Many tattoos scab over as they go through the process of healing.
Still, not everyone’s aware this can happen and it can be worrying if you don’t know what to expect.
Thankfully, we’re here to talk you through this very normal part of getting inked.
'A wound that needs to heal'
Barbara Crane is content manager at Stories & Ink and a tattoo enthusiast.
She says, "Before I got tattooed I had no idea about the healing process of a tattoo, but once I got closer to getting my first tattoo, my dad had a healing tattoo and I saw it scabbing.
"To me it just seemed normal as it’s technically a wound that needs to heal, so scabs made perfect sense."
Photo: Barbara Crane, content manager at Stories & Ink
Why do tattoos scab?
The purpose of a scab is to protect a wound from bacteria while your skin repairs itself.
And since tattoos are essentially wounds, your body needs time for white blood cells to help you heal.
A number of things make tattoo scabbing more likely.
These include not following proper aftercare practices, a heavy-handed tattoo artist, or an infection.
And while not all tattoos scab, it’s pretty common for most tattoos to experience some sort of scabbing.
How much scabbing is normal?
Things that influence how much your tattoos scab include: how quickly you heal; what aftercare regime you’ve followed; the size and placement of the tattoo; your skin type and other things such as your general health, fitness and hydration.
Barbara says: "My tattoos are pretty large and dark, so all of them have scabbed, mostly very lightly.
"I think it depends on the tattoo. If it’s just line work, then the scab is usually minimal and comes off like dry skin.
"But, if it’s been heavy shading, the scabs can be thicker and don’t come off as fast."
How long does tattoo scabbing last?
Tattoos go through different stages as they heal. Typically, the scabbing phase tends to last about a week.
After this, your tattoo may begin to peel and flake. And after about 10 days most scabs should have flaked away, although thicker scabs may take a little while longer to go - usually the thicker the scab, the longer it takes to heal.
But this is only a guide and there are no set rules.
Barbara says, in her experience, "line work scabs tend to come off after two or three days. But heavier shading or bigger pieces take three to five days."
The placement of a tattoo is another factor that can influence how long scabbing lasts.
"I remember I got a scab on my finger tattoo as late as one week after visiting my artist, since tattoos in that area heal very slowly," Barbara says.
"But on average for the rest of my tattoos the scab appeared around three days after the session."
Abnormal tattoo scabbing: Look out for these signs
While tattoo scabbing is a normal part of the healing process, there are a few things to watch out for that can suggest an infection.
- Swelling and redness
- Feeling cold and having heat waves, including fever or abnormal shivering
- Pus coming out from the tattoo for a prolonged period of time
- Red lesions on or around the area of the tattoo
- Raised skin at or around the tattoo area
- The tattoo area becoming hardened
If you spot any of these signs, or you’re worried your tattoo is not healing properly, get it checked out by your tattoo artist and / or a medical professional.
Dos & Don'ts while your tattoo scabs
While your tattoo scabs, there are definitely things you should do and don’t.
- Do leave it alone and let your body heal itself. As the scabs heal, the ink should filter back into the skin.
- Do maintain a good balance between wet and dry. For hard and cracked tattooed skin, apply a tiny amount of aftercare cream. You can wipe off the excess with a soft, damp, clean cloth - but go carefully.
- Do allow the scab to absorb a small amount of water while you’re in the shower or having a wash. This may help the scab to gradually lift at the edges as it dries. However, be very careful here as you don’t want it getting too wet.
- Do speak with your artist about scabbing. Barabara says, “I think it’s easy to forget about this if you are constantly tattooing or getting tattooed and it has become this natural occurrence. But it would be good if tattoo artists warned people who are getting their first tattoos to watch out for the scabs.”
- Don't pick the scabs. This is a big no-no. Picking at scabs while your tattoo heals can lead to scarring and / or infection.
- Don’t scratch your tattoo (for the same reasons above).
- Don’t rub your scabs dry with a towel. Instead, after a shower, you can lightly dab your skin dry, being mindful not to rub off any scabs.
- Don’t go swimming or have a bath. New tattoos and swimming aren't a good combo - basically anything that submerges your tattoo in water for long periods of time should be avoided until it heals.
Tattoo aftercare for scabs
A good tattoo aftercare routine is vital for healing tattoos.
Barbara has some words of advice and encouragement to help people manage this stage of the healing process.
"There's a point in healing where it gets itchy, but then it means the skin is dry and you need some aftercare cream on it - this really helps!
'Aftercare doesn't need to be difficult, just well thought through'
"It’s a bit annoying to walk around for several days shedding dead skin and seeing it everywhere - on clothes, on the floor in the shower, and it might be tempting to just rub it all off. But that's not a good idea and patience is key in this situation.”
"I love to let the tattoo heal mainly on its own, like I would do with a wound.
"Just clean it with the right kind of soap, like the Aftercare Foam Cleanser, so there’s no bad bacteria buildup that can lead to infection.
"And once it gets too dry or too itchy I slap on some Aftercare Cream and it's all good. Aftercare doesn’t need to be difficult, just well thought through.”