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Written by Kieran Proctor

Tattoo Healing Stages: What You Can Expect



Tattoo Healing Stages: What You Can Expect

Receiving a tattoo is more than just the application of ink on your body. It’s a transformative process that requires adequate care and attention to ensure the longevity and beauty of your design.

This detailed guide aims to demystify the tattoo healing stages, providing you with the necessary knowledge to foster optimal healing and maintain the vibrancy of your tattoo.

Tattoo Healing Stages: The Journey Begins

The road to tattoo healing commences the moment you step out of the tattoo studio and doesn’t stop until your skin fully recovers. During this period, your body goes through a series of stages to repair the skin damaged in the tattooing process. By understanding these stages, you can ensure your tattoo heals beautifully and stands the test of time.

Stage 1 – Initial Inflammation and Oozing (Days 1-3)

The First Few Hours: The Bandage Comes Off

Your tattoo artist will initially secure your fresh ink with a bandage or plastic wrap. This protective layer serves as a barrier against bacteria and external irritants. You should keep this covering on for the first few hours (as advised by your artist), after which, it’s time for the first wash.

Post-Bandage Care: The First Cleansing Ritual

Upon removing the bandage, you’ll notice some fluid seeping from your tattoo. It’s a mix of plasma, blood and ink. This is your body’s way of mending the wound and is perfectly normal.

Clean your tattoo gently with warm water and a mild, fragrance-free tattoo soap. Avoid using washcloths or loofahs to prevent pulling off any forming scabs.

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Dedicated tattoo soap

Redness, Swelling and Soreness: The Inflammatory Response

During the first 48 to 72 hours, it’s normal for your tattoo to be tender, red and swollen. It’s part of the body’s natural healing process and these signs should gradually improve each day.

However, if you notice prolonged symptoms, you should seek advice from your tattoo artist or a medical professional.

Stage 2 – Visible Recovery (Days 4-14)

Scabbing And Flaking: The Skin’s Natural Response

As your tattoo continues to heal, you’ll notice scabbing and flaking, akin to the body’s response to a sunburn. This is a healthy recovery process.

Resist the urge to scratch, pick at scabs or physically remove the peeling skin. As picking at your tattoo or scratching it when it’s itchy can cause further injury and prolong the recovery period.

Itchiness: The Uncomfortable Stage

The second week of healing is notorious for the dreaded tattoo itch. This is due to the dry and flaky skin around your tattoo. While the itch can be bothersome, it’s crucial not to scratch.

Instead, apply a gentle, fragrance-free tattoo lotion to soothe the itch. A proper tattoo ointment or cream acts as a barrier-coat to keep moisture in, while keeping dirt and germs out.

Professional tattoo aftercare products have antimicrobial and antibacterial ingredients, along with ingredients that reduce the dreaded tattoo itch. I personally use and recommend Mad Rabbit.

I used it when I got my full sleeve negative space blackout tattoo on my right arm. Mad Rabbit reduced itching and prevented ‘ink drop’.

Mad Rabbit - New Tattoo Repair Soothing Gel
Tattoo healing gel

Stage 3 – Invisible Recovery (Days 14-30)

The Tattoo’s True Colors: The Final Transformation

By the third week, the visible signs of healing typically resolve. However, your tattoo might appear dull and dark until approximately a month after your final tattoo session. By the one-month mark, your tattoo should reveal its permanent vibrant color.

Underneath the Surface: The Hidden Healing

Even though your tattoo appears healed on the surface, the skin underneath continues to remodel for three to six months. During this period, your tattoo achieves full healing, revealing the final look of your inked artwork.

During this period it’s important to keep your tattoo out of the sun wherever possible. And if the sun is unavaoidable, always use a dedicated tattoo sunscreen. It’s also important to be careful during this period when shaving around the tattooed area.

Stage 4 – Long-Term Care and Maintenance (Months 1-6)

Your tattoo’s healing journey extends beyond the initial weeks. Continuous tattoo aftercare is crucial to maintain its integrity and allure. This involves regular cleaning of the tattooed area, applying a suitable moisturizer and protecting the tattoo from excessive sun exposure and abrasive materials.

Tattoo Healing Timeline: Factors that Influence the Process

There’s no one-size-fits-all timeline for tattoo healing as individual factors can influence the process. The location of your tattoo, its size, the intricacy of the design and your body’s unique healing process all play a role in your tattoo’s healing timeline.

However, tattoos are generally considered fully healed around three months. This is the point where all layers of skin should have healed over.

Special Care Tips for Optimal Tattoo Healing

Use a Breathable Bandage

For the first week, consider covering your tattoo with a breathable bandage. This protects the wound from infection while allowing it to breathe.

Replace the bandage daily and continue to apply a healing ointment until all signs of healing have resolved. But do not reapply a platstic bandage or plastic film after the first day.

Cleanse with Antibacterial Soap

Clean your tattoo with antibacterial tattoo soap twice a day to keep it clean and free from harmful bacteria.

Apply Healing Ointment

After the bandage comes off, apply a professional tattoo ointment to soothe the area and promote healing.

Break out the Fragrance-Free Lotion

After the first two weeks, transition to a gentle fragrance-free tattoo lotion to keep the skin moisturized and to aid in the healing process.

Red Flags: Signs Your Tattoo Isn’t Healing Properly

Stay alert for signs that your tattoo isn’t healing properly. Consult with your doctor if you notice:

  • Persistent redness, puffiness or itching beyond a few days
  • Fluid or pus oozing from the tattoo
  • Lack of daily improvement

The Takeaway: A Successful Tattoo Healing Journey

The tattoo healing process is straightforward. Swelling and oozing typically resolve by day three, followed by itching and peeling for another week. Your tattoo might even look darker and duller than expected for the first month. Follow the proper course of tattoo aftercare from your dermatologist or tattoo artist to protect you from infection and to create a better tattoo result.


Should I cover my new tattoo at night?

Consider wrapping the area in plastic the first night. After that, allow the tattoo to breathe as much as possible. And definitely don’t use plastic wrap beyond the first day or in anyway contrary to your tattooists instructions.

Can I wear clothes over a new tattoo?
When can I touch my tattoo?

Try to only touch your tattoo when cleaning it – and when cleaning your tattoo, ensure you’ve washed your hands first. Listening to the verbal directions from your tattoo artist first, then referring to the written directions after, can be helpful.

Final Word – Tattoo Healing Stages

Understanding the tattoo healing stages and implementing the right tattoo aftercare techniques is crucial to ensure your tattoo heals correctly and lasts a lifetime. Always consult with your tattoo artist or a healthcare professional if you have any concerns during the healing process.

By taking the right steps, you can enjoy the beauty of your new tattoo for many years to come!

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