Tattoo Healing Process & Proper Care For A Tattoo

By Jason Hamilton / May 11, 2019
tattoo shower 2
Spread the love

Play it safe when you’re planning some new body ink. Learn about the healing stages of tattoos so you can avoid infection and wind up with a terrific-looking tat. Actually getting your tattoo is truly the highlight of the entire inking process, but you’re not finished once you walk out of the shop door. In fact, you’re just at the beginning of the healing process. Do not fret though, as we are here to guide you on your tattoo healing process!

In this article, we will be sharing with you our knowledge of the healing process of a newly made tattoo. We will be discussing with you the stages of the tattoo healing process as well as the proper care for the said tattoo.


The Basic Tattoo Healing Process

The basic tattoo healing process will likely last anywhere from three to four weeks, and you’ll need to take special care of your new body art during this time to ensure it looks its best once that healing has finished. Understanding the tattoo healing process gives you a better idea of what to expect in the days and weeks to come.


Stage 1 (1st Week): The Open Wound

This initial stage of the tattoo healing process begins right after your tattoo is finished. According to an article on wound healing in the Journal of International Medical Research, the processes of repair begin immediately after an injury. So although your new tattoo is very sensitive, your body is already working to heal the skin. At this point, you can consider the area an open wound, and you’ll need to treat it accordingly. Your artist will gently wash the area and bandage it to protect it from bacteria.

Most artists recommend you keep the area covered for the first twenty-hours, although you will likely need to change the bandage because a fresh tat usually bleeds and weeps a bit. If you allow the bandage to soak up too much fluid, it may wind up sticking to your skin, and this is definitely not good for the healing process.


Many people describe a fresh tattoo as feeling similar to a sunburn. The area tends to sting a bit, and it can look red and become a little raised or swollen. Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process. You’ll begin to form scabs over the area, and you shouldn’t attempt to remove them. Just gently hand wash the area once or twice a day with a very mild soap, pat dry with a fresh paper towel and gently dab on a light amount of the moisturizing aftercare lotion your artist recommends.

Although people tend to heal at different rates, the first healing stage of a tattoo usually lasts anywhere from three to seven days as long as an infection doesn’t set in. If you find the pain is more than you expected, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever.


Day 2-6: The Oozy Milky Days

Once you’ve got your tattoo wrapped and walked away from the shop, your skin is probably pushing plasma out of that open wound. This is your skin’s normal response to your new ink. Plasma is essentially the liquid protein that makes up 50% of your blood; it aids in the healing process by helping to form clots, scabs, and move other substances through your bloodstream. When you remove the wrapping from your tattoo, there’s going to be oozy ink everywhere — this is the ink combined with blood cells and plasma, pushed out through your tattoo to heal the broken skin.

tattoo ooze


Your tattoo might also be giving off some heat — hold your hand above it and that particular area of your skin is probably fiery. This is also a part of the tattoo healing process. Your white blood cells and plasma are reacting to the open wound — this is natural inflammation, a way for your body to destroy any toxic agents (as in, potential for infection) and restore tissue. Once again, keep your tattoo clean and follow your artist’s aftercare instructions. By the end of this stage, your tattoo will probably start scabbing.


Things to Do For This Week:

  • If the bandage sticks when you try to remove it, thoroughly wet the gauze with warm sterile water to loosen any dried blood or fluid. Then peel the bandage gently away from the tat.
  • Get the most from your moisturizer by lightly patting your washed tattoo with a clean towel and allowing it to air-dry for about 10 minutes. This provides a better surface for the aftercare lotion. Then apply a light film of the aftercare moisturizer with the third and fourth fingers of your hand.
  • For a tat in an awkward-to-reach spot, be sure the friend you enlist to help you clean and moisturize it washes his or her hands well before touching the bandage or applying aftercare lotion.

Stage 2 (2nd Week): Feeling the Itch

The second stage of healing usually brings the onset of itching. Scabs can be thin and whitish or pick up some ink and be the colors of the tattoo. This is normal – so are the slight pinkishness and tenderness when the scabs start to fall off. The aftercare lotion prevents the tender new skin from becoming tight and dry. Treat the area as you would any healing scrape or cut and you’ll minimize discomfort and avoid scarring.

tattoo itch

Although different tattoo artists have different aftercare methods, aftercare instructions typically recommend to avoid peeling the skin. Just allow it to slough off naturally and, by all means, avoid scratching your tattoo. Scratching can cause damage and ultimately spoil the look of your tattoo by the time healing is complete. Applying more aftercare lotion to the area should bring some relief. Just follow this tattoo healing process tip and you will be okay.


Day 7-14: Flaking & Scabbing Days

Your tattoo, especially if it’s more than just line work, is going to be scabby by this point. Your epidermis is healing itself and is no longer an open wound — your white blood cells, the protectors of your immune system, have worked together with the plasma proteins in your body to create a scabby cap where your open wound was. The ink is still there, underneath, but the first layer of it that was hovering in the epidermis will flake away. Don’t pick, don’t peel, don’t press, don’t mess with it. The way you treat this stage can really affect the art — trust us, we’ve slammed our fresh scabby tattoos into enough table corners to know. You can use a bit of moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated, but don’t overdo it!


Things to Do for this Week:

  • Sweating can irritate a scabbing tattoo, so avoid strenuous sweaty activity if your tat is sensitive.
  • Scratching off or peeling scabs will pull the color out of your tattoo. Think of the premature fade to your fabulous ink when you are tempted to pick at an itchy or messy-looking scab.
  • Sunblock is your friend. Top off that tat with sunblock if you have to be out in the sun. If you make this a permanent practice, even after healing, your tattoo will stay vibrant for a long time.

Stage 3 (3rd to 4th Week): Feeling Dry? It’s Okay!

Stage three brings the final healing of the area. Since healing depends on size, location and complexity of the tattoo, as well as your own body’s recovery speed, the exact timing varies.

If you’ve followed the proper aftercare, by this point, most or all of the scabs have fallen away from your tat, although the area may still be slightly dry and mildly tender. You may notice that your ink no longer looks as vibrant as it did when it was first finished, and this is natural.

There is typically still a layer of dead skin over the tattoo at this point of the tattoo healing process that obscures it a bit, but once that layer naturally sloughs away you’ll see what your new tattoo really looks like. If you’ve managed to avoid infection and scratching, it probably looks great.

Day 15-30: “Clean & Fresh but Why is my Tattoo Dull?” Days

All the scabbing and flaking is gone, and your tattoo has a slightly taut look to it — it’s still new but the healing is almost done. It might seem a little set back into your skin or dull-looking, but that’s because you have a nice, new layer of epidermis over it that hasn’t completely settled yet. This new layer of skin will eventually look like the rest of your skin, due to your skin’s natural exfoliation of dead skin cells. So, don’t worry, your art will shine through by the end of this phase. This is a great stage to regularly moisturize and keep track of your regular skin care regimen, so your tattoo can look its best.

tattoo dull color


Remember, following your artist’s aftercare directions is key to making sure your tattoo healing process goes smoothly. Keep your tattoo clean, moisturized when necessary, dry when needed, and treat it with care. Always use antibacterial soap and a clean, dry cloth or towel to pat the area dry. Never rub it dry since rubbing can damage your skin! If anything seems unusual, contact your primary care physician, not your tattoo artist, as they aren’t certified to diagnose a problem. When you’re in the healing process, you might find yourself wondering why you went through all this pain just to have to go through an oozy, scabby mess, but trust us — it’s worth it. Cared for properly, the art on your body will last your whole lifetime.

Things to Do for this Week:

  • Continue to moisturize the area and protect it from prolonged exposure to the sun.
  • Do not clean or sterilize the tattoo area with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. After the scabs come off, the skin is still too tender for harsh disinfectants, and the tattoo can still be damaged.
  • Stick to showers to give the ink time to really settle. It can take a month or more for some tattoos to heal completely. Don’t risk diluting or blurring your skin art.

Stage 4 (3rd to 6th Week) And… It’s Done!

Your tattoo is healed, typically within three to six weeks, when the scabs and rough skin naturally peel or flake off and the new skin feels smooth again. Your skin seems back to normal, although with the addition of some significant art.

A healed dandelion and butterfly tattoo

A star tattoo on the wrist

watercolor star tattoo 11

A combination of dandelion and bird tattoo


A watercolor tattoo of a cat

You might be tempted to abandon your babying and moisturizing protocol, however, the tat still needs delicate treatment. Even though you no longer have an open wound, excessive rubbing, soaking, sun exposure, stretching or abrasion can re-injure the sensitive area or disturb the careful lines of the artwork which is why you need to not forget the tattoo healing process.

Please Do Not Do These Things!

Let’s say you just got a permanent piece of body art (read: tattoo), and you’re feeling very protective. After all, this thing is for life, so you’re on the lookout for things that can ruin your tattoo healing process. Is it okay to take a shower? It is okay to go out in the sun? The mind reels.

And that’s totally normal, not to mention very important. This is your skin we’re talking about, and a tattoo is an open wound, so you really can’t be too careful — especially when it comes to infection. An infection is something you should treat right away (as in, go to the doctor ASAP). It’s also something that can mess with the healing process and the final look of your tattoo. But don’t be freaked out. If you keep the area clean and treat redness and puffiness immediately, you should be fine. It’s really not that difficult.

So here are a few things you SERIOUSLY need to avoid to have the perfect tattoo:

Not following the artist’s instructions

Remember all the scary talk about infection? It’s way less likely to happen if you follow your tattoo artist’s healing instructions. That’s because each artist will likely suggest a different method for healing based on their machines, inks, and needles, according to the professionals on Plus, he or she likely (hopefully) has years of experience, so they have tried and tested healing methods that likely work very well.


Picking or peeling your scabs

Like we said above, you’re likely to get itchy, scabby skin during the healing process. Whatever you do, resist the urge to pick or peel, as it can really mess up the color and lines of your tattoo. According to an article on, “You want those scabs to stay on as long as possible, even if it means resisting that itching feeling for weeks. After six weeks, that lighter layer of skin will finally shed away and the final colors of your tattoo will shine.”

Submerging it under water

Once you have your new tattoo, wait at least two weeks before doing any prolonged bathing. As Paige said, “Yes, of course, you can shower and washing your tattoo a few times a day is encouraged — but you shouldn’t submerge your tattoo in baths, hot tubs, swimming pools, or salt water. Standing water = unhealthy bacteria and irritants.”


Direct Sunlight

Do yourself a favor, and resist the urge to prance around on the beach with your new, unprotected tattoo on full display. As Paige said, “You will feel your fresh tattoo burning if it’s exposed to sunlight. Listen to your body, if your tattoo feels hot and irritated, stay out of direct sunlight. If you must be out in the sun, keep that baby covered.”

  1. Advertisement

Tattoo Aftercare Tips

There are a couple of things that you can do to make sure that your tattoo stays perfectly fine and properly healed after getting it. Read below to know what they are!

  1. Do not remove the bandage or wrap until your artist tells you so. They would know when you should remove your bandage and you definitely should follow their instructions to a T. This is to prevent your tattoo from getting infected with sweat, dust, and other factors during the time being, so make sure to follow your tattoo artist’s instructions regarding this.
  2. Once you remove the wrap or bandage on your fresh new tattoo, make sure to wash it with mild soap and water afterward. Lather properly and scrub on it gently to avoid irritating it. This is to remove the blood or sweat that can further irritate your tattoo.
  3. Just pat your tattoo dry and do not rub it with a towel or toilet paper. Rubbing it can irritate it and open the wound up once again.
  4. Once the tattoo is dry, put a small amount of lotion that your tattoo artist recommended. Always buy or get what they ask you to, as they would know what you should put on your new tattoo to help it heal properly.
  5. Wash your tattoo twice to thrice a day to make sure that it stays clean and protected at all times. As always, make sure to use a fragrance-free soap and rinse it with lukewarm water after.
  6. Avoid picking at your scabs and peeling skin, as this can destroy the pigments and destroy your beautiful tattoo. Let it peel all by itself and try your best not to remove it with your fingers or nails.
  7. Avoid direct sunlight, as this can make your tattoo fade over time. Wear protective clothing and a hat to make sure that your tattoo does not get exposed from the sun.
  8. Avoid swimming in any body of water for the meantime, as you do not know what is in the water. It can infect your open wound, as it is still susceptible to infections during the healing period. Stick to your normal shower routine until your tattoo and wound are fully healed.

Can I Take A Shower After Getting my New Tattoo?

Most tattoo artists will advise you to wait a few hours before showering with a new tattoo. You should be able to do so after 4 hours and after taking your bandage or wrap off. There are a few rules that you must follow when showering with a new tattoo, so make sure to continue reading below.


Do Not Shower with Hot Water

If you love showering with hot water, then this is the time to stop doing that for a while. Hot water can open your pores up, which means that bacteria can easily enter the wound and give you an infection. Instead, shower with lukewarm water to properly kill any bacteria off and keep your tattoo moisturized.

Use the Right Type of Soap

Now, we might have mentioned this earlier, but it is definitely important, which is why we would like to repeat ourselves. Make sure to use a fragrance-free and mild soap to clean your tattoo. Do not use anything with harsh ingredients and full-on fragrance, as this can irritate your tattoo.

Clean it Gently

Do not rub or scratch on the tattoo during bath time, as this can ruin the pigments and ink on your new tattoo. Just casually wash it with water and mild soap, you also do not want to use a loofah or scrubber on the area, as this can disrupt the ink.

Make it Fast

Do not stay inside the shower for too long. Instead, make sure that you get out of it as fast as you can. You do not want to expose your tattoo to the steam and water too much, which can be harmful to your new tattoo.

Having a tattoo isn’t all fun and games. It also has to be well taken care of, especially in the first days after you get it. Doing so is crucial and one mistake could end up giving you infections or could negatively affect how your tattoo would look like once it is healed. But, of course, you can avoid the negative scenarios if you will carefully take care of it, especially as it heals. It might require you a lot of work but everything will surely be worth it in the long run.

Spread the love
About the author

Jason Hamilton

Jason has been an avid fan of tattoos for over 13 years now. He is currently 35 years old, and he got his first tattoo at the age of 22. Since then, he has added over 20 tattoos to his collection. He is also into writing, which is why he decided to celebrate both of his passion and hobby through tats ‘n’ rings. Jason dreams of having his very own tattoo parlor soon. Jason would be very happy to answer any questions about tattoos that you may have! Leave a comment below and he’ll answer it for you right away!

Click here to add a comment

Leave a comment: Protection Status