After your tattoo has spent some time healing, you might find yourself with the question ‘why do tattoos peel, anyways?’ It always happens at the same stage of healing, so there’s certainly a reason, but it’s not as if your tattoo got a sunburn. You (hopefully) even use tattoo lotion to speed up the healing process, so what’s up? Your other scratches, scrapes, and itches never peeled—so why this one? The short answer is that your skin is healing up after sustaining a huge wound that pierced it to the core and jeopardized its normal growth cycle. The long answer is a bit more complicated than that.
As you might have already figured out, tattoo peeling is a completely normal part of the healing process. In fact, it would be strange if your tattoo never peeled at all. Before reading on, please know that it’s important to let your body naturally shed this skin. It might be super itchy, but those flakes contain ink that your skin will continue to absorb for as long as your tattoo is healing—which is over six weeks! The scabs should only peel off over the course of a week, but giving your body as much time as possible before removing the skin is beneficial to you—it creates a more vibrant tattoo. Scratching, on the other hand, will damage your tattoo and can cause it to look splotchy. Tattoo lotion helps soothe the itch, so check some out! If even lotion doesn’t help, look for some tattoo numbing cream or lidocaine cream to assuage your pain.
Now Really, Why Do Tattoos Peel?
Now, back to the main question at hand: why do tattoos peel? Even if your artist uses the latest and greatest tattoo chairs, tattoo beds, and tattoo guns, your tattoo will still peel. It has to do with the nature of the wound and how your body heals. When receiving a tattoo, a needle will pierce you thousands of times in very close vicinity. Each time, it introduces a foreign element to your body, and your immune system starts to go crazy. Because so much skin is torn apart, your body responds as if it was an open wound—it sends tons of blood to the area, and some of the plasma from your blood will leak out. It is mainly plasma because the wounds are small, compared to actual cuts, and plain plasma is better at squeezing through there than plasma with red blood cells or platelets. Although it lacks the healing punch that regular blood would have, that plasma helps prevent you from getting an infection. As long as plasma is covering your wound, foreign objects like bacteria are less likely to infect you.
You might notice that there is a slightly different consistency between the flakes of your tattoo and the flakes of a sunburn—your tattoo contains plasma residue. Once your plasma stops flowing out, it leaves a clear residue that helps wounds to heal—including tattoos. It seals in moisture and keeps the wound as clean as possible. As soon as that residue dries up, it can no longer prevent the tattoo from peeling. Starting with the outside layer, your skin will start to peel off. But why is there a need to prevent peeling in the first place?
Well, it might surprise you to know this, but our bodies have adapted over time to diseases like cancer. Injuring large amounts of cells increases the chance that a damaged, cancerous cell will begin replicating and filling in the gap left behind by all the dead cells. More damaged cells means a greater chance that one of those cells are cancerous, so your body gives clear orders to the whole region: to cease functioning, replicating, or healing. This mass die-off creates many layers of useless skin cells.
Normally, we shed only a few cells at a time. People with dandruff might shed a bit more than usual, but on average, the shedding is not noticeable. There are very few things that can cause noticeable damage, and among those things are sunburns and tattoos. Rather than shedding off a few flakes at a time, your body will shed off whole layers. Combined with goopy plasma that is attempting to heal your skin, you can accidentally cause a mess during this stage of the healing process. There is, thankfully, a rhyme and rhythm to the peeling process.
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It’s All About Skin
Your skin has many different layers, and each layer will peel off at different intervals. The top will be the first to go, and certainly none of it will remain. The further down you go, the more time your skin cells have to heal before they are given the order to flake off. If they manage to heal properly, they will not receive instructions to peel. This means that the bottom layers are less likely to peel, and they might even fully heal before the area loses its moisture.
It’s a very good thing that all of your skin doesn’t fall off during the tattooing process. If that happened, there would be no way to get a tattoo at all. Tattoo artists are skilled enough to create a wound, which would normally destroy the skin of the area, that heals quickly. Now, as you read this, you might be wondering what will happen after the peeling stops. Well, I’ll give you a bit of a spoiler: your tattoo will appear faded. As I mentioned before, the lower layers of your skin might entirely heal before they are told to flake off. In this case, those layers do not have very much ink in them. Most of the ink was inserted below them, so these layers do not have any color of their own. Your skin will appear like a scar normally does—slightly lighter than usual and puffy. This layer of healed skin is a scar that blocks the true colors of your tattoo. Don’t worry, though—once these cells die, they will shed and reveal the true colors of your tattoo.
You Have to Take it!
It might be difficult, but do your best not to pick at your tattoo as it peels! As I mentioned before, the ink may still be absorbed into your body for up to six weeks after you receive the tattoo. You want those scabs to stay on as long as possible, even if it means resisting that itching feeling for weeks. A little bit of tattoo ointment helps you through the process, while tattoo numbing gel makes this stage a breeze. After six weeks, that lighter layer of skin will finally shed away and the final colors of your tattoo will shine. If you took care of your skin and did not peel, these colors will be incredibly vibrant. If you gave in to the urge, there’s a chance that it will be patchy, splotchy, and appear faded in some areas—not cool at all!
You can use some Tattoo AfterCare products to support your skin healing. They will help with the itchiness of the peeling but they wont stop nor prevent the peeling itself.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out our other ones at InkDoneRight. We even have articles dedicated to tattoo aftercare and tattoo aftercare products, which goes over how to deal with itching and much more! As always, thanks for reading. As always, thanks for reading!