What a Tattoo Does to Your Skin
When someone gets a tattoo, a tattoo artist injects ink directly into that person's skin. Electrically powered tattoo machines move ink-saturated needles up and down to puncture the skin down to a preset depth--about two millimeters, in fact. The ink used is insoluble, meaning it won’t easily dissolve over time.
The other reason that tattoos stay for years, even though the top layer of the epidermis is refreshed with new skin cells all the time, is that tattoo ink is injected into the dermis, not the epidermis. The epidermis is only the outer layer of your skin, while the dermis is the second layer. These skin cells are much more stable and don’t die or regenerate in the same way as epidermis cells.
Because of this, a person’s tattoo will last for a long time and only suffers minor fading or distortion as it ages.
Tattoo Healing Timeline
Even though tattoos generally don’t carry any major or long-lasting side effects if they’re done correctly, they still cause damage to your skin, meaning you have to go through the healing process no matter how gently your tattoo is applied or how skilled your artist is.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of the tattoo aftercare process.
Your fresh tattoo probably looks quite vibrant and colorful (if you choose a tattoo with colors, anyway). The surrounding skin will look a little red, and incredibly fresh or “new” – that’s because it is, in a way. Technically, your tattoo is an open wound. Each stroke of the needle creates a minor wound on the surface of your skin.
This does open up the possibility of infection. Because of this, you’ll need to rinse your tattoo with soap and warm water between two to three times every day. You should also use fragrance-free soap or soap products that don’t have any harsh synthetic ingredients. Natural products without fragrances are the best, like those provided by Green Goo.
Furthermore, you’ll want to avoid rubbing your tattoo with a towel, even after you take a shower. Doing so can aggravate your skin further and slow down the healing process. Instead, use a gentle patting motion to pat dry.
Ultimately, you should be focused on keeping your tattoo clean during this healing stage. It’ll likely still feel a little sore, but not unmanageable unless an infection has found its way to the healing site.
Days 2-7 (Week 1)
Aftercare is even more important during this stage. Your tattoo has started to heal at this point, and you’ve also been given wrappings to keep your tattoo’s open wound from being exposed to too much bacteria (if your tattoo shop is a reputable place!).
However, after the first day, your skin will start to push plasma from your tattooed skin’s pores. This looks a lot like pus, but it’s actually a liquid protein that also comprises about 50% of the matter in your blood. Plasma might look gross, but it’s a critical part of the healing process. It’s responsible for helping your blood form scabs or clot, which stops open wounds from continuing to bleed.
Upon removing your tattoo wrapping, you might notice oozing ink immediately. Don’t panic! Ink isn’t actually leaving your tattoo, so its vibrancy generally won’t fade. This is just plasma mixing with blood cells and some skin cells. Everything is being pushed out of your pores as your skin begins the healing process.
Furthermore, you might find that your tattoo area is hotter than normal. Again, this is all a part of the process and is indicative that your body is going through the right motions by closing up the epidermis and healing the many miniature wounds.
If you have an immune system disorder, you might have a little extra bruising. This isn't uncommon, but you should still keep an eye on it in case there are any additional complications.
As before, try to keep your tattoo area clean and follow any other aftercare instructions given to you by your artist.
Days 8-14 (Week 2)
The second week of the healing process will see your tattoo turn scabby. This flaking means that the wound is no longer open and new cells are covering the open areas. This is great since it means your tattoo is less susceptible to infection. However, it might cover up your tattoo, leading novices to the art to believe that their tattoo is gone.
It’s not – the tattoo is still just buried beneath the scabby flesh. The important thing is to never pick at or peel the scab, which is a natural part of the healing process. The scab needs to do its job so you can heal properly.
Also, picking up the scab on top of your tattoo can affect the fine lines of the art itself. If you want your tattoo to look as good as it did on the first day, leave the scab alone!
You can, of course, use a thin layer of moisturizer or lotion if you want to keep your skin from becoming too dry and to combat any itchiness, but avoid smothering the area with too many skincare or moisturizing products.
Days 15-28 (Weeks 3 and 4)
At this point, your tattoo is probably mostly healed. Your scabs should be gone and your tattoo might look a little stretched or “taut”. Additionally, any color might look a little duller than it did on the first day. Don’t worry, this is just because you have a new layer of epidermis over your skin that hasn’t fully settled with the rest of your body just yet. Eventually, the color will return as the epidermis settles.
At this point, you can and should moisturize your tattooed skin if it feels dry or uncomfortable. You should also continue to wash it. We’d still recommend using soap to make sure no infection takes hold.
How to Improve the Tattoo Healing Process
Waiting a whole month for your tattoo to look and feel as you wanted it to might seem like a tall order, but there are some ways that you can reduce your tattoo’s healing time. However, be aware that everyone’s body is a bit different and works on its own schedule.
We can’t stress this part enough. If you spend time in the sun, you need to put sunscreen on your fresh tattoo. It is particularly important since the cells of your dermis are more exposed to ultraviolet radiation than before, which can cause burns or irritation.
Apply Tattoo Care Products
You can use special tattoo care products to reduce inflammation and soothe pain or swelling. These may help your tissue repair itself a little more rapidly.
The Green Goo Tattoo Care herbal infusion is a great example. This tattoo care product is formulated to help reduce swelling and pain on freshly inked skin. Furthermore, it can provide a protective layer over your sensitive dermis while you heal, providing additional moisturization and nourishing effects!
Don’t Get the Tattoo Wet
We’d also recommend avoiding swimming or soaking your tattoo, even while you take a shower. You should only use sterile water to clean your tattoo and avoid inundating the dermis with moisture, as this can slow down the healing process and invite more opportunities for infection.
Don’t Re-Bandage the Tattoo
If this is your first tattoo, sometime in the first week, once you remove the initial wrapping that is put in place by your artist, you’re going to want to re-bandage your tattoo. Don’t cover it again. Your tattooed skin needs to “breathe” and receive enough space and ambient moisture to heal properly. If you wrap it, you might prevent it from getting either of these two elements and cause it to heal more slowly.
What If Your Tattoo Heals More Slowly?
Don’t worry! Your skin might just take another week or two to fully heal compared to the average experience. However, if your tattoo doesn’t move past the scabbing stage for several weeks on end, you should visit a doctor and get some professional advice. Your skin might be experiencing an infection or there might be some other issue.
Overall, your tattoo will take about a month to heal from start to finish, although the actual rate can vary by up to a week depending on your skin’s healing rate and how well you take care of the tattoo. Using some of the tips above can accelerate your healing process and allow you to enjoy your tattoo in its full glory more quickly. Good luck!