Pop culture is familiar with the tattooing process, but it could be better versed in the stages between. This in-between stage is a time of uncertainty. How long will it take for a tattoo to heal? The healing process is it painful? What are the signs that a tattoo may not be healing correctly? These are all perfectly reasonable questions. To help demystify tattoo healing, I sat with Dr. Liza A. Moore, my board-certified dermatologist colleague, and Adam Makharita, a tattoo artist.
Tattoo Healing Stages
According to our experience, the healing process of a tattoo is divided into three stages.
It’s normal for a new tattoo to appear red, swollen, and tender in the first 48-72 hours. 1 Makharita says that the symptoms will improve each day. If you experience prolonged symptoms, your artist or physician should evaluate them.
The top layer of the skin will peel, flake, scab, and itch as the healing progresses. This is similar to what the body does when recovering from a burn. 2 Do not scratch, rub, pick at scabs, or remove peeling skin. These actions can cause further injury and delay the healing process.
In our experience, the tattoo may appear dull and dark for up to one month following the procedure. The tattoo’s color may be permanent at the one-month mark. After tattoos have healed, the skin beneath the tattoo continues to remodel for 3 to 6 months.
How long does it take for tattoos to heal?
Tattoos take approximately one month to become permanent in a healthy, young individual. However, as previously mentioned, they are fully healed after three months. Some factors can affect the healing time. Tattoos with darker colors may heal slower. Margarita says tattoos with saturated pigments require more needle pricks than finer ink. This could cause a more pronounced inflammatory reaction, requiring a potentially more extended recovery period.
Tattoo Aftercare and Healing Tips
Both experts offer slightly different instructions for post-care, but their core routines are the same. The body can heal the wound if we don’t interfere. Margarita stresses that daily improvements are essential and that a lack of progress could indicate infection or delayed wound healing.
Cover the tattoo for seven days with a breathable and adhesive bandage. Moore suggests Derm Shield (35 dollars). These bandages protect the wound while allowing it to breathe. She recommends washing the skin gently with soap and water and then reapplying a bandage daily for the first seven days. The application may be removed after the first week. It’s still important to keep applying a healing cream to the tattoo until it shows signs of healing.
Cleanse the tattoo site with antibacterial soap. Margarita recommends that clients leave a breathable dressing on their tattoos for three days. Margarita suggests cleaning with antibacterial soap twice daily after removing the bandage.
Apply the healing ointment. After removing the bandage and cleansing the area twice daily with antibacterial soap for three days, Makharita suggests applying Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment daily. After the first seven days, Makharita recommends that clients switch to a gentle lotion such as Eucerin Advanced Repair Cream ($10).
How to Tell if Your Tattoo isn’t Healing Properly
You can tell if your tattoo isn’t healing correctly by noticing a few signs. Consult your doctor if you experience swelling, redness, or itching after a few weeks. If you see any pus or fluid oozing out of the tattoo, this could indicate infection.
The Final Takeaway
The tattoo healing procedure is relatively straightforward. Our experts have found that swelling, pain, and oozing usually resolve by day three, followed by itching, peeling, and other symptoms for a further week. Your tattoo may appear darker or duller for the first few weeks. Your dermatologist or tattoo artist can provide the best advice on caring for your tattoo. This will help prevent infection and produce a better result.
Should I cover my tattoo at night time?
Wrapping the ink in plastic is a good idea for your first night. Consult your tattoo artist on this matter. You want to ensure the tattoo gets as much air and is not covered.
Learn more about Tattoo Aftercare: How to care for your new tattoo.
Can I cover a tattoo with clothes?
Wearing clothes over your tattoo is possible (depending on where you have been inked). Choose loose-fitting, natural fabrics, like cotton, to avoid tight clothing.
When can I handle my tattoo?
Ask your tattoo artist about their specific instructions. Leave your tattoo under the bandages for at least hours. It would be best if you cleaned your tattoo after washing up. Tattooist Tuki Carter says the most important thing to do is wash your hands before cleaning your tattoos. “[I recommend] that you first listen to your tattooer’s verbal instructions and then follow the written instructions.”