Information is power! Read this before getting inked and stress less as your new tattoo heals.
How does tattooing work?
When it comes to tattoo healing, it’s good to know a little about the process first.
Liv Dodds is a tattoo artist from Northumberland, UK (find her on Instagram @livdoddstattoo). She explains what’s actually going on while you get a tattoo.
“In very simple terms, your skin has three layers,” she says. “The epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis/subcutaneous layer.
“With a tattoo, the ink enters the dermis and is recognised by your body as a wound. As a response your body sends a form of white blood cell (macrophages) to destroy the ink.
“The macrophages stay in the dermis layer with the ink pigments, creating your tattoo.
“During the tattoo only around 1/16th of an inch actually enters the skin, where it can be punctured up to 3,000 times per minute.”
The first 24 hours
"The most important part of the first 24 hours is keeping your tattoo clean and fresh" - Liv Dodds, Tattoo artist
“Some swelling, redness, and general irritation is all normal after a fresh tattoo (after all, you’ve just had foreign particles stabbed into your skin repeatedly). However, this goes down relatively quickly within the first 48 hours,” Liv says.
“At the end of your session your artist will cover your tattoo, whether it’s with cling film or a second skin. It’s best to consult your artist on how long to leave this for as each one will have different advice.
“I’ve recently favoured second skins, and recommend up to 12 hours before removal, then opting for a ‘wet heal’ style process of washing it down two or three times a day and applying your aftercare after that.”
“The most important part of the first 24 hours is keeping your tattoo clean and fresh,” adds Liv. “This means no touching it (not even your friends/family when you show it off), and keeping it wrapped to eliminate as much bacteria as possible.
“Washing your tattoo regularly during this process will also keep it nice and cool, as it may feel quite hot for the first few hours!”. At Stories & Ink, our Aftercare Foam Cleanser has been specifically designed to soothe, calm and repair damaged skin immediately after tattooing.
Tattoo healing: Tips from a pro
Liv has the following tips to help your tattoo heal.
- Wear loose clothing to your appointment that isn’t going to rub on your tattoo
- Keep it clean and moisturised (only with natural/tattoo friendly products!)
- Let it breathe
- Submerge your tattoo in water. Showers are fine but baths, pools, the sea etc are all no go’s while it heals
- Let any pets/animals rub against or lick it
- Heavily exercise for at least 48 hrs
- Pick at it (obviously)
- Expose your tattoo to direct sunlight
How long does a tattoo take to heal?
"Usually, if the tattoo hasn’t healed within the month there is another problem" - Dr Nicolas Kluger, Dermatologist
Longer term, healing times vary between people. But to give you some idea on what to expect, we spoke to a top dermatologist.
Dr Nicolas Kluger (find him on Instagram @the_tattooed_derm) is professor of Dermatology at Helsinki University hospital.
He says, “Broadly speaking the healing takes two to four weeks. Usually, if the tattoo hasn’t healed within the month there is another problem, like an allergy or infection.”
One of the factors that can influence how quickly your tattoo heals is the type of tattooing you’ve had done.
Nicolas says, “For instance, light tattoos (drawings) will heal faster than tattoos with large areas covered by colour. An eyebrow made by microblading will also heal quite fast. But one month is a safe limit to say whether there’s a problem or not.”
Nicolas says generally the location of a tattoo shouldn’t affect how quickly it heals, but there might be some exceptions.
“Of course, if you get a tattoo on an area of constant rubbing like an ankle on a shoe, and you don’t keep resting it, this may impact healing,” he says.
According to Nicolas, another factor that can delay healing are certain treatments somebody is taking at the time of getting a tattoo. So, it’s worth checking this out if you’re on any medication.
For example, Nicolas says, “I discourage people from getting tattoos under isotretinoin (a treatment for acne) because of possible delays in healing, or high doses of corticosteroids (a type of anti-inflammatory drug).
“For diabetic patients, there is no reason to be concerned if the diabetes is well controlled during tattooing,” Nicolas adds.
Tattoo healing stages
Your tattoo will go through some noticeable changes as it heals. Here’s a quick look at what to expect from the first week to six months.
After you take the wrap off, you may notice things such as redness, slight inflammation or swelling of the skin, maybe some oozing, or even a burning sensation. This is (usually) totally normal and nothing to worry about.
Once you remove the wrap it’s best not to cover it again as this can lead to extra moisture accumulating around your tattoo, which can affect the healing process.
Week two can be where things get a little itchy as your skin begins to flake and scab.
However, as tough as it is, it’s important to avoid picking at scabs or scratching the peeling skin. This can prolong the healing time and may end up causing further injury or scarring.
During this stage it may also look like some of the ink is coming off. Again, this is a totally normal part of the healing process and you shouldn’t worry, the ink in your deeper layers of skin will remain intact.
Weeks 3 and 4
During this stage of the healing process your new ink may appear a little less vibrant than you were expecting. This is because a layer of dry skin can form over your new tattoo.
Over the next week or so this will naturally exfoliate itself, revealing your tattoo underneath in all its vibrant glory.
In weeks three and four most of the earlier itchiness should go away. If it doesn’t, and your tattoo is still red or swollen, it could be an early sign of an infection.
From 1 to 6 months
After a month, any itching and redness should have completely gone. In fact, your new tattoo may look fully healed!
However, the skin under your tattoo can continue to repair itself for up to six months until it’s considered healed.
During this stage it’s important to keep up your aftercare routine.
7 signs your tattoo may be infected
Thankfully, severe reactions after getting a tattoo are pretty rare. But it’s worth knowing the signs of an infection or allergic reaction just in case. And, as always, seek medical assistance if you have any worries.
- Redness that doesn’t go away. Most people will experience redness for a few days after leaving the studio. But if the redness doesn’t improve, it could indicate that your tattoo isn’t healing as well as it should.
- Skin feels hot. If your skin feels like it’s radiating heat days after getting your tattoo, this could be another sign of infection.
- Oozing fluid. A little oozing is quite common after getting a new tattoo. But if fluid or pus is still coming out from your tattoo two or three days after getting inked, it might be worth seeing a medical professional.
- Fever or chills. This is a common sign of infection and, if it happens after getting a tattoo, might indicate a problem.
- The pain gets worse. Your tattoo is bound to feel a little sore for a few days. But you’re looking for a continued improvement after getting inked. So, if your skin keeps getting worse days after leaving the studio, it could be a sign of an infection.
- Swollen, puffy skin. Again, some puffiness of the tattoo area is normal. But if the surrounding skin looks swollen, this may indicate that you’re allergic to the ink.
- Severe itching or hives. A little bit of itching typically isn’t something to worry about in the first couple of weeks after getting a tattoo. But really itchy tattoos or hives may suggest an allergic reaction.
Tattoo healing: FAQ
It’s natural to have a tonne of questions before you get a new tattoo. Check out the answers to some of the most frequently asked below.
How long does a tattoo take to heal?
Generally speaking, it takes two to four weeks for a new tattoo to heal. Usually, if the tattoo hasn’t healed within the month there’s another problem.
What does a healing tattoo look like?
Your tattoo will go through a number of stages as it heals. In the first few days, redness, oozing fluid and swollen skin is common. If this carries on however for more than a few days this could be a sign of an infection.
After two weeks, your skin may begin to peel. And into weeks three and four your tattoo may appear duller until the skin naturally exfoliates itself, revealing the beauty beneath!
What to put on a healing tattoo?
Your tattoo artist will be able to offer tips on what to put on your tattoo while it heals. At Stories & Ink, our Aftercare Cream has been specifically designed to soothe, calm and repair damaged skin immediately after tattooing. You can also watch our Aftercare tutorial video for more advice:
Can you put sunscreen on a healing tattoo?
If you cut yourself, you wouldn’t rub sunscreen into the wound. At least, we hope you wouldn’t! The same goes for new tattoos – which essentially are open wounds.
This means you shouldn’t apply sunscreen until it’s fully healed as they contain ingredients that can irritate your skin. Until then, cover up with loose clothing if you’re going to be out in the sun.