Before you whip off the protective tattoo film, it’s essential to understand the healing process that your skin is about to experience. One of the questions we get the most is when is a tattoo considered fully healed.
So, how long does it take for a tattoo to heal? After getting tattooed, the outer layer of the skin typically takes 2-3 weeks to heal. However, the layer underneath can take up to 6 months to fully bounce back to normal.
In this article, we’ll dive into the healing process and go over what to expect after your tattoo.
4 Stages of Tattoo Healing Process
Stage 1 (First 72h)
This is the first stage post-tattoo.
Your tattoo is just like an open wound and should be treated accordingly. It should be bandaged immediately, either with tattoo bandage or cling film.
- Burning sensation
Understanding how wounds heal can help you better understand the healing process for your tattoo.
Stage 2 (Days 3 to 7)
You might feel like a snake shedding its skin during this stage, as the skin naturally becomes flaky and begins to peel off. At this point, your skin is inflamed and healing itself.
- Itchiness (side effect of skin tissue healing)
- Flaky skin
- Moderate inflammation
Stage 3 (Second week)
Your tattoo should feel very dry at this point. The colors of the tattoo might appear dull, but do not fear. At this stage, dry skin is forming over the tattoo, which will naturally go away, leaving your tattoo as bright as ever.
- Dry skin
- Color fading
Stage 4 (After 2 weeks)
Your skin should be fully healed, and your tattoo should have no more itchy feelings. It’s essential to keep up with aftercare throughout all stages of the healing process, including this one.
- No itchiness.
- No pain.
- Healed tattoo.
Read also: How long do tattoos itch?
3 Most Important Tattoo Aftercare Tips
For your tattoo to heal in the best way possible and avoid infection, it’s essential to follow these instructions.
Read also: Infected tattoos: how to avoid them
1. Allow your tattoo to breathe.
Oxygen is vital in the healing process.
Therefore, if your tattoo is wrapped with cling film, remove it when you get home the first night, and put on a new one after cleaning the area. After the first night, let your skin breathe, with no cling film on it.
However, if using breathable (recommended) tattoo bandage, keep it on the first night, change it the day after and keep it for 3 days.
This bandage allows your skin to breath while protecting the area and avoids ruining your sheets.
2. Clean your tattoo 2-3 times a day.
Gently wash your tattoo using tattoo soap or simply lukewarm water and neutral soap.
3. Apply moisturizer.
Use Sorry Mom's Tattoo Balm to keep your tattoo moisturized for the first few days.
What NOT to Do When a Tattoo is Healing.
A part of the healing phase of a tattoo is itchiness. Don’t give in. Scratching your new tattoo can lead to scarring.
Don’t expose your new tattoo to sunlight
Sunlight will lead to fading and discoloration of your fresh tattoo. When completely healed, protect your tattoos with specific tattoo sunscreen.
Don’t soak your tattoo in water.
Allowing your tattoo to be submerged in water can lead to a build-up of bacteria.
Don’t use scented lotions.
There are chemicals in scented lotions and perfumes that will fade the color of your tattoo. They can also cause inflammation.
Don’t shave around the tattooed area until fully healed.
The hair or shaving cream that could get in the skin could seriously irritate the tattoo. It’s best to let the tattoo fully heal before trying to shave close to it.
How to Reduce Tattoo Healing Time
Our bodies have this fundamental capacity to heal themselves. From the moment the wound opens, your white blood cells are doing everything in their power to mend you right up.
While healing is a natural process of the body, we have the capacity to help reduce the healing time by taking proper care of all wounds. And yes, that means tattoos.
Let’s go over some ways you can help your tattoo heal quicker:
- Prepare your body before your tattoo - Vitamin C
Vitamin C is vital for skin functioning and healing, and it stimulates collagen and elastin, which minimizes the risk of scarring. To get Vitamin C in your system, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables before your tattoo.
- On the day of your tattoo, avoid taking any blood thinners such as fish oil or aspirin.
Taking blood thinners will cause your tattoo to bleed more, increasing the healing time significantly. Blood thinners will also cause the ink to leak out more, leading to a less vivid tattoo.
- Eat some starchy carbohydrates a couple of hours before your tattoo.
As you are getting tattooed, your body creates a stress response which burns through sugar.
Starchy carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, or potatoes will slowly release glucose to your system, allowing you to feel good throughout the process. It'll be a lot less likely to faint with stabilized blood sugar.
- Drink lots of water 24 hours before your tattoo.
Hydrated skin is healthy skin. Your skin will take ink easier when it’s hydrated, leading to a quicker tattoo process.
- Avoid getting sunburnt skin tattooed.
If you have any skin damage or spent a little too much time in the sun prior to your tattoo appointment, you might want to reschedule.
It will be an incredibly painful process, and will require a longer tattoo session since sunburnt skin is usually very dry. Read more about the risks of having dry skin here.
- Moisturize every day for a week before getting your tattoo.
This will allow your skin to take in the ink much easier, and will make for a smoother tattoo and overall healing process.
8 Signs That Your Tattoo is NOT Healing Properly:
Keep in mind that while it’s essential to take care of your tattoo in the proper way throughout the healing process, it’s also vital that you know what to look out for if something doesn’t seem to be healing appropriately.
Things to keep your eye out for:
1. Puffy skin surrounding the tattoo
A swollen tattoo is typical in the first couple of days. However, continuous puffy skin around the tattoo after a few days could be an allergic reaction to the ink.
2. Breakout in hives
If you start noticing hives or severe itchy spots around your tattoo, this could be a sign of an allergy.
3. Prolonged bleeding
If your tattoo is still oozing blood after the 3rd day, it could be infected.
If you notice an increase in your body temperature and chills, it might be a sign of infection.
5. Distorted tattoo
Redness is caused by the widening of blood vessels due to the inflammation process.
But if your tattoo is continuously red, colors are looking distorted (not just faded), and the skin surrounding the tattoo is swollen, this may be a sign of tattoo scarring.
Distortion is a sign your tattoo is not healing appropriately.
6. Intense and worsening pain
Yes, it will be a little painful after receiving your tattoo, just like a normal wound would feel sore.
But, if the area of your tattoo is getting more painful day by day, it could be a sign of an infection.
If you notice any of these things happening, it might be time to visit the doctor.
7. Continuous seeping of pus
If you are experiencing a yellow-brown liquid seeping out of your tattoo for a few days, this is a good indication of a skin infection.
8. Hot skin
If your skin seems to be radiating heat for days after your tattoo, this could be a sign of infection, as blood is carrying heat from the inner core of the body to the surface levels of the skin.
How Long Does It Take for a Small Tattoo to Heal?
Healing will depend on the size of your tattoo and the amount of ink it has. You can expect a smaller tattoo to take less time to heal, but you should still be using the proper aftercare on any sized tattoo for six months after receiving it.
How Long Does it Take for a Tattoo to Stop Hurting?
A newly done tattoo feels similar to a sunburn. Therefore, you can expect pain or discomfort from a fresh tattoo for the first 2 weeks. The pain experienced post-tattoo will vary based on pain tolerance, size of the tattoo, and amount of ink in the tattoo.
As the pain of the sunburn fades after a few days, so will the pain of your fresh ink.
Can You Let Your Tattoo Heal On Its Own?
Letting a tattoo healing on its own is not recommendable at all. This is not the direction you want to take when allowing your fresh tattoo to heal.
If you do nothing this can lead to infection, inflammation, discoloration and or scarring.
Healing takes time and does not just happen overnight.
Your body has the capacity to heal, and you have the capacity to encourage the healing process after getting a tattoo by taking proper care of yourself.
Listen to what your body needs, and don’t rush the healing process.
Oh, and don’t forget to moisturize.