The full tattoo healing process can take up to six weeks for most men and women, but there are many stages of tattoo healing and how long it takes for your tattoo to heal can depend on a number of factors.
It’s easy to think that once the initial pain of the tattoo session has finished, the hardest part of getting tattooed is over. While the pain may have abated, you still have to heal your tattoo before it will look and feel the way it will for the rest of your life.
This means peeling, flaking, and itchy skin you have to wash, gently dry, and moisturize for the coming weeks. Following good tattoo aftercare is extremely important to ensure a short yet complete healing process.
Remember, your body wants to heal your tattoo and begins doing so from the moment the needle first pierces your skin. To your body and immune system, a tattoo is just an open wound.
Your role in the healing process is to help your body repair itself by minimizing the risk of infection, keeping your skin healthy, and protecting it from additional trauma. Proper care can ensure a faster recovery period and timeline.
For starters, it’s essential to understand that there are different stages of tattoo healing. Once you leave the session, your tattoo will be tender, sore and oozy. After about a week, it will begin to scab and become extremely itchy. At this point in time, you’ll start to notice your tattoo peeling and flaking dead skin. Thankfully, this stage usually lasts about a week.
Once the scabbing stops, your design may look blurry and silvery while your skin is settling. The dull and cloudy look tends to last 2 weeks and is followed by 5 months of latent healing, where your tattoo will look as good as the day you got it. As you continue to look after your tattoo, it will become fully healed in this time period.
So whether you’re reading this with a freshly bandaged tattoo and feel overwhelmed at the thought of the healing to come, or you’re thinking of getting a tattoo and want to know what to expect, this article will cover the stages of tattoo healing and the day by day steps you need to take to ensure the best results.
- 1 Stages of Tattoo Healing
- 2 Tattoo Healing Process
- 3 Best Lotions For Tattoos
- 4 How Long Does It Take For A Tattoo To Heal?
- 5 Guide To Tattoo Healing Timeline
- 6 Tattoo Aftercare
Stages of Tattoo Healing
People getting their first tattoos may be mentally prepared for the pain they’ll experience during the tattoo process. But they might not realize they should also expect some discomfort during the stages of tattoo healing.
Everyone recovers differently, but here is a short overview of the healing process day by day so you know what to expect and when.
- Stage One (Week 1 and Days 1-6): For the first few days, you should expect oozing, weeping, swelling, redness, and soreness. Itching will become an annoyance. You will also notice scabbing over the area, and this means your skin is slowly healing. By the end of the week, your tattoo should become significantly less swollen and painful.
- Stage Two (Week 2 and Days 7-14): As new skin replaces dead, flaky skin, you’ll experience an itchy, peeling tattoo. Flaking skin will further exacerbate the urge to scratch, but you’ll need to resist to avoid damaging and potentially scarring your skin. Continue to apply a good tattoo lotion to soothe your skin and expedite the recovery process. Fortunately, the pain after your new tattoo should have subsided by now.
- Stage Three (Weeks 3 to 4 and Days 15-30): Even though your tattoo looks fully healed at this stage, the colors and design may appear cloudy or blurry until the deeper layers of skin repair themselves. It’s essential to maintain the area and keep the wound extremely clean to facilitate this healing.
- Stage Four (Days 31+): In the final stage, it’s all about proper aftercare. Always use high-quality moisturizers and lotions to keep your skin hydrated and healthy. Your tattoo can fade in the sunlight (UV exposure), so take care to shield it from the sun whenever possible. Consider a lotion with SPF when you know you’ll face sun exposure.
While this is a good initial overview, it’s always important to know exactly why your body heals from a tattoo the way it does. Understanding the why and how behind scabbing, cracking, and peeling can help you take additional steps to speed up recovery and accelerate the healing timeline.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at how that healing process unfolds so you know what you should be looking out for.
Tattoo Healing Process
Stage 1 – First Week: Tattoo Oozing, Soreness and Scabbing
The first stage of healing should take approximately one week, although that can vary depending on your health. It will definitely take longer if you don’t take good care of your new tattoo, so it’s essential that you begin proper tattoo aftercare immediately.
The first two days are integral to starting the healing process the right way. After finishing the session, your artist will likely clean the area with an antibacterial and wrap the skin with a bandage.
Your artist will probably recommend that you leave your new ink bandaged and wrapped for anywhere from 2 hours to 24 hours. We recommend leaving the bandage on for the first night so that you’re not rubbing your wound against sheets, as that invites the risk of infection.
Go ahead and remove the bandage once the oozing has slowed and clean it, following your aftercare instructions. After taking off the wrapping, you’ll notice blood, plasma, fluid and ink leaking from your skin. Gently wash away the excess fluid with a fragrance-free soap made for sensitive skin.
Within the first few days, you should begin to notice a decrease in swelling and redness. Then, as the inner layers of skin begin to reform, a crust will form on top of the tattoo. The crusty layer of skin is an essential part of your tattoo healing, but it will result in itchiness as the flaky scabs peel off.
Days three and four may be the most challenging time in the healing process, because that’s when your itchy tattoo starts to become unbearable. Although you may long to scratch until the itching stops, it’s imperative that you simply rub more lotion on the wound to soothe the skin.
Leave your flaking, peeling skin alone and let the scabs fall off naturally, or you can develop an infection, cause scarring, and damage your design.
During the first week, you need to keep your tattoo spot moisturized to promote the healing process. It’s best to use lotions with natural emollients that relieve pain, soften the skin, trap moisture inside to keep the skin hydrated, and generally allow the skin to breathe.
We highly encourage you to invest in a top-rated tattoo lotion that actually works and offers proven results.
Stage 2 – Second Week: Tattoo Itching, Flaking and Peeling
Unfortunately, the itching will continue into stage two, especially since there will be much more flaking and peeling now. In fact, it may intensify, as itchiness is usually a sign that recovery is happening.
You may be able to get some relief from itchiness by placing light pressure on the tattoo. But the best way to stop itching is to keep the skin from drying out by regularly moisturizing.
The tattoo will still feel pretty sore at this point, but this is just a phase of the recovery. By the end of the second week, most of your new tattoo pain should be gone. And while the skin around the tattoo should be healing nicely, the tattoo itself still has to get better in the deeper layers of the skin.
Continue moisturizing with natural lotions packed with vitamins and oils. This can expedite the healing process and soothe some of the itch that comes with dry, flaking skin. You can apply lotion several times a day, but make sure your skin can breathe since oxygen is a critical component to it’s health.
At the end of this sage, your flaky skin will start to hang and fall off. Do not peel these pieces since you can accidentally open up wounds. Let the peeling process happen naturally.
Stage 3 – Third and Fourth Weeks: Tattoo Looks Dull, Cloudy, and Blurry
The third stage, which lasts about two weeks, leads to your skin finally feeling more comfortable. The itching should almost completely abate, and any remaining scabs will fall off. Also, your tattoo should stop hurting. Even so, you’ll need to continue moisturizing your tattoo a few times a day.
Don’t be alarmed if your tattoo begins to look faded or blurry. A cloudy tattoo is a result of your skin creating a protective layer. which prevents sunlight from penetrating too deeply and fading the colors.
By the end of the fourth week, your tattoo should be scab-free, vibrant and basically fully healed. Your tattoo before and after healing will look slightly different, but the final design, coloring and pop should look beautiful. This is how you know your tattoo is fully healed.
Nevertheless, while your outer-most layer of skin is technically healed, learning to take care of a tattoo is a long-term responsibility.
Stage 4: Continued Tattoo Aftercare
While the first three stages of healing have rather fixed time boundaries, stage four is a little less finite. Even if the risk of infection is essentially over, the need for aftercare never really ends. Your tattoo is now a permanent part of you, and it will require ongoing care.
You should always plan on leaving a little time in your daily routine to care for your ink as much as the rest of your skin. Ink fades and degrades, but proper long-term care can keep it looking fresh.
Dry skin never benefits a tattoo, even one that has healed. Continue using natural moisturizers once a day to keep your tattoo moisturized. Eventually you will be able to expose your tattoo to the sun, but it will always be advisable to apply sunscreen to protect its integrity. Be sure to choose reputable products from the best brands to preserve your artwork.
Best Lotions For Tattoos
Natural lotions and moisturizers are your best options when it comes to tattoo preservation. Always look for ingredients free of drying alcohols and water-impermeable petroleum, and prioritize creams with natural emollients to hydrate your skin. Here are some top recommendations:
Hustle Butter Deluxe
Hustle Butter Deluxe isn’t just a great product for tattoo aftercare, it even works as a product for tattoo prep. When applied to the skin before tattooing, it can make for a smoother procedure and help boost the absorption rate of the ink. You can continue using it during the first three stages of tattoo healing to fend off dryness and soften scabs.
Hustle Butter Deluxe contains a vast array of natural moisturizing compounds, including shea butter, mango butter, natural oils, and aloe butter. It also contains Vitamin E complex, which is beneficial for wound care and is thought to minimize scarring, as well as papaya extract which works as a gentle, natural exfoliate.
This combination of ingredients can help reduce redness and swelling. And even though it’s packed with natural ingredients, Hustle Butter Deluxe is super affordable.
While Hustle Butter Deluxe is a well-rounded lotion for tattoo aftercare, Tattoo Goo is a bit more specialized. Tattoo Goo is designed to accelerate the healing process and decrease healing time.
This salve contains olive oil, which packs in moisturizer to dry skin. Lavender oil and rosemary extract soothe itching, vitamin E may reduce scarring, cocoa butter protects from the sun, and beeswax serves as an antibacterial agent which may give this product its edge when it comes to faster recovery times.
Because Tattoo Goo is free from ingredients like petroleum, lanolin, and mineral oil, your skin’s natural healing won’t be disrupted. Plus, it will help relieve an itchy tattoo by soothing the skin.
While it does have a fairly intense aroma, it won’t stain fabric, alter colors, or irritate skin.
Ora’s Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve
Another popular natural healing salve for tattoo aftercare is Ora’s Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve. Ora’s shares some characteristics with Tattoo Goo. For instance, both products contains beeswax which has antiseptic properties and may expedite the healing process.
This tattoo salve also contains other ingredients with antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, including tea tree oil and coconut oil. Moreover, both of these oils reduce inflammation and offer a number of health benefits.
Vitamin E is used to nourish and repair your skin after damage. Finally, grapeseed oil moisturizes and is rich in healing antioxidants, while thuja oil has been shown to boost immunity.
Ultimately, Ora’s Herbal Tattoo Salve is one of the best tattoo lotions recommended by many artists, as it rubs on easily and absorbs more quickly than petroleum-based moisturizers, meaning it poses little risk of damaging your tattoo.
This salve is free of any dyes, which means the color and brightness of your new ink won’t be affected. It has a notably pleasant aroma, and can speed up healing times and help soothe the dreaded tattoo itch.
How Long Does It Take For A Tattoo To Heal?
On average, your tattoo should heal in about 2 to 3 weeks. As long as you don’t get any infections, bad scabbing, or rips in the skin, your tattoo will take about 3 weeks to completely heal.
However, your body will still be recovering afterwards, and your tattoo may appear to be slightly scaly or blurry for another week. Just remember that every person is different, and your healing time will depend on your health, lifestyle, and tattoo care.
Lastly, it is important to note that good tattoo aftercare is needed for months after as the skin below the surface continues to repair itself and heal. This requires men and women to regularly apply a quality tattoo lotion.
Products like Lubriderm Tattoo Daily Care Lotion will moisturize your skin and keep your design vibrant. Made with glycerin, vitamin B5, mineral oil, and soybean seed extract, this unscented lotion for tattoos comes highly-recommended and won’t irritate your skin. Plus, it’s non-greasy and water-based so it goes on smooth for daily use!
Guide To Tattoo Healing Timeline
Here is a quick overview of the tattoo healing timeline day by day.
- 1 and 2: oozing, weeping, swelling, redness, and pain
- 3 to 6: scabbing, itching, dryness, and continued soreness
- 7 to 14: cracking, flaking, peeling, and itchiness
- 15 to 30: end of peeling, but now cloudy and blurry
- 30+: fully healed, but requires tattoo care
Ultimately, the lotion you use for tattoo aftercare will come down to personal preference. As long as you stick with natural products that keep skin hydrated while allowing it to breathe, any one of these ointments will very likely bring you some relief from the itching that accompanies a healing tattoo.
Remember that aftercare is crucial in the first month if you want to preserve your ink, but aftercare doesn’t end there. You’ll want to take care of your tattoo every day to keep it looking as good as a permanent piece of art should.