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Tattoo Peeling

Tattoo Peeling – Why do Tattoos Peel?

A new tattoo peeling leaves lots of room to the imagination, especially when ink seems to fall off the tattoo in flakes. Keeping your tattoo healthy takes priority during this stage, but how exactly do you manage that, when all manner of lotion seems to peel off with the skin? This guide helps you through the tattoo peeling stage and keeps you from picking, prodding, or pulling off your precious ink. Even though your wound no longer bleeds, your behavior still determines how well your tattoo turns out.


The Best Tattoo Healing Support Products

Product NameProduct TypeWhere to get it
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

On top of that, peeling tattoos leave behind some…interesting things, to say the least! Many tattoo clients return after a month grieving their tattoo. “It lost all its color after it peeled!” they say. “My ink disappeared!” In fact, after the peeling stage, your tattoo appears faded and dull. What gives? This feature also talks about the healing process of the skin and why exactly tattoos look faded after they heal. On top of that, I go over how to preserve your tattoo and make it shine even after the peeling stage finishes!

Aftercare theory really determines how your tattoo turns out. For in-depth information about every aspect of your healing tattoo, check out our Ultimate Tattoo Care and Tattoo Aftercare Guide.



Why is my Tattoo Peeling and Flaking?

Is tattoo peeling normal? Many people wonder about their tattoo peeling off when applying lotion. After all, the flakes contain tons of color and ink. That can’t be good for your tattoo, right? Well—thankfully—your peeling tattoo poses no problems to the quality of your tattoo. Your wound naturally expels extra ink, dead skin cells, and plasma after your artist inks your tattoo. This looks downright distressing when it starts to happen, especially for people with a lot of plasma.

The tattoo process only targets the bottom layer of your skin, but the ink still fills up the top layer of your skin as well. This creates an incredibly vibrant area that slowly leaks and peels away over the course of weeks. In the end, your tattoo even looks a little faded! Why does this happen, though? And surely not all tattoos fade during the healing process? We know the why, but what about the how?

The plasma, dead cells, dirt, and grime eventually form a thin layer on top of your tattoo. As your body continues to heal, it continues to form a layer of dead skin on the top. While this stuff peels off easily, avoid picking or pulling at it! Instead, learn about the details of your tattoo peeling stage and follow our directions for a vibrant tattoo on this page.

Tattoo Peeling


Tattoo Peeling Stage

The tattoo healing process day-by-day varies from person to person. Regardless, the tattoo peeling process begins in what we artists like to call ‘Stage Two’ of healing. Stage two means the point in time after your tattoo scabs over and stops oozing blood and pus. The pain usually subsides, but if the aching still makes you uncomfortable, consider using a tattoo numbing product. With the immediate danger out of the way, your immune system sets to work on your tattoo ink. To understand the tattoo peeling stage, let’s take a little look at the anatomy of your skin and the way that it heals.

Your skin contains two layers—your dermis and your epidermis. A tattoo needle pierces through both layers of skin, putting ink into the center layer of your dermis. The top layer—your epidermis—easily sheds the dead and damaged skin cells as it heals from the wounds. This includes every drop of ink in that layer. The dermis, on the other hand, can’t expel the ink out of the body. On top of that, ink particles prove too large for white blood cells to carry away into the body. Large immune cells called macrophages encapsulate the ink for years at a time, making your tattoo permanent.

In other words, no tattoo stays as vivid as the day you receive it. However, as time passes, the scar tissue on the epidermis becomes clear and allows a better view of the tattoo. Do all tattoos scab? No. Someone practicing proper tattoo care skips the scabbing and moves straight to the peeling. For full details, check our full aftercare article — or simply read on for how to deal with the aftercare stage!



Dealing with Tattoo Peeling

So, want to know what to do when your tattoo is peeling? Scratching and picking obviously poses a risk to your bottom layer of skin (the dermis). Unfortunately, this includes washing with cloths and rubbing dry with towels. Instead of rubbing, you pat the affected area clean—and this is the same way you handle your itches! Simply apply small amounts of pressure where you feel the itch. With time, it subsides. As I mentioned before, check out numbing creams if you can’t stand the itching sensation, and moisturizer doesn’t make the cut.

But your method of scratching the itch matters little compared to preventing the itch. Moisturizers in the store typically use hydrogen peroxide, which severely damages tattoos. It even destroys their ink if applied immediately after the inking process—and not in a pretty way. Furthermore, other common ingredients—like petroleum—harm your tattoo more than help them. For your sanity and your health, avoid any products that contain alcohol/rubbing alcohol/hydrogen peroxide, petroleum, paraben preservatives, and any other damaging ingredient.

To make things easier for you, check out the next section for moisturizers and aftercare creams that suit new tattoos perfectly!


Recommended Products

I recommend these products to all of my clients before they make their way home. That way, no one needs to make a second trip (or more) to gather what they require. The first two cover different varieties of soap. Both brands stand up excellently in the tattoo industry. The next two represent tattoo moisturizers—the most important thing for you, I imagine! These moisturizers help with your itchy skin and reduce the amount of dry skin in the first place. Lastly, I suggest a sunscreen for coverage as your tattoo continues to heal over the months. Use these reviews to decide which industry standard suits you best!


H2Ocean Blue Green Foam Soap, 1.7 Fluid Ounce

If you never received a tattoo before, I highly suggest using H2Ocean foam soap to clean your tattoo during the initial stages. A clean tattoo cuts down on tattoo peeling later. This soap comes out as a foam, saving you the trouble of lathering your soap up ahead of time or applying soap directly onto your tattoo. Spread the foam thin, wait a few minutes, and then carefully dry it off with a paper towel. By removing dead skin cells and potential germs away from the area, you reduce the amount of scabbing that occurs later on. Furthermore, this vegan-friendly soap lasts through the healing process of one or two tattoos!



Tattoo Goo Deep Cleansing Soap for Tattoos

Every artist in the world keeps a stock of Tattoo Goo on hand to send home with their clients. Their deep cleansing soap uses a special formula that reaches deep into the skin, removes dead skin cells and germs, all while keeping your tattoo ink untouched. Without any sort of hydrogen peroxide (which damages your tattoo) to easily disinfect the area, this soap quite possibly represents the pinnacle of antibacterial soaps.

Tattoo Goo Deep Cleansing Soap works excellently during the first few days of healing and continues to prove useful during the second stage of healing. Since this serves as a soap and not just a moisturizer, always use a little bit of water to dab it off when you finish cleaning, or your skin will dry out.


Hustle Butter Deluxe

Unlike the other soaps and lotions on this list, Hustle Butter works at every stage of tattoo healing…including before and after! We artists use this as a glide—an easy way to maneuver the tattoo pen without worrying about the stencil messing up. It uses vitamins to soothe and nurture your skin every step of the way, and even after your tattoo heals, it keeps the area healthy and moisturized.

It contains pure vegan ingredients and no animal testing went into the creation of this product (in other words, it uses compounds proven to work without testing). The moisturizing effect lasts for a significant amount of time, even compared to other tattoo creams. It also possesses a very minimal smell—just a hint of shea butter—to spare your nose some suffering.


Ora’s Amazing Herbal Tattoo Salve

This small jar both heals and soothes your itching tattoo. Unlike other types of vegan tattoo salve, Ora’s tattoo salve avoids natural ingredients that cause frequent allergic reactions or rashes. In example, no aloe, mineral oil, wheat products, or food coloring weigh down the material. Instead, you receive a vitamin-packed salve with natural coloring that smells a little bit like green tea. On top of working for tattoos, it also works for small scrapes, burns, scratches, and bites. You only need to use a thin layer of the stuff for it to work, so the bottle lasts through two or three tattoos.


Coppertone Tattoo Guard Continuous Spray

For those who work outside or on the go, this tattoo sunscreen covers your ink quickly and efficiently. I prefer to keep a can of this in my purse during conventions and outings—just because I never know how much extra time I’ll get to apply regular sunscreen. We all recognize this brand’s logo from our childhood, when our parents and guardians invariably chose this sunscreen to protect us.

Now that we choose our own sunscreen, it makes sense to select a proven brand that suits your needs perfectly. The only downside of sunscreen spray is that you need to reapply it frequently. Whenever you feel the heat from the sun, go ahead and reapply it. Otherwise, spray on another layer every two hours or so.


For more info, check out our full aftercare products run down to see which products suit you best. This lists the many different types of aftercare products—from foam to cream, from soap to spray! Everyone’s skin reacts differently to care products—whether or not they contain artificial or pure natural ingredients. To protect yourself from adverse and allergic reactions, sample a small amount of any new product on a patch of normal skin. If it shows any sort of reaction, discontinue its use; Otherwise, after thirty minutes of no reaction, you may safely use it on your tattoo.


Losing Ink from Tattoo Peeling

“My tattoo is peeling and looks faded.”

“His tattoo is peeling and the ink is coming off!”

“My tattoo peels with no ink underneath.”

If any of the above apply to you, then calm down. Both tattoo peeling and faded tattoos occur during the normal healing process. When you first receive your tattoo, the ink fills up every layer of your skin. As the dead layers of upper skin peel off, lots of tattoo ink goes with it. However, at the very bottom of your skin, a permanent layer of dermis keeps your tattoo sealed. When your peeling stage finishes, a layer of scar tissue with no ink whatsoever sits in between you and that permanent layer of ink. In about two months, that layer of scar tissue heals enough to start seeing your beautiful tattoo.

However, peeling tattoos do potentially damage your tattoo…depending on how you handle them! Peeling off or itching your tattoo may scratch off the layer at the bottom. Once you lose that layer, you lose your ink permanently. Even after your tattoo heals, cuts in the area of the tattoo cause scars over the ink. To prevent this, use tattoo cream and tattoo moisturizer continuously. Long-term moisturizing care, along with tattoo sunscreen, protects your tattoo anyways. Keep in the habit, avoid scratching or picking, and wait patiently for your skin to heal.

Tattoo Peeling


Signs of Medical Issues

For any medical questions or concerns, please immediately contact your health care provider.  We are not doctors or physicians, and we can only provide broad information about medical issues. That said, I run into these problems rarely, but you need to carefully consider them when your tattoo looks strange.

Peeling happens normally, but intense peeling over only a certain color shows a probable allergic reaction. With red dyes in particular, a small amount of people experience strong allergic reactions. If you possess any food allergies, then consider the ingredients of the inks your tattoo artist uses. If you do have an allergy, but you still want a tattoo of a particular color, don’t worry. Many other inks exist without reactive dyes. Vegan dyes in particular exhibit few reactions.


Green scabs—in the absence of green ink—means some germs infected your tattoo. Go to your doctor quickly before the infection progresses or spreads. Usually, antibiotics take care of infections, and your doctor need not touch your tattoo. With fast action, your tattoo looks normal once it heals. Other bad symptoms include red or black lines running out of your tattoo (a blood infection—immediate attention needed!) or intense swelling and redness even after four days.


Your Skin and Tattoo Healing

Want to learn how to speed up skin peeling? Tattoo care covers the basics: making sure your tattoo stays clean, keeping the area breathable, and keeping the area moisturized. However, let’s push it further by explaining how to speed up your healing process! The average healing time for tattoos is two weeks for small ones and two months for large ones. On top of that, it takes several months for your skin to completely recover and the true color of your tattoo to shine. Use these tips to speed up the process—the earlier you start them, the better. This works best if you begin before your artist even inks your skin!

Tattoo Healing Tips

First, eat a healthy and balanced meal. Vitamin A handles the repair of your skin, Vitamin B (in general) creates the building blocks of your skin, Vitamin C helps collagen production, Vitamin E reduces scarring, and Vitamin K helps discoloration fade. You consume most of these vitamins through fruits and leafy green vegetables. All of them combined combat poor healing.

With your diet out of the way, let’s talk about behaviors. Excessive weight gain and weight loss cause your tattoo to deform, which becomes especially noticeable during the healing process. On top of that, working out stresses the skin in your tattooed area, prolonging the amount of time it takes for the tattoo heal, and possibly distorting the design. Swimming pools and workout equipment harbor harmful bacteria that not only delay your healing, but also cause infection!

Lastly, stay out of harsh sunlight. Sunlight breaks down large ink particles, making them movable by white blood cells. While your top skin layers heal, more sun reaches your dermis and damages your permanent ink particles.

Tattoo Peeling 3


After Tattoo Peeling Stops

After tattoo peeling, ink looks faded and dull. A thick layer of scarred epidermis combined with a healing dermis creates a very poor view of the tattoo, indeed! While we already answered the question, ‘Why does my tattoo look faded while healing?’ in the sections above, the length of this stage may surprise you. Tattoo peeling before and after pictures show a startling difference, but when does that difference shrink? A tattoo looks faded after two weeks…and a month…and several months after your skin heals. In fact, I estimate that scar tissue reaches its optimum clarity after a full six months!


Importantly, your body returns to its normal functions after just six weeks. This means you may use certain products on the area to speed up your tattoo healing process. Obviously, a moisturizer during the healing process keeps your skin from scabbing or scarring. However, it does not negate the weakness of the new layers of skin. These thin layers do little to protect you—and your tattoo ink—from the harsh rays of the sun. Use a tattoo sunscreen from our recommendations to protect your skin and ink from all manner of light and ensure it comes out as vibrant as possible.


Tattoo Peeling and You

With a lot of patience and determination, you pull through the tattoo peeling stage all the better for it. If you take anything away from this article, let it be this: let your skin fall or flake off naturally, rather than pulling it up yourself. If the itching bothers you, use a tattoo moisturizer or apply a little bit of cold pressure. During the healing process, ensuring a bright and vibrant tattoo at the end of it takes priority over temporary things like delaying a little itching.

So when you see colors flaking off of your tattoo, don’t freak out. Use every opportunity to treat your tattoo peeling and itchiness as a chance to clean it and check on its status. By cleaning, moisturizing, and caring for your tattoo, you cut down on the itchiness and shorten the duration of the tattoo peeling stage. Stay informed about tattoo healing and check out the rest of 101-Tattoos for a complete and comprehensive look at the tattoo world!

May your tattoo always shine!


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