entirely different to other people, and that’s okay.
The following article will take you through the healing timeline and offer aftercare tips, tricks, and words of caution that can help you go through the process with less worry.
A Timeline of Tattoo Healing
There are a variety of factors that can determine the success of your tattoo heal, however the most common timeline is as follows:
Your new piece of body art will be bandaged for at least the first few hours after getting your ink done. If the work is completed very late in the day, your tattoo artist may recommend the bandage stays on until morning.
Your body will also be hammering with adrenalin from all the excitement and in response to the pain, so make sure you take it easy, especially after a long stretch in the chair. Stay hydrated, and keep your belly full, preferably with something healthy.
During this first stage of healing your body will be responding to the injury ind recovering from the ordeal. You are likely to notice:
- oozing of blood, plasma, and excess ink
- slight inflammation or swelling
- A possible burning sensation
Day 2 and 3
During this stage your body has settled into the new tattoo a bit more. Whatever bruising you’ve gotten has appeared – this happens more to the pain wigglers than those that are good at sitting through pain – but other swelling has receded.
The tattoo itself has yet to peel, and you’ve done your initial cleaning and aftercare that will be daily for the next 2-3 weeks if everything goes smoothly.
The initial redness and bruising should have started to fade by this point, and if you’re using the wet healing method of aftercare, you’ll have begun applying ointment or salve to the new tattoo.
You’ll probably notice some very light scabbing over the tattoo as the outer layer skin starts knitting back together over the wound.
Days 7 to 14
By the time you reach the end of your first week after getting a fresh tattoo is when you’ll see the most tattoo scabbing. The thick scab has usually hardened and will begin to flake off in scales and small chunks.
It’s imperative that during the heavy peeling process, when your tattoo is looking and feeling it’s absolute worst, that you let it heal without picking, poking, prodding or scratching at your skin.
At this point the dead skin is highly likely to feel very itchy. Gently rub on a moisturizer several times a day to relieve the itching, or if the itch and pain is extreme try an antihistamine tablet or hydrocortisone cream (at recommended levels).
If you’re applying the dry heal method (see further below), ride out the irritation as best you can without touching the flaking skin.
If you mess up during this phase of the process, you could pull out the ink and leave scars, tattoo discoloration, or also prompt infection.
This time is the end of the traditional healing phase. The thicker scab will completely flake off on its own.
Although the tattoo will likely remain itchy and irritated at times, it’s still important not to scratch because the wound is still healing below the top layer and still needs to be left alone.
During the third and fourth weeks of healing, you’ll find a secondary peel of the outline usually takes place. Once this is done, you’re pretty much finished with the process, however I recommend keeping up the use of lotion well into the fifth and sixth weeks to keep your badass tattoo in shape.
How do I know when my tattoo is fully 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, irritated, or feel tight.
Once your tattoo is healed, you will be able to enjoy the activities you did before you got it, without fear of infection or further damage to your new body art.
Cleaning Your Tattoo Correctly
A freshly inked tattoo should be cleaned 3 times a day and begin after the bandage is removed.
The cleaning process -and any other aftercare steps you choose- should last through the entire healing and tattoo care timeline.
- Wash hands thoroughly
- Apply foam cleanser or soap to newly tattooed area with clean hands
- Gently rub cleanser into tattoo and surrounding area
- Gently wipe off remaining cleanser with a clean paper towel
- Pat dry excess (don’t rub)
- Wait a few minutes before going on to the next step of your aftercare process
A range of different soaps are good options to use in tattoo aftercare and it’s your choice to use a single product, or combination. Some are specific to tattoos, while others are versatile for everyday use.
Popular Aftercare Methods
In general, there are three approaches to tattoo aftercare and healing that are worthy of consideration
1. The Dry Healing Method
Dry healing is tattoo aftercare that refrains from the use of product, lotion, balm or moisturizer in caring for freshly inked skin.
After you take off the original tattoo shop issued bandage or wrap, all you do during the rest of the healing process is wash the tattooed area with mild antibacterial soap and lukewarm/hot water periodically to cleanse the tattoo.
This method is popular with old school body art enthusiasts and those with highly sensitive skin, but it takes force of will and commitment to not damaging the ink during the annoying 2nd and 3rd healing phases to work effectively.
2. The Wrap Healing Method
Wrap healing is done by keeping your tattoo wrapped in plastic during the entirety of the healing process (you only uncover to cleanse the wound).
The idea is that the plastic helps facilitate healing as it locks in the natural moisture of your skin rather than dissipating as it would during a dry heal.
The wrap healing method can be helpful if you have sensitive skin that you aren’t able to leave alone by picking and scratching.
3. The Wet Healing Method
There are a wide range of products that help your skin heal strongly and also purport to limit the potential dimming and damage that can sometimes occur after fresh ink settles into your skin.
Aside from the dedicated wet healing aftercare product choices on the market, there are an infinite range of everyday skin care products that can be used in the application of tattoo healing and wound care.
Below you’ll find some of our articles relating to tattoo aftercare products we recommend for purchase and use in tattoo skin care.
- 9 Best Tattoo Aftercare Products
- 9 Best Tattoo Aftercare Lotions
- 9 Best Soaps for Tattoo Aftercare in 2020
- 9 Best Numbing Creams, Sprays, and Gels
- Coconut Oil and Tattoos – All you Need to Know
- Aquaphor for Tattoo Care – All you Need to Know
Things to avoid as your tattoo heals
Click here to read our article on things to avoid after getting a tattoo. But for a quick overview of behaviors that could lead to ruined ink or unwanted extended healing times:
- Doing nothing after getting a tattoo
- Exposure to direct sunlight
- Touching, picking, scratching, and rubbing
- Neosporin and medicated ointment
- Excess exposure to water
- Tight fitting clothes that don’t breathe well
- Over treating the tattoo
- Excess sweating and gym work
- Excess drugs, cigarettes and alcohol
While we don’t believe you should shut down shop completely for a month to help your tattoo rest and heal, there is a great deal of common sense you can apply to mitigate the risk of infection or problems with your artwork as it recovers.
A Further Recommendation
Your tattoo artist wants to see you come back to get another new awesome tattoo design, not clean up after the first piece of body art was poorly cared for when it was healing.
Listen to the advice of your tattoo artist when it comes to different approaches to tattoo aftercare. These days it is part of their duty of care to give you a better understanding for taking care of freshly tattooed skin.
Experienced tattoo professionals have seen all types of clients, with all different skin types, and can offer you extremely valuable aftercare advice that will help you immediately and for the lifetime of your tattoo.
If you notice a problem with your healing tattoo, head straight to the tattoo artist where you got it. They can help you change up your aftercare regimen or allay your fears.
If they notice a serious problem beyond their scope of advice, they’ll refer you to a doctor for treatment.
A 3-6 weeks completed healing process may seem painful and annoying, but over the lifetime of your body art it’s a small price to pay for beautiful ink!