The Tattoo Healing Process | Your Stage-by-Stage Guide

Close-up of man with beard and tattoos thoughtfully looking down during tattoo healing process

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Getting a tattoo is an exciting experience, but it’s just the beginning of your ink journey.

As your tattoo heals, it will go through several stages, each with its own unique characteristics and care requirements.

Understanding what to expect at each stage of the tattoo healing process is an important aspect for ensuring optimal recovery and achieving the best possible results.

Over the years we have seen many clients come in and then completely disregard the follow up healing, finding themselves disappointed in the future when fading or other issues arise.

Don’t be that person!

In this article, we’ll walk you through the tattoo healing journey, from fresh ink to fully healed.

We’ll explore the timeline of each stage, what you can expect, and provide expert tips for navigating the process with confidence, so you’re not caught off guard.

Whether you’re a tattoo newbie or have a full body suit, this guide will help you care for your artwork like it deserves.

Stage 1: Fresh Ink (Days 1-3)

Okay the painful part is over, that’s a good start! During the first few days, your tattoo is essentially an open wound. It will probably be red, swollen, and tender to the touch.

You may also notice some oozing of ink, blood, and plasma. This is all completely normal and a sign that your body is beginning the healing process.

Do your best to stay away from the friends or family who think it would be funny to slap you! You don’t want that!

What to expect:

  • – Redness and swelling around the tattooed area.
  • – Oozing of ink, blood, and plasma.
  • – Tenderness and sensitivity to touch

What to do:

– Keep your tattoo covered with a sterile bandage for the first 24 hours, or as directed by your tattoo artist.

– After removing the bandage, gently wash your tattoo with fragrance-free, antibacterial soap and lukewarm water.

– Pat your tattoo dry with a clean, soft towel and apply a thin layer of tattoo aftercare ointment or lotion.

– Avoid direct sunlight and soaking your tattoo in water.

For more detailed information on caring for your fresh tattoo, check out our Tattoo Aftercare Secrets: Proven Tips for Optimal Healing 

Cropped view of tattooed man's thoughtful face and inked arms in tattoo healing phase

Stage 2: Itching and Flaking (Days 3-7)

As your tattoo begins to heal, you may experience some itching and flaking.

This is a sign that your skin is regenerating, and the top layer is beginning to shed.

Anyone who has got a tattoo before will know how itchy and irritating this can be but resist the urge to scratch or pick at your tattoo.

If you spend these early stages in a daydream and scratching your skin like a whacked out crack head, you will run the risk of damaging the tattoo. Refrain!

What to expect:

  • – Itching and flaking of the tattooed area
  • – Slight fading of the tattoo color
  • – Formation of thin, dry scabs

What to do:

– Continue to gently wash your tattoo twice a day with antibacterial soap and lukewarm water.

– Apply a thin layer of fragrance-free, hypoallergenic lotion to keep your skin moisturized and reduce itching.

– If the itching becomes unbearable, try applying a cold compress or taking an oatmeal bath to soothe your skin.

– Resist the urge to scratch or pick at the flaking skin and scabs.

– If worse comes to worst and you seriously cannot resist, give the area a slap. We have found this can bring some relief without ripping at the skin.

Stage 3: Peeling and Scabbing (Weeks 1-2)

During this stage, your tattoo may start to peel and scab over. This is a normal part of the healing process and a sign that your skin is repairing itself.

It’s important to let the scabs fall off naturally and avoid picking or pulling at them, as this can cause scarring and damage to your tattoo.

What to expect:

  • – Peeling of the top layer of skin
  • – Formation of thicker, darker scabs
  • – Flaking and shedding of the scabs

What to do:

  • – Continue to wash your tattoo gently and apply a thin layer of moisturiser.
  • – Avoid soaking your tattoo in water, such as in baths or swimming pools, as this can soften the scabs and cause them to fall off prematurely.
  • – Wear loose, breathable clothing to avoid irritating your tattoo.
  • – Let the scabs fall off naturally, and don’t force them off or pick at them.
Smiling tattooed man shows teeth as his ink heals during the tattoo healing process

Stage 4: Fully Healed (Weeks 2-4)

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the final stage of the tattoo healing journey!

Hopefully you haven’t been walking around your house scratching the shit out of your tattoo and looking like a madman (or madwoman of course).

By this point, your tattoo should be fully healed, although it may still appear slightly duller or cloudy compared to when it was first done.

This is normal and will improve over time as your skin continues to regenerate.

What to expect:

  • – Tattoo appears fully healed but may look slightly duller than when first done
  • – Skin may still feel slightly tight or dry

What to do:

  • – Continue to moisturise your tattoo daily to keep the skin hydrated and promote long-term healing.
  • – Protect your tattoo from direct sunlight by applying a high-SPF, fragrance-free sunscreen when going outdoors.
  • – If you notice any areas of your tattoo that appear faded or patchy, contact your tattoo artist to discuss the possibility of a touch-up.
  • – When considering the touch up, send a photo through to your artist and ask for their opinion. Any true artist who takes pride in their work will want nothing but the best for you.

As you continue your tattoo aftercare journey, remember that everyone’s skin is different, and the healing process can vary from person to person. Some factors that may affect your healing timeline include:

– The size and location of your tattoo

– Your individual skin type and healing rate

– Your overall health and immune system function

– How closely you follow aftercare instructions

If you experience any signs of infection, such as excessive redness, swelling, pain, or discharge, contact your tattoo artist or a healthcare professional immediately.

Prompt treatment can help prevent serious complications and ensure the best possible healing outcome.

Just do the right thing and don’t look back with regret down the track. 

Can anyone really be bothered doing all of this? Probably not, but you’ll thank yourself.

Remember to check out our comprehensive article Tattoo Aftercare Secrets: Proven Tips for Optimal Healing 

Omnia Tattoo is Melbourne’s premier tattoo studio, where artistic vision meets world-class craftsmanship. Our team of talented tattoo artists specializes in a wide range of styles, from intricate fine line work to bold traditional designs. We’re committed to creating tattoos that reflect your unique story and style.

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