Tattoos are a popular form of body art whereby a tattoo artist injects ink, pigment, or dye into a person’s skin. Although many factors can affect the healing process, it usually takes 2-4 weeks for a tattoo to heal.
While the entire healing process can take several months, initial healing usually takes a few weeks. During this period, it is essential that people follow the correct aftercare instructions and avoid or limit certain activities that could interfere with healing. In this article, we’ll discuss the healing process of tattoos and the factors that can affect it. We will also give you some advice on aftercare.
The healing process
The healing process is different for each person and each tattoo. Most sources state that tattoos usually take around 2 weeks to heal.
However, it can take up to 4 weeks for the skin to fully recover. Some complications can prolong the healing process.
Here’s what a person can generally expect for their tattoo to heal
Typically, people leave the tattoo studio with the tattooed area bandaged or wrapped in plastic. The tattoo artist will advise when to remove the bandage, usually one to two hours later. People often see a clear liquid oozing out of the tattoo, mixed with the excess ink, which is normal. The skin may also be sore, slightly warm and red.
You should clean your hands, gently wash the tattoo with a fragrance-free soap and apply a water-based moisturizer. Some tattoo artists may also recommend that people repack the tattoo the first night. This can prevent the tattoo from staining clothing or bedding or sticking to sheets when the person is sleeping.
After a few days the tattoo should start to be less painful and less red. The person may notice that their tattoo is duller than when it started. This aspect is not worrying, it is a sign that the tattoo is healing. Sometimes, during the healing of the skin, one can notice the formation of scabs. It is important not to scratch the scabs, as this can lead to scarring. At this point, people may also start to feel itchy. However, it is important not to scratch it.
Flaking is also a normal part of the healing process, as the skin sheds damaged cells. It can start a few days after the tattoo, when the skin exfoliates and new cells grow. People may notice the skin peeling or flaking when they wash off the tattoo. They should continue to wash and moisturize the tattoo 1-2 times a day. The first few days and weeks are when allergic reactions to tattoo ink and potential infections are most likely to occur.
The scabs are usually harder at this stage and may come off naturally. It is important not to pick off the scabs, as this can disturb the underlying ink. Many tattoos can be close to healing at this point. People should notice a reduction in redness and itching. However, if the tattoo is still painful and swollen, it may indicate inflammation and infectionTrusted Source. In this case, the person should consult a medical professional immediately.
Weeks 3 and 4
Most of the scabs and peeling skin should be gone by this point. People should continue to moisturize the skin if it feels dry. The outer layers of skin should have fully healed, as they regenerate the fastest. The lower layers of skin can take several months to heal.
Factors that may affect wound healing
A critical factor that influences the healing process is choosing a reputable tattoo studio that practices good aseptic techniques. Poor tattoo hygiene can cause infections that slow healing and can lead to serious health issues.
For example, research indicates that people can pick up infections in unauthorized premises with contaminated ink. A 2016 study looking at the risk of infection from tattoos suggests that 0.5-6% of people may experience infectious complications. Choosing a reputable tattoo studio and following aftercare guidelines closely can reduce the likelihood of infection.
The skill of the artist also affects healing time, as rough or poor techniques can cause additional trauma to the skin.
The size and location of the tattoo can also impact healing. For example, tattoos located near joints or bending areas will take longer to heal than those located in areas that don’t move as much. Likewise, large tattoos will take longer to heal than small ones.
Additionally, the type of tattoo device and ink color can also affect healing time. For example, red pigments are more likely to cause delayed hypersensitivity reactions and slow the healing process.
How long before people can perform activities
Exposing a new tattoo to sunlight can cause discoloration, and ultraviolet (UV) light can cause the tattoo to crust over, which can interfere with healing. People should avoid sunbathing and other types of sun exposure for 1-3 weeks while the tattoo heals.
A tattoo is an open wound and therefore vulnerable to infection. In general, before the wound has completely healed, tattoo artists recommend that people avoid certain activities.
These can be strenuous activities that involve sweating and moving the tattoo, such as weight training, or immersing the tattoo in water, such as bathing or swimming.
In rare cases, people with new tattoos can get serious waterborne infections, including strains of flesh-eating bacteria.
The following good advice to allow a good healing of tattoos:
– Moisturize with a suitable cream: It is best to use a water-based cream or lotion to moisturize the tattoo and the surrounding skin if it is dry. People should not use petroleum-based products as they may cause discoloration.
– Protect the tattoo from the sun: Tattoos can fade if people expose them to too much sun. It is advisable to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least 30. It is advisable to apply it at least 15 minutes before going out and renew it every two hours.
– Avoid using tanning beds: UV light devices, such as sunlamps and tanning beds, can discolor tattoos. They also increase the risk of developing skin cancer. In some people, UV light can cause a painful reaction on the tattooed skin.
– Do not tattoo over moles: When getting a new tattoo, people should choose an area of skin without moles. Otherwise, a tattoo could hide early symptoms of skin cancer and delay treatment seeking.
– Wash the tattoo: It is important to wash the tattoo regularly and gently with a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and antibacterial soap. You should also dry the skin by lightly patting it with a paper towel before applying any cream.
Bassi, A., et al. (2014). Tattoo-associated skin reaction: The importance of an early diagnosis and proper treatment.
Breuner, CC, et al. (2017). Teenager and young adult tattooing, piercing, and scarification.
Caring for tattooed skin. (nd).
Dieckman, R., et al. (2016). The risk of bacterial infection after tattooing.
González, CD, et al. (2020). Aftercare instructions in the tattoo community: An opportunity to educate on sun protection and increase skin cancer awareness.