The Tattoo Healing Process
We received a few requests for a new tattoo care guide, so here it is! This guide tells you all about how tattoos are supposed to heal, offers the best tattoo aftercare instructions that tattoo artists recommend, goes through a list of essential lotions to keep your tattoo healthy, and basically covers it all. This should help you before, during, and after the tattoo process! Since aftercare affects how vibrant your tattoo looks in the end, we want you to know all the ins-and-outs of the healing process. We also included an F.A.Q. section to help you out!
Stages of Healing
First of all, your tattoo goes through multiple stages of healing. Understanding these stages helps you take care of your tattoo and know when something’s gone wrong—or perfectly right! In example, what do you think you should do if your tattoo looks faded and gray once all the scabs go away? The answer might surprise you! Pay close attention, and we’ll tell you all about that and much more!
Stage One – First Week
During the first week of your tattoo healing process, your tattoo needs a high amount of care. The tattoo area acts like an open wound, inviting infection and disease into your body. Compounding this, you can’t use normal disinfectant products, since alcohol-based tattoo lotion will destroy or distort your tattoo. Thankfully, we know of a few lotions that you can use to speed up your tattoo healing process!
Don’t have time for the whole article? We got you covered; here is our best Tattoo Aftercare product pick!
Orange to clear liquid starts to ooze out of the wound right away. This is plasma from your blood starting to form a protective seal on top of your wound. Your artist may apply some specialized soap and then wrap it with saran wrap. Depending on the size of your tattoo, your artist will recommend keeping the wrap on for a day, give or take some hours. Once you remove the seal, you must keep it clean yourself!
After you take off your wrap, don’t be alarmed by all the blood, plasma, ink, and other gunk that start moving around. Gently wash away everything with some water and your fingers, taking care not to scrub too hard or too long in one spot. After that, dab it dry with a freshly cleaned cloth and begin applying your lotion.
We recommend getting the H2Ocean Ultimate Tattoo Care Kit ahead of time, but you can pick and choose from the different types of aftercare lotion in the section below if you want to know more about the products. H2Ocean simply comes with aftercare instructions that help you use each type of lotion to the best of its ability, so it’s great for beginners.
Once you remove the bandages, keep your tattoo open to the air. If you cover it again, you create an environment where bacteria can proliferate. If you have to touch anything with your tattoo—such as bed sheets, towels, or your hands—ensure that these things are clean and wash them daily. Your tattoo will start to scab over towards the end of stage one, but don’t pick at these scabs! the base of the scabs may still be attached to the ink-bearing layer of your skin, so removing them prematurely will make your tattoo blotchy and discolored. Let your scabs flake off naturally.
Stage Two – Second Week
Of course, leaving your scabs alone may be a little hard. When your scabs finish forming, the itch sets in and drives you crazy. Dealing with the itch varies from person to person, but remember: the worst thing you can do at this stage is pick off your scabs. Let your colorful scabs flake off naturally so that the ink does not distort underneath them.
Many tattoo artists recommend applying pressure instead of itching. This temporarily relieves feeling from the area, but will prolong the amount of time it takes for your tattoo to heal by a little bit. A friend of mine got a large back tattoo of the Halo of the Sun—from the Silent Hill game series—and ended up convincing her boyfriend to slap her back every few minutes. You can imagine why that might not be optimal for the tattoo healing process!
You can handle the itch with more than scratching. In example, simply cleaning your tattoo temporarily sates the itchy feeling. Tattoo anti-itch creams also do the trick, although you should take care applying them. That’s where Hustle Butter comes in. Hustle Butter hydrates your skin, speeds up the healing process, and relieves the itchy feeling. The oily texture also reminds you not to itch the moment your fingers make contact with your skin! It contains Vitamin E to boost your skin health and contains no petroleum or alcohol that would ruin your tattoo.
If you want to search for your own tattoo creams, keep in mind that anything with alcohol or petroleum will damage your tattoo. Grabbing some Neosporin or anti-bacterial soap or anti-itch eczema cream might solve the itch, but when your tattoo finishes healing, you’ll regret the damage you did. Look at the ingredients carefully, or use our tattoo healing lotion guide below.
Other than creams, temperature can work wonders. Use a cooling pad to lower the temperature of the area. Lowering the temperature of your skin also increases risk of infection, but as long as you clean and air out your tattoo periodically, it will do okay. Don’t apply an ice pack or cooling pack directly to the skin. Instead, put the pad in a washcloth or a bundle of paper towels for indirect temperature relief.
Stage Three – Third and Fourth Weeks
By now, the final stages of tattoo healing set in, and most of your scabs fall off. The insane itch subsides. The risk of infection drastically reduces and you can start wearing your clothes like normal. However, don’t think your work is done! Healing skin absorbs a lot of moisture, so continue applying your moisturizing lotions. In all stages of the healing process, apply lotions conservatively. Start with a dot, then use your fingers to spread it in a circular manner until it covers the tattoo in a thin layer. You will gradually learn the right amount of lotion for yourself, but try not to apply anything over 3 millimeters in thickness, or your skin can’t breathe or heal quickly.
If you find that conventional tattoo lotions don’t do the job for you, try Ora’s Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve (wow, that’s a mouthful!). The company made this salve with sensitive skin and allergies in mind. It contains no lanolin, aloe, paraben preservatives, mineral oil, wheat (or gluten), food coloring, or synthetic fragrances. If your body reacts to any of those, Hustle Butter and H2Ocean might not work as well as it should, so this salve remains a good backup!
During this stage, your tattoo will look faded or washed out. Your healed skin temporarily forms a scar on top of the wound, which prevents light from reaching down to your colored layer. When your tattoo fully heals, this scar fades and reveals a vibrant tattoo underneath!
Stage Four – Continued Care
Many tattoo artists and sites only list three stages of tattoo healing, but in actuality, you should continue to care for your tattoo until you want it removed! After the wound closes, you should continue using moisturizers that contain no alcohol or petroleum. If any of these moisturizers penetrate through your skin, they may damage your tattoo ink.
Eat a balanced diet with healthy amounts of vitamins E, K, and D, which all promote skin health and immune system health. Always apply sunscreen on the area of the tattoo before going outside. Intense light, such as that from the sun, works the same as laser tattoo removal. Sun block prevents the light from breaking apart ink. Colored ink fades especially fast, so you should take extra care of color tattoos. Tattoo Goo Color Guard Sticks provide light protection in the sunlight and allow portability. Designed specifically for tattoos, I can’t recommend it enough!
Best Lotion for Tattoo Healing
Companies design the best products for tattoo aftercare by taking into consideration the special needs of your infection-prone wound, your healing skin, and the chemistry of your tattoo ink. Harsh chemicals break down your tattoo ink and fade it away, while softer soaps might not protect against infection. This balance of health needs means that you can’t grab just any soap off the counter and use it to clean your tattoo. Since finding soap might prove difficult, we compiled a list of our favorite tattoo healing products to make it easier for you. We also put a small F.A.Q. at the end of this section for frequently asked questions, so be sure to read those!
H2Ocean Ultimate Tattoo Care Kit, 6.2 Ounce
H2Ocean, alongside Tattoo Goo, is one of the greatest tattoo care brands out there. These products contain no alcohol or petroleum, so they are safe for use on tattooed skin. This set uses only three products to get the job done, and it comes with instructions on how to use each of them to maximize their potential.
It treats your tattoo in every healing stage and ensures that your tattoo will stay bright for ages. It is also antibacterial and prevents infection during the crucial healing stage of your tattoo. The moisturizer included with the set is essential in keeping those itchy scabs in check without damaging your skin. You can get it here.
Tattoo Goo Aftercare Kit
If you want a deluxe package that introduces you to all kinds of tattoo aftercare products—rather than just a moisturizer to treat a healing tattoo—then this is the kit to go for. It contains the salve we listed above, along with deep cleansing soap, color guard fade protection, and quick penetrating lotion. The Tattoo Goo Color Guard functions as a sunscreen, ensuring the sun can’t damage the ink of your tattoo.
After harsh chemical soaps, the sun is the leading cause of deteriorated tattoo colors. The soaps and salves included in this kit use natural oils instead of alcohol-based chemicals or disinfectants, making them safe to use on healing tattoo skin. This set contains the best ointment for new tattoo art, so give it a careful inspection. You can get it here.
Hustle Butter Deluxe
Although branded as a luxury tattoo care product, this cream is affordable and covers a lot of necessities for people getting their first tattoo. It primarily relieves itching during stage two of healing, but it also speeds up the entire healing process. Your artist may even apply it before tattooing you, since it helps moisten your skin and prevent stickiness while they ink. All ingredients are vegan and the company used minimal animal testing to create their product. It contains no petroleum or peraben preservatives, ensuring a vivid tattoo that heals well. You can continue using this after your tattoo heals to moisturize the area. Get it here.
Ora’s Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve
Out of all of these products, this Tattoo Salve remains the best choice for people with sensitive skin. It contains no lanolim, paraben preservatives, mineral oil, wheat, grain, gluten, food coloring, or synthetic fragrances. It uses plant-based essential oils along with beeswax so that it can bypass the petroleum texture, and along with that, it contains high amounts of Vitamin E to promote skin health. While the product might look like a jar of baby food and smell just as good, try to use it just for soothing your tattooed area! One jar is enough to treat a back canvas tattoo for the duration of the healing stages. Get it here.
Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment
When you get Aquaphor, it will arrive in a small canister and appear as a mostly transparent yellow gel. It’s halfway between a tattoo cream and a tattoo lotion. This lotion is primarily used to treat diaper rash on babies, but it can also be used to soothe the pain of scabbing tattoos. It is also a product frequently recommended by tattoo artists. If you choose to use Aquaphor, only make a layer of lotion a few millimeters deep. Cover it with plastic wrap and sleep that way.
When you wake up, wash it off with warm water—never use soap during the healing of your tattoo—and apply another thin layer to wear for the day. Excessive use of any lotion can lead to ink damage and it always pays to play it safe. Despite that, Aquaphor has an excellent track record of not affecting tattoos, and I would say that it’s one of the best lotions to use on tattoos. I could not find an example anywhere that Aquaphor damaged a tattoo or caused it to blur. You can get it here.
Tattoo Goo Color Guard Stick
If you are looking for something lighter to use for the occasional outing, Tattoo Goo has you covered. It only has an SPF30 rating, which means that it can’t be used for an extended amount of time, but sometimes that light protection is all you need. It is also a rare product that used no animal testing during its production. Tattoo Goo is a brand with an excellent reputation, and they cover all the bases for tattoo aftercare. Get it here!
Tattoo Aftercare F.A.Q.
How long should I keep ointment on my tattoo?
Listen to your tattoo artist—they will recommend a set amount of time for the first wrapping to remain on. Usually, this amount goes from 12 hours after you get your tattoo to 24 hours after you get your tattoo. If they didn’t tell you anything, keep it on until you go to bed. After that, you should use tattoo cream for healing two to three times per day. It doesn’t matter how long your ointment stays on, just don’t overdo it. Spread the tattoo aftercare lotion in a thin layer. Your skin will naturally absorb the nutrients at a set rate, so any more than that is a waste and could create an environment prone to infection.
Is Eucerin good for tattoos?
Sometimes, stores don’t sell the brands you want. This is why we recommend ordering online ahead of time, but in the event you didn’t do that, you might want to grab this common lotion. Eucerin is a bit of a hit-and-miss. It contains lanolin, which frequently creates allergic reactions. If you’ve never used Eucerin before, don’t start by applying it to a huge open wound with ink inside it! On top of that, it contains other types of alcohol—a big no-no for tattoo healing. You can use it well after your tattoo heals up and your scabs fall off, but not before then.
Is Aquaphor bad for tattoos?
On the other hand, Aquaphor offers a soft lotion that promotes skin health, and it’s widely available. It shouldn’t be used on the tattoo for Stage One of healing, but you can use it once things start to scab. Using it early won’t affect the tattoo, but the body will absorb too much of the lotion in the open wound stage and it might make you feel sick. As with all lotions, use it conservatively. Too much Aquaphor can clog your pores and promote infection. While it doesn’t stand up to products made specifically for tattoos, it does offer a nice alternative while you wait for the real stuff to ship to you. You can use any extra stuff for treating small cuts or scratches later on, too.
How do I know when a tattoo is healed?
In all honestly, it takes forever for your tattoo is healed. Instead of focusing on when it should heal, focus on when different symptoms go away. Tattoo aftercare lasts a lifetime, after all! Your first stage of healing ends when your scabs start to flake off. Your second stage of healing ends when your itch disappears. Your third stage of healing ends when your scabs flake off entirely and your skin is nice and smooth. After that, you’re in your fourth stage of healing, and you’ll stay there until you get it touched up in a decade or two!
What is the average healing time for tattoos?
On average, it takes about three weeks for your wound to seal, and another three weeks for all of the scabs to fall off. Your healing time relies heavily on three things—your immune system’s health, your diet, and your hygiene. Your immune system takes the lead when it comes to healing large wounds. Eating foods high in skin-boosting vitamins helps the wound close quickly. Tattoo healing lotion helps both the skin and the immune system keep bacteria out. The more bacteria you keep out, the less work your immune system needs to do, and the faster your tattoo will scab over. Good health reduces the time it takes for your tattoo to heal!
What are some signs of bad tattoo healing?
If you notice any of these symptoms, go to a doctor right away!
- Large redness around your tattoo that doesn’t get better after stage one of healing. This indicates an infection or an allergic reaction.
- Heat after the first stage of healing. Heat means that the immune system detects a foreign body or infection, and if this lasts longer than your first stage of healing, it means your immune system can’t keep up. Waiting too long for a doctor can cause the infection to spread throughout your body.
- Fluid, pus, or bleeding after the first stage of healing. A little plasma and blood during the first few days is normal, and even expected! After that, your tattoo should scab up. If it doesn’t—or if your body continues to ooze—you have a problem.
- Any pain or puffiness that persists after your first stage of healing. Your tattoo might look scabbed and scaly, and your skin might itch like crazy, but everything else should look and feel better. If it doesn’t, something strange is going on.
- Black veins near the tattoo, at any stage. Go see a doctor, a serious infection has spread to your blood.
If you contact your tattoo artist about any of these symptoms, they will just say the same thing: you need a doctor’s opinion! Sometimes these symptoms mean nothing, other times they can mean an infection, and still other times an allergic reaction might be taking place. Everyone responds differently to tattoos, so only a doctor can discern what’s going on!
My black tattoo healed and turned gray. What gives?
First, stay calm. A healing tattoo looks faded, and this is a perfectly normal tattoo healing process. The skin on top of your tattoo remains a little bit scarred from the procedure, but will gradually become transparent and let the black ink shine through. Six weeks after you get your tattoo, you should see your tattoo healing day by day and revealing more of the black ink underneath your skin!
Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to take care of your tattoo. Foregoing aftercare could make you sick, warp your tattoo permanently, or even allow an allergic reaction to spread. On the other hand, taking great care to keep your tattoo clean will make it very vivid, especially if your tattoo has color! Tattoos stay with you forever, so a little bit of commitment and dedication go a long way towards making them last. Whether this is your first tattoo or your twenty-first tattoo, know the tattoo healing process and use it to your advantage!
There’s a chance we might have missed something, so feel free to ask us anything about the tattoo healing process! The InkDoneRight team is always on hand to answer any questions and expand this article with any new information. We also listen to suggestions from our dear visitors, so just leave a comment below if you want to be heard. As always, thanks for reading, and keep clean!