The healing time of a tattoo can vary from person to person but on average it takes about 2-4 weeks. After reading this, you'll know everything you need to know how to take care of your tattoo.

Summary

  • The healing time can vary from person to person.
  • Always keep your skin clean using antibacterial soap. Do not rub or scratch the tattooed area of your skin. Just don't.
  • Continue washing and cleaning the skin but do not soak it in a pool or tub. Avoid long exposures to water and sun.
  • Do not pick, scratch or peel the scabs and flakes which are going to form at some point. It is a natural process of healing. Use a light layer of lotion/moisturizer.

So you've just got a new tattoo or considering of getting one. When it comes to a tattoo aftercare, the advice given to a client can vary for each tattoo shop.

But here's the truth, tattoos aren't regulated. That's why every artist can give varying advice for aftercare.

That being said, you need to follow the advice given by the artist since they usually have the best in mind. They want your tattoo to look good because you are a walking advertisement of their work.

By the way, if you still have no idea what tattoo to get, you can check out  half-sleeve tattoo ideas here.

Misconceptions and Myths about Tattoo Aftercare

Since tattoos aren't regulated, there are some myths and misconceptions surrounding tattoo aftercare.

I went ahead and read and listened to some advice from industry-leading artists, scientific studies, and dermatologist's advice and created a guide on tattoo aftercare based on hard facts.

I would like to share them with you today.

How Long Does It Take For a Tattoo To Heal?

Usually it takes around 2-3 weeks for a tattoo to heal. However, the skin below the surface requires longer period of time to heal. It can take up to 2-4 months for a tattoo to heal fully.

But after 2-3 weeks, you can start taking longer baths, go swimming, or relax in a hot tub. Of course, the healing time will depend on your health condition and many other factors.

The short answer is, within 2-3 weeks, your tattoo should look completely healed. There still may be slight shininess for several more weeks.

The longer answer is that the healing process will vary from person to person. Everybody's organism is different. Everybody has their own unique skin and immune system; two people can heal in a drastically different time frame.

It's advised against working out with a new/fresh tattoo.

You should also consider your lifestyle. Does your work involve long exposure to sun or water? Do you have to go out often? Do you workout often?

For example, if you workout often, it means you need to take showers on workout days. Showers can affect the healing time especially if they're longer than 10 minutes.

So, the truth is how fast you recover depends on your organism and lifestyle. No one can easily predict how fast your tattoo is going to heal. However, there are some things you can do to speed up the process of healing. Continue reading to know how.

But before we dive into how to reduce the healing time, we need to understand the stages of healing process.

Healing Stages of a Tattoo

First of all, you need to remember that tattoos are essentially large open wounds caused by trauma carried by needles piercing your skin thousands of times injecting a foreign substance into your body.

Here's a video showing the healing process of a tattoo, day by day:

When getting a tattoo the tattoo machine pierces the skin to disperse the ink into dermis - a layer of skin between epidermis (upper layer) and subcutaneous tissues.

Human skin anatomy. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The reason why the ink has to reach the dermis area is because skin cells constantly change, die, and renew. If tattoos were in just epidermis, getting a tattoo would be a lot less painful but they would also last only for a short time.

How Does A Tattoo Work?

Tattooing is basically a process of making thousands of tiny woulds in the skin. Modern tattoo machines can pierce the skin at different frequency; it can vary from 50 up to 3,000 times per minute!

A tattoo artist drawing a tattoo :)

The tattoo machine needles not only pierce the skin but also deliver ink into your body.

When any foreign substance gets into your body, your immune system kicks to fight it. The white blood cells called macrophages go to the source of the problem, i.e. tattoo wounds, and engulf ink particles trying to digest it.

So, macrophages store the tattoo ink and they are responsible for the ink staying in the skin. Eventually macrophages die and get replaced by new cells which also engulf the ink left behind by dying cells. That's how tattoos fade, by the way.

The ink absorbed by epidermis (outer layer of skin) becomes free of it as soon as the skin heals.

Now when we know how tattoos work, let's talk about the healing stages.

First Stage - Oozing and Soreness

The first stage starts as soon as your tattoo is finished. The entire area of the new tattoo is basically a large open wound. Your body starts producing plasma to begin clotting and white cells start engulfing the ink.

Summary:

  • The first stage will last for about one week on average. It can vary from person to person.
  • Keep the tattooed area clean. Wash it 2-3 times a day with a mild fragrance-free antibacterial soap using your fingers. Don't rub it.
  • Do not pick off any scabs. It will not only delay the healing process but also can ruin your tattoo.
  • Mild bruising, swelling, and/or redness is OK. Don't worry about it, but seek medical help if it gets worse and doesn't improve.
  • Get good night's sleep.

At this stage, your immune system is at the weakest which means you need to avoid physical strain such as workout.

You also need to clean the tattooed area with an antibacterial soap. Don't rub it; just gently apply soap lather. Before washing the area, make sure your hands are clean and fingernails are spotless.

Your tattoo artist will wrap the new tattoo to protect from bacteria.

As soon as your tattoo is done, the artist is going to wrap the area with a bandage. Keep that bandage as long as your artist recommends; usually they recommend to keep it on for about 12-24 hours.

Keep in mind the longer you can hold off the bandage, the better it is going to look, but keep it no longer than 24 hours.

After you take off the bandage, the area will start weeping and oozing with a mixture of blood, plasma, and ink. It is completely normal; it's your body's way of trying to repair itself from a large open wound.

To avoid infection, you need to gently wash away as much blood and ink oozing out as you can.

I'd recommend to wash the tattooed area with warm water and fragrance-free soap twice a day. Don't use towels made of rough material since it can pull of drying scabs and delay the healing process.

Here's a video explaining how to take care of your tattoo in the first 8 days.

Keep in mind for the first several days, the tattooed area is going to be very sore and there will be some redness. The pain can be compared to the soreness you have after getting a moderate to severe sunburn.

You will also feel weak. Just think about it: your body is in trauma it has just received a huge open wound after all.

Some redness and swell is natural for the first several days, but if you start to experience any extreme bruising or redness around your tattoo, go and see a doctor to be safe.

"It's better to be safe than sorry." Go and see a doctor if there is any extreme bruising or redness around your tattoo especially after a few days.

If everything goes normally, you will start seeing some scabbing on your tattoo. In order to minimize the thickness of the scabbing, you need to clear the plasma and excess ink from the tattooed area regularly.

When scabbing starts to form, you might notice that the colors of the tattoo are becoming dull and cloudy. It is totally normal. Don't worry about that. Vibrant colors will come back after healing process is completed.

The ooziness and soreness stage is one the most painful and irritating stage. Sleeping is awkward at this stage since you have to be careful not to rub your tattoo against rough material.

Plus it can be extremely hard to fall asleep for the first several days due to the soreness of the tattoo. As soon as the inflammation goes away, though, sleep is going to get back to normal.

If you have trouble with sleep, scroll down to sleeping tips.

Second Stage - Itching and Flaking

A tattoo that started to flake and peel.

This stage is probably the worst since you shouldn't scratch the itching area.

Summary:

  • Itching and flaking stage can last for about one week or so. It really depends on many conditions.
  • In this stage, your skin starts to dry up and flaking with some pieces of skin loosening and falling off. Don't pull any flaky skin off. Let it run its natural course.
  • You may experience a lot of itches - do not scratch it. Just apply a moisturizer to prevent or relieve the itching.
  • The skin can start feeling tight. This is again perfectly normal. Just keep moisturizing since it's caused by dry skin.

At this stage in the healing process, there are going to be hard and well-formed scabs throughout the tattooed area. Some of the scabs are already ready to start flaking off.

For a week or so, your skin is going to become very dry and very flaky. It is going to itch almost all the time.

Another example of a peeling tattoo.

If your tattoo is very light, don't worry it's not visible that it's flaking. Some tattoos can peel so lightly so that it is not even visible.

So what causes the itchiness? It is primarily brought by dryness of your skin. The obvious answer how to prevent it from happening is to moisturize the skin.

One point I cannot stress enough is DON'T SCRATCH the tattoo!

If you need to relieve the itch, try lightly tapping the area or wash the area then moisturize. For more tips on how to stop an itchy tattoo, click here.

Here  I'd like to mention that your moisturizer should preferably be without fragrances since some of them can irritate your already sensitive skin.

As this stages progresses, the amount of flaky and dangling skin will naturally increase. You can become very tempted to peel off these pieces of skin off.

You need to resist the urge to peel of the skin because if you prematurely pull the skin away, it cause the ink to be tugged from the deeper layers. It can lead to a patchy tattoo.

One thing worth of mentioning is that, at the last stage of this process, you may see some colored pieces of skin flaking away whenever you wash your tattoo. It is perfectly normal.

Third Stage - Tattoo Looks Dull and Cloudy

The healing process has almost finished! This is pretty much the final stage!

You can figure out you are on the final stage by the fact that most of the scabs and flaky skin have dropped off. Keep in mind, though, some of the heavier scabs might still be hanging around.

Because you shed most of the outer layer of your skin, the tattooed area is going to be a little sore and sensitive to the touch. Just continue moisturizing whenever you feel like your skin is becoming dry.

Don't worry your tattoo doesn't look as lively as when you first got it. It is perfectly normal for a healing tattoo to look cloudy.

It might continue looking faded for the next month or two until your skin has completely regenerated.

Once the new skin reaches the surface, your tattoo will regain its clarity and beauty.

At this stage, I encourage you to check your tattoo for any abnormalities like patchy spots or blowouts. If there is something wrong with the tattoo, you can contact your tattoo artist for a touchup.

When a Tattoo Is Considered Fully Healed

As soon as people get a tattoo, they become very impatient and start asking, "when a tattoo is fully healed?"

Well, first of all, you need to gather every bit of patience you've got and let your body repair itself. Probably it isn't the answer you want to hear but it's hard to say when a tattoo is fully healed because everybody heals differently.

That being said, your skin should look pretty much normal after 2-3 weeks. Don't let it fool you, though, the tattoo is still healing; the deeper layers of the skin are still repairing themselves.

Keep in mind the deeper levels of skin usually take about 3-4 months to completely heal. During that time, you should avoid sun and baths as much as possible if you want to have a perfect tattoo for the rest of your life.

The reason why you'd want to avoid exposure to sun is because your skin has no protection against harmful UV rays that can cause damage. Sun also makes your tattoo fade faster.

The healing time can depend on the size of the tattoo and the quality of work your tattoo artist did. For example, if the artist was too rough and pushed the needle deeper than necessary, it can take longer than normal to heal.

In conclusion, I would say after four to six months since you got the tattoo, you can pretty much safely assume it is fully healed.

Six months passed. Congratulations! What to do now? How to maintain your tattoo? In order for your tattoo to look great and don't fade too quickly, you still need to avoid very long exposures to sun. Apply sunscreen SPF 50 or higher every time you go out with your tattoos exposed.

How to Sleep With a New Tattoo

So, you've got a new tattoo? Great! But it's half of the battle, my friend. There are some steps you need to take to ensure your tattoo looks awesome after it's healed.

I have already covered how to take care of the tattoo and now I would like to address one of the most important things - sleep.

Here's the thing about sleep, it's extremely important to get good night's sleep for a tattoo to heal properly and faster. So, here are some tips to ensure your tattoo heals properly.

Sleep Tip #1: Use a Clean Bed Sheet That You Don't Mind Ruining

One of the most important things to do is, in my opinion, to get a clean bed sheet that you don't mind ruining.

I cannot stress it enough that the bed sheets need to be clean. You can get spare ones to change them every single day.

Why? Well, you need to remember that a tattoo is essentially a giant wound and it can quickly become the breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

Trust me, you don't want your tattoo area to become infected. So, just keep your bed sheets clean. Keep changing them after every single night for a couple of weeks until the peeling stage is finished.

Sleep Tip #2: Dealing With a Tattoo Dried Against Bed Sheet

It is possible that you can wake up in the morning to discover that your bed sheet is stuck/dried against your tattoo/skin.

My advice here is not to pull off the sheet away from your skin. If you do that, it can actually ruin your new tattoo since you could pull the ink right from inside your tattoo.

Here's how to deal with this situation correctly. Take the whole bed sheet with you into the bathroom. After that, you need to gently run the area under lukewarm water. Make sure the water stream isn't too fast. You need to be very gentle here.

You need to run the area under water until the sheet eventually falls away from your skin.

Sleep Tip #3: Don't Sleep On Your Tattoo

Everybody has a preferable sleeping position. If you placed your tattoo in an area that is on the way of your sleeping position, it can become very awkward to fall asleep for you.

There is really nothing you can do about it. You just need to sleep in a different position.

The thing is you need to make sure your tattoo is free from touching anything especially when you are sleeping.

If the tattoo is pressed against something all night long, it's likely to get hot and sweaty which can become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

Just keep your tattoo as open and free from from touching anything as possible.

Sleep Tip #4: Get as Much Sleep As Possible

This one is especially important in the first couple weeks after getting a tattoo since your body is in a trauma mode.

Your body recovers faster when you are sleeping and adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep on average. If you are getting less than that, you are seriously depriving your organism from getting healed.

No matter what sleep cycle you are used to, just try to get as much sleep as possible for several weeks because a good night's sleep has a substantial effect on your recovery.

Sleep Tip #5: Elevate Your Tattoo

Gravity plays a huge role in a blood flow. If the tattooed area is mostly in lowered position (for example, legs and arms,) then blood will naturally flow downwards which can cause swelling.

To keep away swelling and pain associated with it as much as possible, you can elevate your tattoo during sleep.

In order to so, you can place a pillow or even a rolled up towel underneath the area.

How to Deal With an Itchy Tattoo

Never scratch a new tattoo.

Many people describe tattoo itching as the worst stage of a healing process and for a reason. It can last for up to a couple of weeks and the worst thing is you can't scratch it.

So what to do if your tattoo is itching? But before we go further, let's discuss what can cause a tattoo to itch.

What Causes a Tattoo to Itch

There can be several reason why the tattoo starts itching. The most commons are:

  • Dry skin - as your tattoo starts healing and forming scabs, it becomes dry and that, in turn will cause it become itchy. To prevent itchiness caused by this, you can simply moisturize the area often.
  • Peeling skin - when your skin starts peeling, it will most probably come away gradually. As the loose parts move around, they can tickle the already very sensitive skin.
  • Hair regrowth - before inking, your tattoo artist most probably shaved the area of the skin. When that hair starts to grow back, especially all at once, they start tickling the sensitive skin.
  • Allergic reaction to the ink - most people will have some sort of skin reaction to tattoo ink, but it should subside after several day and don't require any medical attention. But if after a couple of days, it continues to itch and especially if there is extreme swelling and redness, seek medical attention.

Now that we've covered the causes of itchiness, let's discuss how to stop a tattoo from itching. Keep in mind, though, that itchiness may not go away completely. It is the price you pay for getting a tattoo. Everything comes with a price.

Tip #1: Moisturize Your Tattoo

Most people forget about moisturizing the tattooed area letting it become too dry.

If you don't moisturize enough, the flaking skins can stiffen up and start to tickle the sensitive area. To prevent it from happening, just moisturize the tattooed skin whenever it starts too look/feel dry. But don't apply too much.

Here's how to moisturize the tattooed skin:

  • Gently apply a thin layer of a moisturizer spreading it evenly throughout the tattooed area. Do this step very gently, don't rub it - just tap gently.
  • If you applied too much of a moisturizer, gently dab off any excess lotion with a clean paper towel. Again, make sure not to rub.
A video explaining to apply lotion/moisturizer to your tattoo.

Tip #2: Gently Pat/Tap/Slap Your Tattoo

From time to time, you feel an extreme urge to scratch. Resist it and instead try to dull the itch by gently patting or tapping the area. If it doesn't help, try to slap your tattoo gently.

Don't forget to wash your hands first to minimize the risk of infection.

Tip #3: Take a Shower

Taking a short shower with lukewarm water can stop the itch for a while. After getting out of the shower, pat your tattoo with a clean paper towel. Again don't rub it and don't use a bath-towel. Continue patting the tattoo until it's completely dry and apply a thin layer of a moisturizing lotion.

Don't spend too much time in the shower and don't take baths at all.

Tip #4: Cool the Tattooed Area

The itchiness can be subsided by placing anything cold on the area. One way to do it is by gently placing a clean damp cloth/towel over the area for a few minutes.

Another way is to get an icepack, place some kind of cloth/material between the ice and your skin. Don't place the ice directly onto your skin.

Tip #5: Be Careful When You Sleep

No matter how much willpower you have, once you fall asleep, you simply cannot control what you subconsciously do.

To avoid damage caused during sleep, you need to cut your fingernails as short as possible. You can even go as far as to wear gloves during bed time.

It's all to make sure you have a scar-free tattoo that you will enjoy for the rest of your life.

How to Wash a New Tattoo

Here's a video explaining the process of cleaning a new tattoo.

Washing the new tattoo is very important especially after removing your bandage. You need to wash it with lukewarm water.

Yeah, it is not going to be pleasant after all you are trying to wash a large open wound, but you need to do it in order to prevent infection and help the tattoo to heal.

The goal here is to loosen up any dried lymph and coagulated blood. It can be achieved by using your finger. Just remember not to rub your skin at all.

Here's the washing process:

  • Before touching the tattooed area, wash your hands thoroughly;
  • Place the tattoo under running lukewarm water  or shower;
  • Lather up some fragrance-free soap;
  • Put that lather onto your tattoo and pat it;
  • Ensure there is no coagulated blood is left on your skin;
  • Rinse away the soap;
  • Pat dry the tattoo with a towel. Paper towel is strongly advised here to avoid infection. Don't rub the skin just gently tap until it's dry;
  • Put some moisturizing lotion on your tattoo.

When washing, try to get rid off as much dried lymph and coagulated blood as possible. It is very important to do so in order to ensure your tattoo forms as few scabs as possible. But don't rub and don't be too aggressive.

Some people suggest using cold water after washing to "close the skin pores". But there is actually no scientific merit to that advice. Hot water actually doesn't expand the pores themselves; it just helps to loosen the build up inside the pores.

Taking showers is perfectly acceptable after getting a tattoo. Just remember to avoid LONG showers for at least 2-3 weeks. Don't take baths at all for as long as possible.

Can I Workout and/or Perform Physical Work After a New Tattoo?

It's strongly advised against performing any strenuous activity for at least a couple of days after getting a new tattoo.

There is a reason for that. Your organism just received a large open wound and in a stress and trauma mode. Your immune system is screaming weakened by the overload.

If you perform any kind of strenuous activity before your immune system is recovered, it can become detrimental to your recovery. You can even get sick because of it.

Also,  as is the case with any open wound, you would want to avoid the places with large crowds of people. Gyms and places of work can be very dirty which can cause infection.

And when you are weightlifting and doing cardio exercises, your tattoo might rub against clothing, which should be avoided as well.

A Couple of Words About Clothing

While your tattoo is healing, you must avoid rubbing it against anything. It means that you need to avoid restrictive clothes.

Wear something soft and loose to avoid a situation when blood flow is restricted. Make sure your clothes don't constantly rub against your skin.

Warning Signs That A Tattoo Isn't Healing Properly

Most of the time, the healing process goes smoothly. The outer layer of the skin should heal in a couple of weeks without any problem. The healing time again depends from person to person and the quality of your aftercare.

During the healing process, you need to keep an eye for the following warning signs and see a doctor as soon as possible if you encounter them:

  • The tattooed area continues to swell several days after you get the tattoo.
  • The skin has become tender and/or warm. On top of that, it has a persistent burning sensation.
  • Green or yellow pus. That's already an infected tattoo. You should seek a doctor immediately.

Summary

Getting a tattoo isn't an ordinary task. It requires a lot of care and patience.

The first couple of weeks of the healing process are going to be the hardest, but it is totally worth it.

Hopefully by now you understand the importance of washing your tattoo properly not only to avoid infection but also to avoid the formation of too many scabs.

Cleaning a tattoo is not that complicated or even time consuming; it should take only about 5 minutes. So make sure to do it consistently and properly. Remember, you want a well-healed tattoo that you are going to wear for the rest of your life.

I would like to remind you about the key stages of the healing process

  • Oozing (up to on week) - as soon as your tattoo is finished, your tattoo will be leaking blood, plasma, lymph, and some ink. At this stage you need to wash and clean your tattoo as much as possible.
  • Itching and flaking (another week or so) - your skin starts to dry up and flaking. You may experience a lot of itching; resist the temptation to scratch. Apply moisturizer to prevent your tattoo from drying up.
  • Tattoo Looks Dull and Cloudy (the final stage) - your tattoo will start looking dull and cloudy. Don't worry about it; after it's fully healed, it will regain its vibrancy.

While your tattoo is healing, take care of the tattoo as much as possible. If you are patient, at the end you will be rewarded with sharp and lively tattoo, a perfect piece of body art. Congratulations!