Did you know that the tattoo healing process is arguably the most important phase of getting inked? Sounds strange, right? Not exactly, as any permanent tattoo is more like a glorified wound that needs time to heal, especially if you want to avoid infections and allow the design to play out, as expected.
What most customers fail to understand is that the tattoo healing process isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. Instead, it might even take up to 6 months for the tattoo to heal completely and the design or rather the ink deposits to settle down.
Also, tattooed individuals, despite being instructed by tattoo artists, fail to segregate the healing process and end up caring less for the designs. While in some cases marginal attention might lead to blowouts, enthusiasts should be more concerned about the infections.
However, at Tattoo Machine Guns, I feel that every reader should get ahead of the tattoo healing stages, even before he or she thinks about considering a new design. Therefore, I plan on putting together a detailed tattoo healing guide that talks about different tattoo healing stages, why certain tattoos take longer to heal, beneficial aftercare tips to speed up the healing process, signs of an infected tattoo, preventative measures to avoid infections in the first place, and more.
Different Stages of Tattoo Healing Process
Every tattoo healing process needs to be segregated into four separate stages, depending on the time taken to recover by the tattoo area.
First Stage(0-7th day) Factoring in the Redness and Occasional Oozing
Things to know
The first stage of tattoo healing starts immediately once the artist puts down the machine. Once the tattoo area is cleaned and wiped for blood, the artist wraps a bandage around the same. Depending on the type of tattoo, you are expected to remove the bandage after a few hours or even a couple of days.
Once you remove the wrap, you must keep cleaning the area with antibacterial soap, at least two to three times, each day. Also, instead of rubbing the tattooed region, you must pat dry the same and keep your tattoo free from scratches.
Also, at this stage of healing, you might notice ‘tattoo weeping’, where the tattooed area keeps leaking some clear fluid along with some residual ink. However, you must understand that redness, oozing fluid, soreness, and ink leaks are common at this stage and can be considered a part of the healing process.
Also, if you gently wash the tattoo to heal, the open wound oozes white blood cells and transparent plasma, which is completely natural and nothing to worry about. But then, at this point, you should minimize direct sunlight exposure and let the skin breathe by resorting to loose clothing.
Second Stage (8-15th day) or the ‘Itching’ Starts
Things to know
This stage requires you to be more careful with tattoo aftercare as, by the end of the first week, you will be tempted to scratch the life out of the tattooed surface that might have exceeded its itch-bearing tolerance. However, you need to hold off and recognize the fact that every wound itches when it’s healing and it is no different for a tattoo.
The best way to approach this stage is to apply a fragrance-free lotion on and around the area. But then, you should make sure that the tattoo lotion is applied to dry skin. Also, you should avoid removing the peels and flakes on your own and just let them fall off organically.
You can even apply ice wrapped in a thick sheet of cloth to manage the growing itching effect. Finally, if the discomfort starts becoming unbearable, ask for the OTC antihistamine to fix it from the inside, by minimizing the allergic reaction.
However, if the redness persists in the surrounding skin or an allergic reaction keeps bothering you, it is necessary to get a medical procedure done by connecting to a skin specialist. Also, if you start noticing puffy skin in addition to the expected peeling skin that is completely normal, you must extend the healing time associated with this stage.
You can even rely on a medical ointment to minimize the itchy sensation or to help the deeper layers of the skin heal better in time.
Third Stage (16-30th day) Still ‘Cloudy’
Things to know
By the time you reach the third stage, your tattoo is expected to have healed up to 80 percent. However, the existence of heavier scabs might impart a dullish appearance on the same, which isn’t a cause for concern and is expected to get better in time. However, you should keep your tattoo dry, keep applying lotion, and even use relevant tattoo aftercare products to maintain the design in good shape, even during this penultimate stage of tattoo healing.
But then, you should still not scratch the tattooed region and give it some additional recovery time to get rid of the minimal tenderness or hives that might still be around.
Fourth Stage (2nd month onwards) Aftercare
Things to know
Tattoo aftercare might seem a tad dissociated with the healing process but it carries a lot of significance in keeping the tattoo healthy, in the long run. While you don’t need to clean your tattoo extensively at this stage, you might have to continue using moisturizing lotions, warm water baths, and even take care of the new skin that starts growing after the scabbing is over.
Still, if you notice redness at this stage, medical guidance might be necessary as the outer layer hasn’t fully healed despite the detailed aftercare routine. While a weak immune system might be a reason, you should know that these issues might persist if you have dry skin.
How to Speed up Tattoo Healing
Talking about the stages makes no sense if you cannot decide on the required aftercare routine and tips to speed up the healing process. Here are the strategies that you need to follow:
1. Keep the Tattoo Clean
This is one strategy that requires no background. If you can keep the tattoo clean, you can minimize the proliferation of bacteria and avoid infection-related symptoms in the process. However, taking frequent showers isn’t going to cut it and you must opt for a fragrance-free soap and continue to gently wash the area with warm water, if and when possible.
However, if the water quality is questionable, purifying the same before washing is the best way to proceed.
2. Frequent Moisturizing
You should keep the skin moisturized, as a part of the healing process. When it comes to the products to choose from, chemical-free ointment, gentle fragrance-free moisturizer, and a handful of petroleum-based, the purest form of coconut oil can help.
3. Invest in a Good Sunscreen
While you need to avoid direct sunlight exposure for the first week, it is necessary to invest in high-quality sunscreen lotion for the subsequent weeks to offer sun protection to the tattooed area. Direct sun exposure during the first few weeks can be catastrophic to the overall design and might blur out the designs, making the tattoos appear lighter in time and this is where a good sunscreen can help.
If you are interested in the composition, I would recommend one with ample quality of zinc oxide in it. Plus, you need to look for a broad-spectrum cream if you are a frequent traveler. Not just that, if you are a fitness enthusiast, it is necessary to get water or sweat-resistant cream.
4. Respect Organic Scabbing
A new tattoo is expected to peel off in time and even itch hysterically. However, getting a new tattoo comes with its share of responsibilities as you should allow the new ink to seep into the deeper layers and wait for the new skin to appear in due course, instead of picking at the scabs and causing scarring in the process. Keeping the skin moisturized is a good way to prevent this momentary issue and the sustained inclination towards itching and picking the scabs.
A credible tattoo studio usually lists down all these aftercare instructions, to be followed in the next couple of weeks. However, if the tattoo artist fails to enlist the same, you can reach out to the extensive tattoo community and get the doubts resolved in almost no time.
Lifestyle Inclusion for Speeding up Tattoo Healing
In addition to an impactful tattoo aftercare routine, comprising moisturizers and lotions, you should also make some lifestyle and dietary changes to speed up the healing process. The most probable changes include:
1. Avoid Processed Foods
Dietary options that are heavy on oil, preservatives, and salt need to be avoided, at least for a week or two as the processed ingredients might interfere with the healing processes.
2. Avoid Alcoholic Beverages
I would recommend you stay away from alcohol for at least two weeks after getting a new tattoo, as these beverages act as blood thinners and might speed up the fluid oozing out of the skin layers.
3. Consume Foods Loaded with antioxidants
You can add food items like garlic, tomatoes, salmon, tuna, olive oil, broccoli, and other anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-loaded options as a part of the daily plan to make any tattoo heal faster than usual.
Besides these changes, you must increase your existing water consumption levels to keep the skin hydrated and supple.
When to know that the tattoo has completely healed
Here comes the most important question that every new tattoo enthusiast has on his or her mind. While there is no definite guide that signifies complete healing, you can always look for specific signs and gauge the progress of the overall healing process.
First of all, you should check for tenderness and see if the same lasts even after the 3-week mark. If the redness, soreness, or any form of physical discomfort persists in time, it might be an indication of poor healing progress.
As a tattoo heals slower than any other wound, courtesy of the technicalities and new ink infusion, continuous monitoring is necessary. Also, if you notice redness, itchiness, or even hives after two to three weeks, you might be looking at an infection, which would then require some supervised treatment.
In some cases worsening pain can be an indication that the new tattoo requires a better healing and aftercare routine. Put simply, the healing time is a good indication of how well the open wound is healing. The faster dead skin appears on the surrounding skin tissue, the quicker the tattoo will completely heal.
7 Signs that the Tattoo isn’t Healing Properly
A healing tattoo shouldn’t be hard to track if you follow the overall healing process perfectly. However, if the healing time starts to grow, you should follow up and keep a close eye on specific physical signs that might be indicative of poor healing.
Going under the weather for a short while after getting a tattoo is completely normal. However, if the fever lasts throughout the first week, coupled with chills, you might be looking at infection and medical supervision.
2. Consistent Pain
If you are still in pain after two weeks, you should immediately go and see a medical practitioner. In most cases, chronic and recurring pain means that the deep skin layers are affected or smarting under some sort of infection.
While a week of redness is normal, you should consider prolonged redness as a worrying signal and a precursor of an underlying infection. To avoid redness in the first place, you should focus more on the initial dressing of the tattoo and continue using a paper towel to clean the tattoo during the first week to minimize abrasions.
4. Oozing Liquid
Here is one sign that often sends shivers down the spine of a tattoo enthusiast. However, oozing liquid encountered during the initial stage of healing is natural and the deep skin layers try to push out the plasma and the residual new ink.
But, fluid build-up in the subsequent weeks is a cause for concern, especially when it’s yellowish or green in color. This signifies the build-up of white blood cells as an immune response sent out by the body to fight a lasting infection.
5. Puffy Skin
It is natural for the tattooed skin to feel a bit puffy once the body art is complete. This might be due to the accumulation of ink in the deep layers of the skin. However, if the swelling continues for the next few weeks, followed by a burning sensation, the healing process might not be heading in the right direction.
Also, persistent swelling and puffiness also imply an allergic reaction that the skin has toward the ink.
6. Continued Itching
Hive breakout can be a worrying development if it is followed by prolonged spells of itchiness. While it is common to experience an itchy skin surface that beckons scratching, especially as one aspect of the peeling skin, persistence and the uncontrolled desire to scratch the surface can be a worrisome sign if you are looking at a fully healed tattoo.
What’s alarming is the skin surrounding the tattoo shows signs of scarring, especially after a few weeks. As the natural response of the body is to fix any open wound with the immunity response, scarring is the least probable threat to experience. However, if the aftercare routine, as mentioned in the previous segments, isn’t conformed, you might start experiencing scarring along with unwanted scabbing.
How long does it take for new tattoos to heal
The time taken by a tattoo to heal depends on a wide range of factors. These include conformity to the tattoo healing process in general, aftercare routine, type of tattoo, tattoo machine used to create the masterpiece, skin texture, and quality, type of ink, depth of the wound, and even the size of the tattoo. Also, your personal data, like health-based info, existing allergies, and preexisting conditions can also influence the time taken for the tattoo to heal and look as vibrant as expected.
However, there are some tattoos that take a tad bit longer to fully heal. These tattoos include wrist, ankle, or hand-adhering designs, which do not move as much and do not get a lot of time to breathe. Plus, if you are into colored tattoos, the healing time might be a lot more than a basic lining or even shading escapade.
Regardless of the permutations and combinations, it is still the type of skin surface and even the body type that determines how long it take for the tattoo to heal!
Preventative Measures to avoid infections
While following a detailed aftercare process is advisable to speed up tattoo healing, you can take certain preventative measures to minimize the risks of symptoms and blowouts, in the first place.
1. Experienced Tattoo Artists
It is important to cross-check the credibility of the concerned tattoo artist before appearing for the session. As a rule of thumb, it is necessary to connect with the previous clients of the selected tattoo artist and clarify the quality, safety, and hygiene-related doubts if any.
Plus, getting inked by top-rated artists is also important if you are planning to get a new tattoo, and that too for the first time. A seasoned tattoo artist recommends the best tattoo aftercare and healing procedures, which come in handy in the long term.
2. Check for the Machines
While experienced tattoo artists wouldn’t like you querying a lot about the type of machine they use, I would recommend you to keep an eye on the device that he or she might be using, precisely to understand the level or rather the extent of skin rupturing.
An experienced tattoo artist using a pen-like tattoo machine or a well-calibrated coil tattoo machine is the balance you need to seek, to make the tattoo heal faster and even keep chances of blowouts to a minimum.
3. Check with the Doctor
It is necessary to check for any allergies before getting inked. Your skin might start reacting abnormally if the composition of the fresh tattoo ink is loaded with allergens. Therefore, before getting a tattoo, it is necessary to check the quality of the fresh tattoo ink and evaluate it against the allergic components that the skin might react to, abnormally.
Common Tattoo Healing FAQs
What are the stages of tattoo healing?
Basically, there are four tattoo healing stages, with the healing stage persisting for a week followed by the next seven days of combating itchiness. The third healing stage aims at taking care of the bigger scabs whereas the last stage concerns continued aftercare.
How do I know if my tattoo is healing properly?
If you see dead skin cells appearing around the tattoo region with the symptoms and burning sensation dissipating in time, your tattoo is healing just right.
Can a tattoo heal in 3 days?
Not exactly, as even the smallest of tattoos requires 10 to 15 days to heal. However, if the itching subsides in the first three days, it might be due to a top-notch diet plan and a detailed aftercare routine.
What to do while the tattoo is healing?
As the tattoo heals, you should try to get ample rest, stay away from abrupt showers and swimming lessons, and even avoid working out for the first week or so. Plus, you should not stretch the area a lot as it might lead to blowouts.
How long does an average tattoo take to fully heal?
A mid-range tattoo takes around 4 to 6 weeks to heal properly. However, if you consider getting the shine back as a part of healing, it might take up to 4 months for the design to open up to the world.
While getting a tattoo can be an extremely overwhelming experience for certain individuals, taking care of its healing cycle is what seems to be the most complex part. However, the process is expected to go swimmingly if you get a good read of this article and follow the mentioned steps, strategies, and preventative measures to the letter, specifically to speed up the tattoo healing process and make it even more productive, when amplifying the vividness of the body art is concerned.
Although I have covered most of the aspects in detail, you should take good care of the fresh ink of the tattoo, tattoo needles, tattoo aftercare ointment, symptoms relevant to bacteria proliferation, swelling, excessively itchy tattoo region or lack therefore, and other factors to ensure that the tattoo has fully healed.
Not to mention, the fresh ink tends to blot and must be given attention even while you attend to the healing skin. Tattoos heal but how long it takes depends on when the healing begins or whether you have taken proper aftercare measures or not. The usage of petroleum-based products, and taking good care of swelling, infected regions, itchy surfaces, and more can be good paths to complete recovery or ways to heal your tattoo, comprehensively.