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Tattoo Healing Process

Tattoo Healing Process Day By Day

We already wrote about the general aftercare process earlier, but I want to talk more about the tattoo healing process day by day. Giving tattoo healing information in ‘stages,’ rather than a day-by-day plan, skips over quite a lot of things. In example, Stage 1 of the tattoo healing process includes your artist putting on the wrap, you taking it off, sleeping in your first night, learning to delicately clean it, and so on. In other words, it encompasses three different parts of the tattoo healing process day by day, and only provides general answers. This page fixes that for all you tattoo lovers.

 

The Best Tattoo Healing Products

Product NameProduct Type 
Hustle Butter DeluxeTattoo Lotion
Ora's Amazing Natural Tattoo Aftercare Treatment SalveTattoo Ointments
H2Ocean Blue Green Foam SoapTattoo Soap
Tattoo Goo Deep Cleansing SoapTattoo Soap
Coppertone Tattoo GuardTattoo Sunscreen

 

The Tattoo Healing Process

Prepare yourself for a complex breakdown of the healing process of a tattoo. We provide tattoo healing process pictures alongside detailed descriptions of the different days of healing. I grouped some days—where different sizes of tattoos respond differently—and provide instructions for every situation within those days. On top of that, you learn how to speed up the healing process of a tattoo, how to ensure your colors look vivid for life, and even what signs to look out for while your tattoo heals. Most importantly, this page prepares you for one of your most important tasks—taking care of your body as it heals.

If you don’t find the answer you’re looking for, check our tattoo healing F.A.Q. in the last section of this page, or request an answer in the comments section (don’t worry—we don’t bite). For a more beginner-friendly guide for the aftercare process—along with some tips on pre-care—check out our Ultimate Tattoo Care and Tattoo Aftercare Guide.

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How Long Does it Take for a Tattoo to Heal?

As I mentioned before, bodies respond very differently to tattoos depending on your activities, care routines, immune system, and even diet. The vast majority of the time, though, tattoo healing stages vary only because of their size. A small tattoo heals incredibly quickly—almost like a bad scrape. With color. That stays there. Okay, maybe that’s a bad analogy, but I promise a small tattoo heals much more quickly compared to a large tattoo.

Your immune system deals with the ink, sending things called macrophages to ‘seal up’ the ink. Once the macrophages take their positions, they stay there for as long as they live, making your tattoo permanent. But this involves one big problem—the amount of macrophages, white blood cells, and red blood cells your body carries around. Generally, plenty of red cells get to the tattoo site and start clotting as soon as they can. With larger tattoos, though, it takes a little bit of extra time for them to cover everything. White blood cells and macrophages, on the other hand, fluctuate in number quite a bit depending on your health. Covering larger areas proves more difficult for them.

More on that stuff later, though! Let’s go straight to the tattoo healing process day by day, now. At the beginning, all tattoos show the same signs and symptoms. As time goes on, their variation goes up, so I put a time window on things. I go over how to boost your immune system at a later point in this article.

 

Tattoo Healing Process Day 1

My instructions start a little bit before the inking process. While I write the pre-care process in far more detail with our Ultimate Tattoo Care and Tattoo Aftercare guide, some bits of it matter a lot. Consider shaving the tattooing area early—or your artist shaves it for you. Avoid drinking alcohol, as this will increase your blood pressure and tick off your artist. More blood pressure=less clotting=blood everywhere. Eat a medium-sized meal beforehand high in nutrition.

Ask your artist about using a tattoo glide or moisturizer beforehand. I personally use Hustle Butter Deluxe, thanks to its flexibility and usefulness at every stage of the healing process. Put a thin layer of the lotion on to keep the surface clean, moisturized, germ-free, and ready for a tattoo. Your artist may even use some of their own as a tattoo glide—which prevents the pen from catching and allows for smooth movements over the skin.

Hustle Butter Deluxe

 

If dealing with tattoo pain scares you, also ask about tattoo numbing cream. These creams quickly and efficiently numb your skin, lasting from thirty minutes to four hours. The duration depends on your application method and brand. Many times, artists already carry these and will sell you some. In the event that they keep none in stock, I suggest looking at our Best Tattoo Numbing Products article and selecting one that matches your needs. Of course, numbing creams for large tattoos may wear off before your artist finishes, but it still dulls the pain for a while after that!

Once your artists inks your tattoo, they apply a plastic wrap to it so the tattoo stays protected on your way home. It also helps with clotting. Follow their advice and remove it when they suggest. This usually falls before bed time. After removing the bandage, tons of clear orange liquid called plasma will leak out. Along with that, tons of excess ink and blood ooze out. It looks gross and nasty, but that constitutes the norm.

On your first day with the tattoo, stick to airy clothing suited for permanent stains. Because, of course, your tattoo continues to ooze all that extra stuff for days. Keep every article of cloth, clothing, towel, sheet, blanket, or washcloth pristine and clean while your tattoo goes through the first day of healing. Do not submerge your tattoo in water—if you feel the need to rinse it, use a wet washcloth and carefully dab the area. Follow up with a dry washcloth to gently pat the area dry. Avoid scrubbing the area for now.

When you sleep, avoid touching your tattoo to your sheets. Not only will that stain them, it also runs the risk of putting your tattoo in contact with germs. Keeping your tattoo open, exposed, and free from contact goes a long way towards keeping it clean and healthy. Close your eyes and do your best to sleep. Congratulations! You made it through day one!

 

Tattoo Healing Process Day 2

The next day, you wake up to a nightmare. You know, just business as usual! Your tattoo continues to ooze ink, plasma, blood, and every other liquid your skin makes. Your tattoo looks raised and swollen, and sometimes bruising occurs. A needle punching you repetitively naturally creates that sort of raising. Your tattoo serves as an open wound at this stage, so treat it with care. Contact with your tattoo hurts, but bear with this necessary evil as you care for your tattoo.

Lots of concerned clients call in asking why their ‘ink is falling out’ or their tattoo ‘looks infected with yellow pus.’ First of all, the bottom layer of tattoo ink always stays put, so never worry about all the extra stuff that flows out. Secondly, dealing with infections proves difficult for artists. After all, we don’t exactly practice medicine! Your artist serves as a good first step, though. If something looks strange, but turns out normal, your artist knows all about it. If it looks weird, they refer you to a dermatologist, general practitioner, or emergency care. I talk about bad signs and reactions later on in this article. For now, rest assured that bad reactions happen rarely!

Preventing infection takes the main stage on Day 2, as far as I am concerned. I highly recommend using H2Ocean Blue-Green Foam soap at this stage. In order to wash your tattoo, spray the foam on directly. Gently rinse using a wet towel. Remember—avoid scrubbing! The foam soap helps because it applies easily to a surface and involves no lathering. Use a clean, dry towel to gently dab it dry.

H2Ocean Foam Soap

 

Tattoo Healing Process Day 3-6

When you enter the third day of healing, the tattoo still looks swollen and bruised. Your tattoo still hurts, but not as much as Days 1 and 2. Depending on the size and type of your tattoo, you start to visibly see the healing process. Many artists regard this as ‘Stage Two’ of the tattoo healing process. But, clearly, the tattoo healing process day by day contains much more detail than the description of a mere stage.

At the same time, as I stated, the healing process varies from person to person. On one of these days, you start to see scabbing occur. Your wound slowly closes up as your immune system works overtime. Your swelling gradually goes down as the scabs appear. If your swelling remains or gets worse on one of these days, talk to a doctor.

In order to ensure your body wards off infection, I recommend using a tattoo cream or tattoo soap. If the H2Ocean felt like it stung or simply made you uncomfortable, try using Ora’s Amazing Tattoo Salve. Apply a thin layer on top of your tattoo and carefully spread it around. This works best because it only uses natural antibacterial ingredients—rather than rubbing alcohol! Rubbing alcohol (or peroxide) damages your tattoo ink, but every soap and their mom uses it, so avoid non-tattoo products like the plague.

Ora’s Amazing Tattoo Salve

 

People react differently to healing, so you may not see the scabs appear. Instead, the tattoo starts to peel and itch. This means you took excellent care of your tattoo and prevented infection, for the most part. Careful attention to the tattoo ensures that it stays germ-free.

 

Tattoo Healing Process Day 7-14

By now, your tattoo certainly starts to scab or flake. As your scabs start to fall off, they itch like no tomorrow. Unfortunately, scratching the scabs risks damaging your tattoo. The very bottom layers of your skin—where your permanent tattoo ink resides—heals faster than the top layers of skin. However, pulling the scabs that flake off or itching too hard pose the risk of pulling up your healthy bottom layers. So how do you deal with that incessant itching?

Several methods work. First, put a paper towel or clean cloth on the tattoo and apply pressure. For some people, a little bit of pressure relieves the itching feeling. When that stops working, you can use your numbing cream from before to dull the sensations in the area. If you didn’t already purchase some, check out our detailed reviews of tattoo numbing creams. Lastly, a small bit of soap and water encourages your scabs to peel off naturally.

Now that your tattoo sealed up, a liquid soap works best. I recommend Tattoo Goo Deep Cleansing Soap—the brand simply works best with all my clients. Their liquid soap comes in small amounts, but you only need a few drops to clean your tattoo. Spread the soap thing on your tattoo and apply water with a washcloth. Gently massage the area with the cloth—just short of scrubbing your tattoo—to moisturize those scabs and stop the itching sensation. I recommend washing the area no more than twice each day, since too many cleanings could dry out the tattoo, and too much water may damage your ink.

 

My Favorite Tattoo Care Products

 

Tattoo Healing Process Day 15-40

At last, the final traces of your scabs vanish and disappear! Small tattoos finish healing completely at about the three week mark. Larger tattoos take up to forty days. At this point, use tattoo moisturizer to quell any aches and speed up the healing process. For more information on the best tattoo moisturizers, check out my detailed recommendations here. I highly recommend Hustle Butter, since it works on any day of tattoo healing!

While your tattoo completely seals during these days, soaps containing alcohol still seep into the skin. The skin of the tattooed area takes six weeks or more to completely heal. You notice that your tattoo looks faded or washed out during these days. The skin forms scar tissue above the tattoo which slowly sheds away. So when your tattoo appears gray, worry not! Your tattoo healed normally.

 

Tattoo Healing Process Day 41+

Finally, you count your tattoo among the perfectly healed! With your diligence, your tattoo looks beautiful. However, your tattoo still requires care. ‘Why?’ you might ask. ‘I did everything I was supposed to! It’s healed perfectly.’ And, while that’s a wonderful feat and I congratulate you for it, still more awaits you.

When you commission an artist to ink your tattoo, you sign an agreement with your body, too! Over time, your tattoos fade, stretch, and bleed into other areas of your skin. However, using certain techniques staves off this activity and prevents your tattoo from looking terrible after many years. I talk more about things that damage healing tattoos and what to avoid later on, as well as how to make tattoos heal faster—adhering to those points as much as you can, even after your tattoo heals, keeps your tattoo preserved.

I want to bring the bane of all tattoos to your attention, though. You encounter this universal ink destroyer on a daily basis, and scientists even linked it to cancer! Too much exposure destroys your skin and eyesight and may even affect your sleep schedule. Don’t worry, though—you also need it to live. I speak of the sun!

Sunlight gives us lovely tans and helps the body synthesize Vitamin D. Without the sun, your nutrition would wither away, and your sleep schedule goes crazy. By no means should you avoid it every day! However, the broad spectrum light that the sun provides also proves dangerous to our skin and tattoos. UV light damages ink and burns our skin. So, what do we do? The only thing that makes sense. Tattoo sunscreen!

Coppertone Tattoo Guard

I review all the best tattoo sunscreens here, but as a general recommendation, Coppertone Tattoo Guard Spray works for any lifestyle, lasts a while, and keeps your tattoo ink safe. It contains no ingredients that harm your tattoo ink and lasts for several hours. Reapplication takes mere minutes. Apply sunscreen whenever you go outside—for any reason—and stick to that daily routine. Ten years from now, your tattoo still looks new!

 

Infected Tattoos and Tattoo Reactions

Seek a doctor for any medical questions, especially if you see anything weird. Black lines (similar to blood vessels) leading away from your tattoo shows a blood infection, rather than leaking ink. Blood infections spread rapidly and need emergency room care. Swelling that lasts for more than three days also points to an infection. Have a doctor treat it as quickly as possible so that it doesn’t endanger you or your tattoo! Green pus also depicts an infection, although watch for other symptoms if you used green ink in your tattoo.

To prevent infections, I cannot stress enough that you should avoid swimming, working out, or touching your tattoo with your hands. Working out exposes you to equipment full of sweat and grime, plus, it stretches your skin out when it needs to heal! Lakes, rivers, and even swimming pools contain harmful compounds and bacteria that eat away at your tattoo. In fact, someone in Texas disregarded this advice and went swimming in the Gulf of Mexico days after getting his tattoo. He died of septic shock after flesh-eating bacteria permeated his tattoo.

Tattoo inks cause allergic reactions in some people. Most artists turn down a ‘dot test’—a small dot to see how you react to ink—so look up the ingredients yourself and see if any of them cause you problems. If your tattoo looks swollen on top of certain parts of your ink, rather than others—see a doctor immediately! They give you medication to reduce the swelling until your tattoo heals, or they help remove the ink, depending on what the situation calls for. Blistering on top of your tattoo also bodes ill for you.

Tattoo Healing Process Infected-Tattoo

 

Things that Damage Healing Tattoos

On the opposite side of proper care, irresponsible action slows down your healing and sometimes even prevents it entirely. Ignoring advice from your artists, doctors, or this page could cost you an arm, a limb, or a life. An infection or allergic reaction takes very little time to spread throughout your body, so if anything causes you to question your health, seek the advice of a doctor right away! On top of that, avoid all of the things I list here.

First, swimming absolutely destroys your tattoo in more ways than one. First, the water gets into your tattoo and ruins the ink. In the case of a chlorinated pool, the harsh chemicals break apart your tattoo ink and destroy the design. Until your tattoo finishes healing, all types of liquid permeate the area and get to your tattoo. For the same reason, only tattoo specific products work to help your tattoo heal. Anyways, if you decide to skip the pool and go straight to the beach, drastic infection follows. Beaches, rivers, and lakes contain bacteria that quickly becomes deadly when exposed to a large wound. If you come into contact with dirty water, assume the worst and thoroughly wash it.

Strangely enough, rapid weight gain…or weight loss affects your tattoo negatively. At your tattoo session, your artist stretches the skin to ensure a nice, even design. When you gain weight, your skin stretches past its limit—sometimes unevenly! As a result, your tattoo looks strange. Weight loss shows stretch marks that change the appearance of your tattoo, depending on its location. More than anything, working out dramatically increases your chance of infection. Not only does your tattoo bend and stretch—causing it to heal slower and unevenly—but it also exposes your tattoos to dirty, grimy workout equipment.

For the duration of your healing, avoid sunlight. Without adequate layers of skin to protect your body, you risk serious sunburns. For the same reason, the sun quickly damages your tattoo and causes it to fade. In just a day’s sunburn on your tattoo area, years of sun damage happens.

Keep your tattoo free of wrapping and bandages after the first day. Although exposing it to the air seems ‘dangerous,’ concealing the wound promotes even more bacterial growth. Keep it nice and airy, moisturize it with tattoo-specific products, and avoid touching water to it. If you must shower, keep it quick—and avoid baths entirely. Do not expose it to normal soaps or shampoos, which contain rubbing alcohol (normally called hydrogen peroxide) that basically destroys your tattoo. Never scrub or pick at your tattoo.

 

How to Make Tattoos Heal Faster

Beyond what I put here, several ways exist to speed up the tattoo healing process day by day. Most importantly, watching your nutrition plays a big role in healing. Keep your immune system and skin health in top shape, both before and after your artist inks you. For both systems, vitamins play a critical role. While we still struggle to understand exactly how they affect the body, adequate amounts of Zinc, Selenium, Iron, Copper, Folic Acid, Vitamin A, B6, C, and E keep your immune system up and running and your skin healthy. It takes several days for your body to completely absorb nutrients, so maximize your nutrition to calories ratio and make your ‘tattoo’ diet a daily diet!

Furthermore, keeping your tattoo nice and moisturized discourages scabbing, keeps the itching away, and prevents infection. While I described the maximum amount of times you should wash, I never explained the maximum amount of times you should moisturize. Quite simply, whenever your tattoo feels dry, apply a few more drops of moisturizer in a thin layer. The thin layer keeps it from sealing up your wound, and if you use tattoo-specific moisturizers, then they pose no risk to your tattoo ink. It also helps your body focus on keeping bacteria out while it reconstructs your skin.

Avoid touching your tattoo with your hands or dirty linens. Your hands constantly touch things coated in bacteria—and that includes your phone and keyboard! Before you wash, moisturize, or interact with your tattoo at all—make sure you clean your hands. Similarly, dirty clothes and towels pose huge risks. Only use clean materials around your tattoo. Avoid pets, dirt, water, and anything else that potentially contains harmful bacteria.

Lastly, pay close attention to your body’s reaction to the tattoo. A careful eye catches any ill signs, and the faster you find them, the faster your doctor fixes them. Sometimes they solve the issue as easily as giving you antibiotic pills or antihistamines. In no case does asking a doctor about tattoo problems threaten your actual tattoo, so call your practitioner quickly if something strange comes up.

 

Recommended Tattoo Aftercare Products

I already mentioned all of these in passing, but let’s focus more on them for a moment. Of the hundreds of products my clients and I tried, these five perform particularly well and suit the needs of many. They keep tattoos safe and healthy, speed up healing, and many of them even earned the title ‘cruelty-free’ in regards to their ingredients. Check them out and see which one suits you most!

 

H2Ocean Blue Green Foam Soap, 1.7 Fluid Ounce

H2Ocean made this soap specifically for tattoo use. The foamy soap spreads easily on sensitive new tattoos and makes application a cinch. It contains no paraben preservatives or petroleum, two things which work against the natural healing process of the body. On top of that, you can count this soap among the few vegan-friendly tattoo products. Most tattoo artists keep H2Ocean soaps in their shop for use on clients, but you can grab some for personal use online.

H2Ocean Blue Green Foam Soap

 

Tattoo Goo Deep Cleansing Soap for Tattoos

Along with H2Ocean, Tattoo Goo serves as the best brand name in the tattoo world. While its package lacks the flashy design of H2Ocean’s products, the content inside more than makes up for it! This soap quickly and effectively soothes your tattoo. It cleans thoroughly and prevents infection with its unique formula that reaches deep into your skin. It only takes a few drops to quickly clean your brand new tattoo. People with sensitive skin see no reactions from this stuff, either.

Tattoo Goo Deep Cleansing Soap

 

Hustle Butter Deluxe

I already mentioned this, but Hustle Butter Deluxe works great at every stage of the tattoo healing process, and ranks among my favorite tattoo products. For tattoo artists, it serves as a tattoo glide and quick moisturizer to minimize scarring. After your artist finishes, it works great to reduce swelling and soothe itching. After your tattoo heals entirely, this soothing moisturizer works great on any dry skin. It uses all vegan ingredients and no animal testing went into the making of this product. Since this tattoo cream only recently arrived to the tattoo scene, your best bet is to find it online.

Hustle Butter Deluxe – Tattoo Butter

 

Ora’s Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve

This stuff tops the list of organic and vegan tattoo products. Every single ingredient occurs naturally in nature. It contains no lanolin, petroleum, mineral oil, fake scents, or artificial colors. On top of that, it drops ingredients which cause reactions in sensitive people—which includes aloe vera, wheat, grain, and gluten. Not only does it safely heal tattoos, but it also works well on all kinds of bumps, bruises, and burns. Due to its organic nature, if you suffer from allergies, I recommend checking its ingredient list. It reads almost like a recipe of tasty things, but ingredients like tea tree oil or cedar leaf oil could cause you to sniffle.

Ora's Amazing Tattoo Salve

 

Coppertone Tattoo Guard Continuous Spray

Coppertone rules the sunscreen scene, and they saw the need for a tattoo-specific product. This spray-on sunscreen protects your tattoo from the sun without the negatives of typical sunscreen. First, it leaves no sticky or white residue behind, which means your tattoo shines brightly in any light. Secondly, it contains no ingredients that harm your tattoo ink, even in the event that your skin absorbs the sunscreen. Lastly, it sprays on quickly and easily—a must for people who wear it on a daily basis. The hypoallergenic part serves as a cherry on top.

Coppertone Tattoo Guard

 

For a more complete look at the best tattoo aftercare products, check out our full reviews here.

 

Tattoo F.A.Q.

Tattoo Healing F.A.Q

Sometimes, you only need simple answers to simple questions. Here are the ones I receive the most during work. If you have any more questions regarding tattoo healing—or tattoos in general—feel free to ask and leave a comment. Providing quality information to a tattoo lover like yourself is my priority!

 

Do tattoos hurt?

Absolutely! They don’t have to, though. Plenty of numbing creams exist, including ones specifically made for tattooing. The amount of pain you feel depends on the location, personal pain tolerance, and the size of your tattoo. Bony areas and soft tissue feel horrible. On the other hand, fatty areas like your thighs and arms feel fine.

 

Why does my tattoo look faded?

A variety of reasons exist for faded tattoos. Immediately after healing, scar tissue covers the tattoo and causes it to appear dull and faded. Over time, your skin heals and shows the true colors of the tattoo. Picking at your scabs and dry skin can cause blotches of faded ink on your tattoo. Lastly, sunlight poses a huge risk to tattoos over the months and years. Neglecting to use sunscreen results in a faded and blurry tattoo.

 

Are tattoos safe?

Absolutely! Artists sterilize the area, use single-use needles to ensure you receive no disease, and hopefully use safe inks. Your artist, doctor, and this page provides you with all the information you need to avoid infection. In an emergency, tattoos can be removed quickly with laser removal or skin grafts. The biggest risk is an allergic reaction to the ink—which correlates with food coloring allergies!

 

Can tattoos cause cancer?

Cancer is caused by damaged cells healing incorrectly. Anything that damages your cells can cause cancer—this includes sunlight, working out, certain fatty foods, and cuts and scrapes. Check what sort of ink your artist uses to ensure it isn’t toxic. Otherwise, tattoos are very safe and less dangerous than the things I listed.

 

Are tattoos bad for your blood?

Only if you experience an allergic reaction from the ink or an infection from the wound. In the case of an allergic reaction, your doctor can usually prescribe antihistamines until the swelling ceases or move forward with removal options. For infections, tattoos pose no more risk than a scrape or cut—just take care of it and wash it like we talked about!

 

Tattoo Healing Process Day by Day

Hopefully these tattoo healing process pictures helped you understand the healing process of a tattoo. Every day after your artist inks you, your tattoo enters a new step of the healing process. The rate varies depending on your nutrition, behavior, and the size of the tattoo—but the care techniques stay the same. For a complete breakdown of the aftercare process, check out our Ultimate Tattoo Care and Tattoo Aftercare Guide.

With the growing popularity of tattoos, some people disregard tattoo safety and assume it will heal on its own. If you know anyone like this, then please tell them about the dangers of poor healthcare, or at least things which risk their health or body. Aftercare saves you a lifetime of hassle by healing the wound quickly, efficiently, and with as little contact with bacteria as possible. Aside from the health aspect, it feels a little like tending to a garden. You chose to take something beautiful and put it on your body, and with a little bit of care, you watch it heal into something bright and wonderful.

~Alexandra

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