Art is pain, or so the saying goes.
It can also be itchy, very itchy. At least, it can be with tattoos.
Itching is a natural part of the tattoo healing process. About a week after you get your new tattoo, you’ll start feeling the urge to scratch. By the time you hit the peeling stage you might want to claw your own skin off.
It’s important not to pick at the tattoo during this phase, but that begs the question: how long do tattoos itch? In most cases, tattoos will be itchy for one to two weeks. Once the skin heals over and the scabs fall off, you shouldn't experience itchiness any longer. Although rare, some people experience itching months or even years after they get a tattoo.
Of course, like with everything else in life, there are exceptions.
In the article below we’ll talk about why tattoos itch, what you can do about it, and how to stop an older tattoo from driving you nuts.
Why Do Tattoos Itch? Explained
Before you can stop the itch, you have to figure out why you’re itching in the first place.
There are several reasons why your tattoo might be giving you grief. These range from potential infections to totally normal.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell, but you know your body best. If you think something’s wrong with your tattoo or the itching is getting worse, it might be time to see your doctor.
It’s Gotten Infected
Getting a tattoo means having a bunch of needles stabbing your arm repeatedly at high speeds. Those needles might be injecting some very fanciful ink into the body part of your choice, but they can also put in bacteria.
During your first visit with a new artist, make sure they plan on single-use tools and sterile ink.
Even if everything is clean as a whistle, there’s still a risk your new tattoo will get infected. According to researchers, up to 6% of tattoo lovers experience infections in the first two weeks after getting a new tattoo.
You can lessen the chances your body art will turn into a dangerous problem by following your tattoo artist’s care instructions.
Signs for infection:
- Red streaks
If you think your tattoo is becoming infected, don’t wait. An untreated infection doesn’t just mean a ruined tattoo, it could get serious.
The Ink Was Contaminated
If the bottle your ink came out of was open, then there’s a definite possibility that the ink now in your body is dirty.
Even a sealed bottle that's marked ‘sterile’ can still contain unwanted bacteria. Consequences of reused ink range from a mild reaction to infection. In severe cases, you can even get a bloodborne disease.
To help minimize your risk, make sure your tattoo artist isn’t dumping used ink back into the main container.
Additionally, avoid artists who use deodorant to highlight the initial outline of the tattoo. Having the same stick that's touched the skin of countless others rubbed over yours before you get stabbed with a needle is a recipe for disaster.
You’re Just Healing
In the vast majority of cases, the reason behind an itchy tattoo is simple: it’s healing.
This is a completely normal part of the process. Do your best not to scratch it.
The itchy phase usually starts about a week after you first get your tattoo and goes on for another week or two.
By the end of it, your skin and scabs will be peeling. Whatever you do, do not peel them yourself.
Peeling your scabs or scratching your still fresh ink can cause scarring and even warp your tattoo.
Do Tattoos Itch Forever?
The short answer is, no. The long answer is, it’s complicated. In most cases, your tattoo will stop itching around 3 weeks after you get it, but this isn’t the same for everyone.
For some, the pain and itching can last months or even years.
On a rare occasion you can have an allergic reaction to a tattoo long after getting it. This is especially true if your tattoo involved red ink, which seems to have a higher risk of reaction.
If you’re experiencing hives, red streaks, or hot skin, contact your doctor immediately. These can be signs of infection or allergic reaction.
How Do You Soothe Itchy Tattoos?
How you deal with the itching is going to depend on how long ago you got your tattoo.
Whatever you do, don’t scratch.
- Pat the area gently
If the itchiness gets to be too much, try patting the area instead.
- Keep your skin moisturized
- Don't submerge your tattoo
It’s also important to never submerge a new tattoo in water as this can lead to infection.
- Avoid the sun
Don't expose your new tattoos to sunlight until they are completely healed. Getting your new tattoo exposed to UV rays will increase the chances of your tattoo getting itchy.
Older tattoos are a little easier to please.
- Cold compress
Once you’ve gotten through the first few weeks, you can use a cold compress. This will help reduce swelling and stop itchiness in its tracks.
- Oatmeal bath
An oatmeal bath may also provide you with some relief. If you have any scabs left at all, do not scratch.
- Keep your tattoo moisturized
Keeping your skin moisturized will prevent your tattoos from itching. Use lotion for tattoos made with natural products to protect your skin, as the lack of additives will reduce the chances for itchiness.
- Protect your tattoos from the sun
Tattooed skin and UV rays don't mix well together.
Getting our tattoos exposed to the sun without protection will make our skin dry, which will lead to itchiness. Make sure to apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before exposing your tattoos to sunlight.
Why Are Old Tattoos Itchy?
If your tattoo is already healed over, a little scratch isn’t likely to hurt it, though it’s still best not to.
Older tattoos itch for a variety of reasons. This can be as simple as a change in the weather or as annoying as a late stage allergic reaction.
Some people report their tattoos get itchier depending on how much moisture is in the air. Dry winter air means dry skin while wet summer air can make your tattoo swell.
Basically, as long as the area isn’t hot and doesn’t have a rash, your tattoo is probably fine.
So how long do tattoos itch? In the majority of cases, a new tattoo will only be itchy for a couple weeks or so. Once the skin heals over and the scabs fall off, things should get much better.
That said, some people experience itching months or even years after they get a tattoo.
In rare cases, a late stage allergic reaction may happen. If your tattoo is hot, swollen, or covered in hives, you should seek a doctor’s help right away.