Tattoos heal as any wound would heal: with the skin working through a process of protective measures to keep you safe from infection.
The skin’s complete cycle of generation takes 4-6 weeks, so remember that it may take up that long for everything to be completely healed.
The stages of a healing tattoo
1. During the tattooing: bleeding & swelling
As the tattoo is actually being done, you may notice more or less fresh red blood at the site, and some swelling or inflammation (due to the body’s normal response to trauma).
2. Days 1-4: oozing of blood, plasma and ink
Plasma forms very quickly after a wound to the skin, causing weeping or oozing of plasma and lymphatic fluid over the tattooed area. Wash it off very gently in the first few days. See Balmonds’ Ultimate Guide To Tattoo Aftercare for more information about how to look after your tattoo in this stage.
3. Days 3-7: scabbing
From around day 3, you might notice scabs forming. These depend on the heaviness of the ink, the depth of the needle and the amount of trauma to the skin. Your tattoo might look dull or faded compared to when it was freshly worked, but don’t worry!
Don’t pick or rub at scabs! See our article Is It OK To Pick A Tattoo Scab?
4. Days 7-14+: flaking & Itching
At around a week, the scabs and flakes will be starting to lift off. This stage can be accompanied by maddening itching, as your skin gets dry and flaky. It might feel tight, and look scaly, like a reptile shedding its skin, but don’t panic! Keep it well-moisturised with a light, unfragranced lotion such as Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream. It can take a fortnight or more for the scaly, dull stage to be done, and up to 6 weeks for full healing.
See our article How To Stop A New Tattoo Itching for tips on getting through this bit!
Skin Salvation with hemp & beeswax, from £7.99 for 30ml
Daily Moisturising Cream with hemp & shea butter, from £13.99 for 100ml
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.