Your new ink looks fantastic and you want to show it off. But the tattoo artist said to keep it covered for the first few hours. Worse, they warned that it’s going to ooze for the first day or two. And then, they gave advice about not taking baths or swimming with it. It sounds like it’s going to be a while before life gets back to normal.
How long does it take for a tattoo to heal? Can a tattoo heal in four days or even five? What about how to heal a tattoo in a week? Let’s go through the tattoo healing process day by day.
The tattoo healing process: the first three days
Pro artists like Pony Wave, Mira, Mr. K, and Lauren Winzer will be straight up with you when you ask how long it takes to heal a tattoo. They’re going to tell you that it’ll likely take a month for a full recovery. That’s when all the layers of skin heal completely.
The first two or three days are when the tattoo is tender to the touch. It’s likely to ooze ink, blood, and plasma and look red and swollen. The symptoms improve if you keep it clean and protected.
You can make things a lot easier on yourself and speed up the healing process if you keep the tattoo covered with a breathable bandage like those made by Saniderm. After all, your tattoo is an open wound that shouldn’t be exposed to dirt, sweat, or water (unless you’re washing it). The bandage keeps the tattoo from leaking onto your sheets, too (1).
Saniderm Tattoo Aftercare Bandage
Although it resembles transparent cling wrap, this breathable bandage allows oxygen to reach the tattoo, and that’s crucial for healing. It drastically cuts down on maintenance because it reduces the need for washing the tattoo morning and night and treating it with tattoo balm for the first few days.
A few hours after you get your tattoo, all you have to do is wash, pat dry with a clean towel, and cover it with the bandage. Leave an overlap of about an inch on surrounding skin. Now, leave the bandage alone for three or four days unless it either fills up with blood and liquid or peels off (highly unlikely). If so, just replace it by washing and rewrapping. While you wear the bandage, you can shower because it’s waterproof.
The process of using a bandage like this is called wet healing as opposed to dry healing. The advantage is that wet healing works faster, it lowers the risk of damaging the design, and it allows you to dress, shower, and pretty much live normally without stressing over your new tattoo.
Please don’t try to substitute plastic wrap because the skin will shrivel as it won’t be able to breathe and it sets you up for a nasty infection.
Second Skin Personal Pack Bandages
SecondSkin is another popular tattoo bandage alongside Saniderm, although it’s significantly more expensive. Like the other brand, you can get it in precut sizes or in rolls.
It’s medical-grade and latex-free, plus it’s hypoallergenic and waterproof. It can be left on for an entire week.
Stages of a healing tattoo: the first week and beyond
Once you’ve gotten through the first seventy-two hours after getting a new tattoo, the skin should be looking better. Towards the end of the first week, you’re likely to see scabs forming if you aren’t covering the tattoo with the bandage.
Again, the benefit of wet healing with a bandage means less trouble with scabs because once they form, the skin starts to itch and flake. But the itching and flaking is a good sign that healing is taking place just as it should.
In the meantime, keep the tattoo clean by washing your hands first, then washing the tattoo twice a day (if you’re not wet healing) with fragrance-free soap. Keep cleaning the tattoo twice daily until the scabs are gone and the skin is smooth.
After Inked Tattoo & Piercing Aftercare Foam Cleanser
Unlike the famous Cosco Green Soap, this foaming cleanser is ethanol-free. It doesn’t contain sulfates, parabens, artificial fragrances, phthalates, or dyes, either.
The vegan formula is extra-gentle but effective for removing dirt. It won’t dry out the skin, which is why it’s soothing and perfect for new tattoos.
Follow up with the brand’s lotion to help the tattoo heal faster.
Free & Clear Liquid Cleanser
It’s designed for anyone with allergies or eczema, and that makes it perfect for washing new tattoos. The sensitive skin of an open wound like a tattoo does best with a gentle soap like this.
The dermatologist-tested formula contains no irritants – no fragrance, no artificial colors, no sulfates. It’s safe for any part of the body.
How to deal with the itching and flaking: scabs on a new tattoo
Once you have scabs and the skin is peeling, don’t pick. Repeat, don’t pick.
We know it’s tempting, but you really don’t want to have to go back for a touchup, do you?
Instead, clean your hands, then put on a thin layer of tattoo aftercare lotion or tattoo salve. It doesn’t even have to be a specialty product – any fragrance-free lotion will do. The moisturizer will alleviate the itching and help the healing process. You might also put a cold pack on the skin to numb it.
Wash and lotion, wash and lotion, and keep it up until the surface of the skin looks healed. Even then, use lotion or a product like Hustle Butter to keep the skin hydrated and the ink bright.
Sanibalm Tattoo Aftercare by Saniderm
After you stop using a bandage on your new tattoo, switch to aftercare balm or moisturizer to keep the healing process on track and minimize skin sensitivity. This one comes in a stick and it’s not messy, greasy, or sticky.
If it’s cold weather, warm it up a bit in your pocket or your hand before applying it over the tattoo. Just a thin layer three or four times a day keeps the itching and pain under control.
It looks small, but one tube can take care of a large tat or multiple small ones while they heal. It’s formulated to keep the skin hydrated and prevent infection, so it’s no surprise that reviewers love how fast they heal when using it.
Hustle Butter Deluxe Tattoo Aftercare Tattoo Balm
Tattoo artists also recommend Hustle Butter as it’s an all-purpose moisturizer. Not only is it good for tattoo aftercare, but it also serves as a lubricant during the tattooing process and keeps old tattoos from fading. It features natural ingredients like aloe, mango, and shea butter with rice bran oil and contains no petroleum.
Get some before you get your tattoo so that your skin is hydrated and ready to drink up the ink.
CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion
Sometimes specialty tattoo products are pricey and heaven knows you already paid enough to get inked. Save a little cash with this fragrance-free hypoallergenic lotion. It has a thin, lightweight texture that absorbs quickly and never leaves a greasy residue.
It’s made with ceramides and hyaluronic acid which help the skin stay moisturized. The benefits last up to twenty-four hours after you apply it.
How do you know when your tattoo is healed?
Think of a tattoo as a wound or sunburn. How long does it take you to recover from those? Normally, it will be painful and sensitive for the first few days, but the skin doesn’t completely look healed for a couple of weeks (2).
By the third week, the scabs should be mostly gone. Unfortunately, the ink will look dull. But don’t panic because this is to be expected. As the old skin exfoliates, the ink will go brighter. You can help the process along by keeping the skin clean and moisturized.
Is it better to take a shower or bath when you have a healing tattoo?
For the first three weeks, we highly recommend showering instead of bathing. For the first week, it’s a great idea to use a tattoo bandage because it keeps the ink dry and doesn’t hurt as much if the water hits it (3).
What should you not do after a tattoo?
If you want to help your tattoo to heal as quickly as possible, don’t soak the skin in water. Avoid heavy physical activity, don’t pick or scratch, and don’t wear tight clothing over top of the tattoo.
Also, don’t try to treat signs of infection with hydrogen peroxide or alcohol.
How do you know if a new tattoo is infected?
Admittedly, the first couple of days are scary if you’ve never had a tattoo before. Your skin will hurt and it will ooze. This is normal even if it’s not very much fun. Keep the tattoo clean and hang in there.
However, if things look worse instead of better after three days, it’s time to get medical attention. If you run a fever or see pus coming out of the tattoo, contact a doctor immediately. Don’t try to treat the infection at home. Over-the-counter wound care products might destroy the tattoo or leave you with scars and they may not solve the problem.
Worse, the skin could have a bacterial infection or even MRSA and that could spread throughout your body and put you in the hospital. Save yourself a lot of trouble and have a doctor look at the tattoo.
Keep in mind that tattoos that are located far away from the heart – like on the foot – take a little longer to heal than a sleeve tattoo, for example. But the skin should still look and feel better after two or three days.
And just because a tattoo is small doesn’t mean that it will heal faster. It still needs the same TLC and time to recover.
Tattoo Goo Aftercare Kit
Save yourself time with a complete tattoo aftercare kit for dry healing. This one has antimicrobial soap, lotion, and tattoo balm. It’s from a recognized brand promoted by artists and loved by tattoo collectors.
None of the products contain lanolin, petroleum, or harsh chemicals that could slow down healing. They are cruelty-free and made with natural ingredients.
Recommendations for rapid recovery from a new tattoo
We highly recommend purchasing the tattoo aftercare products you’ll need before you get the tattoo. It’s a lot cheaper to order them online than it is to pay double the price in the studio.
We suggest fragrance-free soap, medical-grade bandages for wet healing during the first few days, and moisturizer or tattoo balm for the rest of the healing process. Our top picks are scattered throughout this article, but here’s a quick summary below:
|The best tattoo aftercare products for healing
|Why we love them
|Saniderm Tattoo Aftercare Bandage
|SecondSkin Personal Pack Bandages
|After Inked Tattoo & Piercing Aftercare Foam Cleanser
|Free & Clear Liquid Cleanser
|Sanibalm Tattoo Aftercare by Saniderm
|Hustle Butter Deluxe Tattoo Aftercare Tattoo Balm
|CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion
|Tattoo Goo Aftercare Kit
2. https://www.carthagomed.com/en/tattoos-prior-or-after-cosmetic-surgery/ accessed January 21, 2021
3. https://www.usms.org/fitness-and-training/articles-and-videos/articles/how-long-should-i-wait-to-swim-after-getting-a-tattoo by Kelly O’Mara, published November 26, 2019