Tattoos are a permanent form of body modification, and an extremely popular one.
This trend has been around for decades, and the popularity of tattoos continues to grow rapidly to this day.
The tattooing process involves multiple steps, from designing the design on paper or computer screen, to applying it onto the skin, to healing.
The latter is probably the least exciting part of the process, but it is, arguably, the most critical part to pay attention to.
If you have never had a tattoo before, you may be wondering what happens during the healing process. Depending on where you want your tattoo placed, you may be wondering how long it will take for the design to completely heal.
In this article, we will walk you through our step-by-step guide on what to expect when taking care of a healing tattoo, according to experienced tattoo artists around the world.
So, let’s get started!
A General Timeline Of Tattoo Healing Stages
There is no concrete way of knowing how long a tattoo will take to heal. Every person’s body is unique, and will react in different ways.
However, here is a general timeline of the healing stages of a tattoo, as advised by professional tattooists.
1st Stage: The First 1-6 Days After Tattoo (Acute Phase)
Picture the scene: you have just walked out of the tattoo parlor, plastic wrap covering your fresh piece of ink. You can’t wait to show everyone your brand-new tattoo.
Hopefully, you are returning straight home after the procedure. If not, you will want to make sure that you can get yourself to a hygienic, safe place with a sink and some soap within an hour or two after leaving the tattoo shop.
Some tattoo artists will advise that you leave your tattoo covered for up to 8 hours. Others will tell you to remove it as soon as you get home.
Every artist will give different advice, so it is important that you pay attention to the advice that you were given before you left the building.
When you remove the wrapping, you may notice that your fresh tattoo is a little moist. There may be a mixture of clear/yellow liquid, blood, and colored ink surrounding the area.
Don’t panic! This is completely normal.
The transparent liquid pouring from the spot is plasma, a substance produced by the body to protect open wounds (such as a new tattoo). Additionally, blood and extra ink may continue to leak from the tattoo for a short period of time following the procedure.
Some moisture will derive from sweat, as a plastic wrapping can cause your skin to become hot and clammy.
Make sure you properly dispose of the covering that was used to protect your tattoo. Then, you can clean your fresh ink with some warm, soapy water, rinsing away the excess bodily fluids and ink. Continue to clean your tattoo 1-2 times a day.
Depending on how large your tattoo is, you may feel a little tired and run-down over the following few days.
Your body begins to heal immediately, and this can consume a lot of energy. It may feel a little sore for the next couple of days, similar to a mild case of sunburn.
This acute stage will last, roughly, for around a week or so. Take some time to relax, and let your body do its thing.
2nd Stage: 7-14 Days After Tattoo (Early Healing)
As the second week of healing begins, you will notice scabs forming over your new tattoo. After all, your body is treating the tattoo as an open wound, so it is trying to let it heal.
The scabbing will continue to form until the tattoo is completely covered. At this point, the image is not going to look attractive anymore: it will appear murky, dull, and may even continue to ooze a little.
Keep in mind that your tattoo won’t look this way forever. This is, by far, the hardest part of the healing process, and all you can do is try your best to take care of the tattoo while it continues to mend.
Continue gently cleaning your tattoo with warm, soapy water during this period, and use small quantities of cream/ointment to keep it moisturized. Do not allow it to get submerged in water, e.g., baths: use a cloth to gently dab the tattoo clean, being careful not to dislodge any scabs.
At some point, you will feel tempted to pick the scabs off, especially when they begin to flake off on their own. It will also start getting itchy after a while, which can be extremely frustrating. All you’ll want to do is scratch the area, to relieve the discomfort.
Don’t even think about it.
The tattoo will clear on its own, and if you attempt to remove any of the scabs, you risk damaging the image underneath! Scratching will also risk removing scabs, especially if they are already beginning to come loose.
Once again, just let your body take care of it – it knows what it’s doing.
3rd Stage: 15-30 Days After Tattoo (Late Healing)
One month into the healing process, the majority of the scabbing should have vanished, depending on the size of the tattoo. The itching will have, hopefully, resided at this point, and the worst part of the healing will be over.
Some stubborn scabs will take longer to fall off, but, again, do not attempt to remove them yourself. They will fall off eventually!
Once the scabs have gone, you may feel disappointed when you view the image underneath. It will still look pretty weird: perhaps the colors look faded, or the details look a little distorted. This is because the tattoo is still healing, and will continue to do so for the next few months.
The top layer of your skin will have completely healed at this point, but it will still take some time for the deeper layers to heal. During this time, you should continue to moisturize the area, keeping an eye out for dry patches of skin.
At this stage, it should be safe for you to submerge your tattoo in water without damaging it. You can now take baths, go swimming, and take showers without worrying about getting the tattoo wet!
4th Stage: 1-6 Months After Tattoo (Full Healing)
Your tattoo should be totally healed after six months!
Smaller tattoos will heal considerably faster than this, but as a rule of thumb, it will take around 6 months to recover completely.
At this point, you will notice that the color and detail has become more vibrant and attractive, and there should be no scarring or scabs left visible on the image.
Continue to moisturize the area, although you won’t need to do this as often as you did during the healing process. Also, try not to over-expose the tattoo to sunlight, as this can cause the colors to become dull over time.
Factors That May Affect The Healing Time
There are several factors that can affect the overall recovery time for a healing tattoo. Here are some aspects that you will need to take into consideration.
The Size Of Your Tattoo
We have already mentioned a couple of times in the previous sections that the size of your tattoo can, and will, impact the healing time.
- A small tattoo – e.g., 2-4 inches – may only require two to three months to completely heal. A large tattoo that takes up a surface area of 6 inches+, however, will take a lot longer to fully recover.
The size of the surface area taken up by a tattoo will impact the time taken to heal. Take this into consideration if you want to get a larger tattoo.
The Location Of Your Tattoo
Additionally, you will need to think about where you want your tattoo to be placed on your body. This is a factor that will also influence the healing process.
For example, a tattoo placed on your arm will heal a lot faster than one on your leg. Why?
Well, this is because the arm has more blood circulation, which speeds up the healing process. The same rules apply to tattoos placed on your foot or ankle, versus those on your hand.
Also, if your new tattoo is placed in an area that is exposed – e.g., your face – it may take longer to heal than a tattoo that is often covered by pieces of clothing. This is because it will be more likely to get aggravated/touched by other elements.
The Detail Of Your Tattoo
Every tattoo design is different.
Two people may decide to get a tattoo of a rose on their forearms, yet these designs could be completely contrasting: one being a simple, black-and-gray fine line design, while the other is an intricately detailed design filled with color.
In this example, the prior image will take less time to heal than the latter. The more detail added to a tattoo will take longer to heal.
If you were to have a small tattoo made up of three words, written in a thin, delicate font, it would likely take less than two weeks to fully recover. A larger, intensely realistic tattoo will take a lot longer to heal, as more surface area has been covered.
The Ink Used For Your Tattoo
Have you decided what color(s) you want in your tattoo? Or, perhaps you have decided to opt for a traditional black-and-gray tattoo.
As a rule, it will take longer for a colored tattoo to heal than a black-and-gray one. This is because there is more colored pigment involved, which makes it more difficult for the body to absorb and accept.
Colored inks cause your body to reject them, which prolongs the healing process. A tiny quantity of colored ink may be fine, but if your tattoo is almost entirely made up of vibrant colors, you should expect to recover for at least six months.
It is also worth mentioning that colored tattoos fade a lot faster, so you will need to get them touched up sooner than with black-and-gray ones.
What To Avoid While Your Tattoo Is Healing
If you don’t take care of your tattoo to the best of your ability while it is healing, it may not turn out as attractive as you would hope.
For the best possible results, you should stick to the following guidelines.
Don’t Pick Off The Scabs
Remember at the start of this article, when we kept saying how bad it is to pick the scabs away from your healing tattoo?
This is a vital piece of information that will affect the quality of your fully-healed tattoo.
You must allow the scabs to heal and fall off on their own, no matter how tempting it is. By hastily removing a scab, you risk taking off ink that has dried in that area of the tattoo, resulting in blotchy spots of ink, or even indented areas.
Don’t Use Scented/Perfumed Products On The Area
It is so important to keep your healing tattoo moisturized throughout the recovery period. Between the scabbing and the healing, this area will get very dry over the months following the procedure.
However, you will want to avoid using any products that contain artificial fragrances or scents. These additional ingredients can cause irritation, which will prolong the healing process.
Your tattoo artist may have suggested some creams for you to use for aftercare, and you should listen to their recommendations before considering ours.
Some brands that are renowned by many tattoo artists around the world include:
- E45 (but only after 2-3 days have passed)
- Hustle Butter
You should only use tiny amounts of cream on your new tattoo, as you don’t want to smother the area. This is because the ink is still very sensitive, and it’s best to allow it to heal naturally. Over saturating the tattoo can cause damage to the finished result.
Additionally, using too much cream can actually lead to prolonged healing times. So, just use small amounts and wait until the next day to reapply more. We recommend that you apply just a thin layer of cream 2-3 times a day.
Don’t Expose The Tattoo To Sunlight
We briefly mentioned earlier that you shouldn’t expose your tattoo to sunlight at any points, but this is particularly prevalent during the healing period.
Everybody knows that the sun can be dangerous for our skin, especially if we are not protected by sunscreen, or not covered in shade. The UV rays from the sun can prematurely age our skin, causing wrinkles and dark spots.
This is why it is so important to protect your tattoos from the harmful effects of sunlight.
Additionally, the sun’s rays could also potentially bleach the color from your tattoos, causing them to fade prematurely.
So, make sure that you cover up your tattoos whenever possible. It doesn’t need to be full body coverage, but you do want to ensure that you are protecting your artwork. Consider wearing long, loose sleeves to cover arm tattoos, or long trousers to cover leg tattoos.
If you live somewhere where the weather is sunny most of the time, then you need to cover up your whole body with sunscreen. You don’t want any exposed areas of skin to get burned by the sun.
Don’t Go Swimming (Or Submerge The Tattoo In Water)
As we briefly mentioned earlier, it is so important that you do not allow your fresh tattoos to become submerged in water.
While this means avoiding getting them wet in the shower or the bath, this also means you should avoid going swimming until the ink has completely healed.
Not only can the water prolong the healing of your tattoo, but chlorine in pool water can actually harm your new ink.
Chlorine can react with certain chemicals present in ink, causing them to turn brownish and discolored. It can also encourage bacteria growth, which could lead to infection.
You should wait until the scabbing stage has finished, and you are 100% sure that your tattoo has fully healed before you even look at a swimming pool. Trust us – it’s not worth it!
Overall, you should expect to wait six months in total before your tattoo has completely healed. This period may be shorter, depending on factors such as the size and location of your tattoo, but it is better to stick to this general timeline.
Tattoos are relatively safe procedures, but they do carry certain risks. It is important to remember that you are responsible for your own health and safety, so if you ever notice anything unusual about your tattoo, then you must act quickly.
We hope that we have answered all of your questions regarding the healing process of tattoos.
Good luck, and happy tattooing!