During the tattoo healing process –and even randomly years later – you can be afflicted by raised skin. Gain insights into the reasons for this and means to help settle your tattoo when this issue arises.
Tattoos have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. Traditionally used in rituals and rites of passage, in modern times tattoos have become powerful tools for self-expression that let the wearer proudly display the different art and designs that represent their personality. Despite the growing popularity of tattoos, the process can still be intimidating for a first timer.
Besides the different factors that go into a piece—color or black and gray? Abstract or realistic? Placement?!?—sitting for a tattoo also hurts. The act of tattooing is inherently violent, and as with any other physically traumatic process, the body reacts in different ways.
One of the most common questions that newcomers to the world of tattoos ask relates to this process: why is my tattoo raised?
In this piece we will discuss how tattoos affect the body, some of the normal reactions to the process and some red flags to look for that may indicate a more serious situation.
Tattooing is the process of implanting ink beneath the skin. If you want a tattoo to last and be truly permanent, the process is a bit more complicated than just punching in holes and rubbing ink.
In order to ensure that tattoos stand up to the test of time the ink must be injected deeper than the epidermis (the outer layer of skin). The epidermis is replaced every two weeks or so through the natural process of cell regeneration constantly taking place within the body.
By implanting the ink deeper, this also allows the capillary rich dermis—the deeper layers of skin—to draw the ink in, further saturating the tissue with pigment.
The Body’s Response to Tattoo
When applying a tattoo, the process outlined above takes place 3,000 time per minute, allowing the artist to create the dramatic images and fine script that will complete a piece. The repeated trauma also puts the body’s immune system into overdrive. It’s not the individual punctures that cause this reaction, instead it is the consistent irritation that puts the body into protective action.
The body releases special cells called macrophages to clean up the site of foreign body’s and shut down whatever is causing the irritation. Macrophages are the body’s anti-inflammatory response and they basically consume any intruding particles, in this case ink. Once each microphage has devoured its share of ink and can no longer continue, they become entangled in a gel-like matrix within the skin. Also involved in the process are specific skin cells called fibroblasts that work to consume intruding particulate and then become stuck in this same matrix.
These two cell types, once entangled in this gel-like matrix in the dermis, are unable to transport their loads to be absorbed by the body and remain trapped beneath the skin for the remainder of the wearer’s life. It is these humble cells that are the true reason why tattoos are permanent.
The Resulting Mess
For the first couple days following the session, a tattoo is essentially a large open sore. As with any wound, the body continues the work to repair itself. One noticeable effect of this trauma comes in the form of a gooey substance leaking from the affected area. Don’t worry, this is normal. Basically, the body is flooding cells to the area in a (hopefully) futile attempt to push out the invading ink, and the leaky goo is blood plasma. This is the body trying to seal the wound and create a massive scab to prevent further infection.
It is during this initial healing period when a tattoo may be raised, a bit warm to the touch and, in all honesty, a little gross. This is completely normal. Once again, any redness, tenderness, or raised areas are natural reactions to the trauma of the tattoo process and will pass within 2-4 days.
After this, the tattoo will usually start to peel—a bit like a sunburn—as the outer layers of skin heal and a maddening itchiness will ensue. This lasts for another few days or so. It is worth noting that scratching or peeling the skin at this point can cause the ink to settle improperly and can permanently ruin the piece.
Around the second week—depending on the person, placement, and artist—the tattoo will look fully healed, although the internal healing process can take up to 6 months to fully complete.
Everyone reacts to the process of tattooing a bit differently, although the time-frame we have outlined here is a good rule of thumb for the healing process. But what if you’re tattoo isn’t progressing correctly?
Tattoos are technically wounds, and as with all wounds they are pathways for infections to occur in the body.
A tattoo should be raised for only the first couple days. After that, any redness or raised areas may be signs of infection. While it is true that some tattoos may have slight areas of raised ink due to a heavy handed artist or a location like the hand that lacks muscle and fat, if there is any question of infection, medical attention should be sought immediately.
An infected tattoo not only threatens the art itself, but if left unchecked can lead to more serious conditions like blood poisoning that can ultimately endanger the life of the wearer.
Another issue—that while relatively rare, does occur—is people having allergic reactions to the specific ink used in creating their tattoo. These allergic reactions are sometimes so minimal that they are mistaken for the natural healing process and go undiagnosed. Other times the reactions are more severe and can include swelling, flakiness, weeping pustules around the tattoo and rashes. Some reactions can even occur months after a tattoo has healed!
There are a wide variety of inks that different artists use and an equally broad number of ingredients that go into the pigments. Despite this, people most commonly report allergic reactions to red inks and any concerns over allergic reactions should be treated by an allergist.
Given the possibility of infection that tattoos create, proper aftercare is essential to maintain a healthy, better looking and longer lasting tattoo.
Directly after the tattoo is finished the artist will wipe it down and apply a layer of petroleum jelly and a bandage that should be worn for twenty-four hours. After the bandage is removed the area should be gently washed with an antimicrobial soap and pat dry; another bandage should not be worn. Twice a day the tattoo should be gently washed, pat dry and a layer of antibacterial ointment should be applied.
If proper aftercare protocols are followed—usually for 2-4 weeks after the tattoo process—all signs of redness, swelling and raised areas should dissipate, leaving a clean, permanent tattoo.
Once again, if any signs of infection persist the wearer should seek the immediate care of a physician.