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Tattoo Scab or Scar? How to Tell if Your Tattoo is Healing Properly

Updated August 14, 2023

While getting a new tattoo can be a thrilling experience, knowing how to take care of it properly afterward is essential. And that means knowing what to expect. And, like it or not, a big part of the healing process of a healthy tattoo is scabbing.

While scabbing may not be the most appetizing topic of discussion, we'll dive right in and guide you through the scabbing process of a new tattoo and provide helpful tips for aftercare.

You'll learn how to care for your tattoo while it is scabbing, how to properly wash and moisturize a scabbing tattoo, and get some helpful aftercare tips to promote healing for your new ink. We'll also cover how to minimize or eliminate the terrible itching that can be a part of the tattoo healing process. 

Sabbed Tattoo of bird

With proper care, understanding the scabbing process, and following the aftercare tips in this article, you can ensure your tattoo will heal properly and look fantastic!

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Is Tattoo Scabbing Normal?

Many people worry that scabbing is a sign of a tattoo infection, but it's a normal part of healing.

Firstly, it's essential to understand why your tattoo is scabbing. During the tattooing process, your skin is punctured repeatedly with a needle.

A tattoo artist creates a tattoo

This can cause your skin to react by forming scabs to protect the open wound as the tattoo heals and forms new skin underneath.

Scabbing is simply an organic bandage that helps to protect the area from infection while new skin grows back. Think of it like a band-aid made from your body. A band-aid made from dried plasma, clotted blood platelets and fibrin. On second thought, let's not think about that. 

Closeup of a scab

The scabbing process begins about 48 hours after getting a tattoo, when you may notice some dry patches and flaking around your tattoo. This is where the skin is beginning to heal itself by forming a protective layer of scabbing over the area. 

Most tattoos will scab in one way or another, and there are a few key things to keep in mind during this time.

It is vital that you do not pick or remove any scabbing as this can cause damage and pull out the pigment. Your tattoo artist may have recommended a specific brand of lotion to use during the healing process, which you should follow. As the scabbing occurs in the first few days, you may experience flaking or peeling skin on and around your tattoo.

Applying a thin layer of lotion several times a day to a fresh tattoo can help keep the area hydrated while providing a barrier to prevent dirt or a germ infection from getting into the open skin.

Woman rubbing lotion on her tattoo

If you see any thick or dry scabs developing, take care of them properly, so they don't lead to any distortion of your tattoo and possible bleeding or infection. 

Tattoo Scab Aftercare: Proper Washing and Moisturizing, Even With A Thick Scab

Avoid scrubbing or picking at any scabs on your tattoo, as this can cause scarring and lead to infection. It is also important to gently clean your tattoo with warm water and antibacterial soap at least once or twice a day. This will help keep bacteria away from the tattooed skin as it heals.

Do not use hot water when washing your tattoo; lightly dab the area with warm water before patting the tattoo dry with a paper towel or cloth to clean the scab.

Man Washing His Tattoo

Stages of Healing

Getting a tattoo is one of the best ways to express yourself and give your appearance style. However, like any new body modification, tattoos can go through different stages of healing. If you're considering getting a tattoo, you should know the various stages a tattoo may go through to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Flooding

The first stage of healing is called flooding. During this phase, the ink inside the tattoo begins to spread and fill in any cracks or gaps in the skin. This process can take up to two weeks and may cause swelling and redness.

Healing

The next stage is healing, during which the ink slowly penetrates deeper into the skin and starts to form new blood vessels. This process can take anywhere from two weeks to several months but is usually pretty painless overall.

At this point in the healing stage, you can sometimes start to see scabbing forming on top of the tattoo – these small scabs are temporary and will eventually fall off on their own (although they may leave behind a faint mark).

There are a large variety of tattoo inks available.

Maintenance

Finally, there is maintenance, during which time any formed scabs will slowly peel away.  It is important to keep your skin moisturized during this phase and continue to avoid picking at the scabs. Failure to do so can cause further damage and even infection, so it’s best to leave them alone.

It usually takes about six months for your tattoo to heal, but if you have any questions or concerns about how your tattoo is healing, you should contact your artist.

Improper aftercare could result in excessive scarring. In addition, be sure not to wear clothing that rubs against your newly-tattooed skin – this could cause the scab to fall off prematurely and cause infection! 

Tattoo scabbing is a completely normal healing process, and the scabs themselves are usually minimal. Instead of the heavy scabbing you might be familiar with from an open wound or surgery, a tattoo scab is usually thin and light in color.

In some cases, the scab will break off on its own within a few days of healing as part of the normal process of healing. However, if you notice that it is peeling or cracking too much, this may indicate that your skin needs more time to heal – in which case you should take extra care to keep it clean and dry. 

In some cases, you may find that the scab doesn't heal quickly or entirely – this usually indicates an underlying issue such as infection, which can cause more severe complications if not treated. Other signs of infection are that it feels hot to the touch, oozes pus, or generally looks worse than expected during the healing.

If you do have a thicker scab that has had time to heal but has yet to fall off naturally, you can try soaking the scab in warm water to see if you can get the edges to start to soften and lift up. Do this very carefully, and be prepared to stop if the scab feels like it might not be ready to come off. 

General Tattoo Aftercare Tips

We've said it before, and we'll say it again. When caring for a healing tattoo, the most critical step is to follow what your tattoo artist has told you.

If you've done your research and gone to a reputable tattoo parlor, you will have had your piece of art created during a proper tattoo session with a tattoo professional. They are the expert, so talk to your tattoo artist about the steps they recommend to keep your new tattoo clean and protected. 

Remember, your body sees the tattoo like a skin wound, so treating it with the same care you would provide a cut or scrape is important. This means giving it healing time, taking steps to prevent infection, and wearing a covering to protect the wound underneath.

After getting a new tattoo, it is important to keep your tattoo away from direct sunlight for at least three weeks to reduce the risk of infection.

A woman with tattoo on her shoulder

Pick Your Battles, Not Your Scabs!

Scabs are meant to heal, so don't pick them open. Picking at them promotes the growth of bacteria, delaying proper healing and ultimately resulting in scarring. 

To promote healing, apply a moist compress once or twice a day to the scab, which will help regenerate the skin underneath. Normal tattoo scabbing can be kept healthier by applying lotion to them to prevent them from falling off or cracking. To prevent the scab from hardening, apply an antibiotic ointment between moist compresses. 

Keep the scab exposed to give it plenty of air, as this promotes healing. If you have to cover the scab, make sure there is still airflow.

Avoid allowing the scab to soak in water for very long. This can cause it to soften and fall off before it's ready, interrupting the healing and potentially leading to scarring.

Following proper aftercare instructions such as cleaning, moisturizing, and heeding the guidelines can help reduce thick scabbing and make the healing process go more smoothly, resulting in a better-looking tattoo.

If you notice anything concerning during the healing process, consult a professional to address potential issues quickly.

What Happens When A Scab Falls Off A Tattoo?

We've mentioned a couple of times in this article the importance of keeping the scab in place. But what happens if something happens and that scab falls off?

Basically, it means that it will take a longer time to heal. It won't necessarily mean that the tattoo is ruined or damaged. Though, when a scab falls off too soon or is picked off, it can cause ink loss and infection. 

Without the protective cover the scab provides, there is a much greater opportunity for your tattoo to become infected. So, it's essential to take extra care and do whatever you can to keep the scab in place if possible.  

Person rubbing cream on tattoo

If a scab does fall off prematurely, make sure to clean your tattoo with mild soap and warm water, then lightly pat it dry.

Apply an unscented lotion or cream afterward to keep the area moist and protected from dirt and germs. 

Obviously, it's best to prevent the scab from falling off in the first place; but that can be hard when your tattoo itches like crazy.

So let's talk about how to deal with itching! 

How To Stop Feeling Itchy When Your Tattoo is Scabbing

It's normal to feel some itchiness after you get a tattoo, along with scabbing, and peeling during the healing stage. While these symptoms can be uncomfortable, it's essential to let your tattoo heal naturally and avoid scratching or picking at the scabs. And that means you want to stop the tattoo itch in its tracks.

One thing to avoid is using common corticosteroids like hydrocortisone to relieve itching.

While these creams can provide temporary relief when your tattoo starts itching, it can take days and weeks for you to start feeling relief. They can also cause skin damage from long-term use and even addiction issues.

Instead of topical steroids, we recommend using Dermeleve®, a steroid-free, fast-acting, long-lasting itch cream that is safe for long-term and frequent use. Dermeleve® is specially formulated to soothe itching and moisturize the skin, making it ideal for relieving tattoo itchiness and discomfort. 

Tube of Dermeleve® on a bathroom counter

Another important tip is to avoid touching or scratching your tattoo. Your hands carry bacteria that can cause infections and damage the healing skin. Scratching or picking at the scabs can also cause the scabs to fall off prematurely, which can cause the tattoo to look uneven or blotchy.

Instead, focus on keeping your tattoo clean and moisturized.

To do this:

  • Gently wash your tattoo with mild soap and lukewarm water twice daily.
  • Pat the area dry with a clean towel and apply a thin layer of unscented lotion or tattoo-specific aftercare product.
  • Avoid using petroleum jelly or heavy creams, which can clog pores and prevent proper healing.

If you find your tattoo bubbling, oozing, or displaying excessive redness or swelling, your tattoo might be infected. In this case, it's important to see a healthcare provider or dermatologist. They can prescribe antibiotics or recommend a course of treatment for an infected tattoo to help it heal properly.

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Wrap Up

Getting a new tattoo can be an exciting and rewarding experience. And while it is essential to understand the proper aftercare necessary for the healing process, it can also be overwhelming. 

However, understanding the scabbing process is a normal part of getting a new tattoo, and following the aftercare tips in this article can help ensure that your tattoo heals properly. With just a few simple steps and practices, you'll know your tattoo is being cared for correctly! 

Remember, it's important to take care of your new tattoo and follow your tattoo artist's instructions regarding healing and aftercare. To stop feeling itchy, avoid scratching or picking at the scabs, and use a steroid-free, fast-acting, long-lasting itch cream like Dermeleve®.

By taking care of your tattoo and following these tips, you can help your tattoo heal properly and look its best. 

 

FAQs

Q: What is a tattoo scab?

A: A tattoo scab is a thin layer of scabbing that forms over a new tattoo as it heals.

Q: How can I tell if my tattoo is healing properly?

A: A tattoo is healing properly if it goes through the normal tattoo healing process, including scabbing and peeling. It is important to follow your tattoo artist's aftercare instructions and keep an eye out for any signs of infection.

Q: Is it normal for my tattoo to scab?

A: Yes, it is perfectly normal for a tattoo to scab during the healing process. It is a natural part of the tattoo healing and is a sign that the skin is repairing itself.

Q: How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?

A: The healing time for a tattoo can vary depending on various factors, including the size and complexity of the tattoo, as well as individual healing factors. On average, it can take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks for a tattoo to fully heal.

Q: Should I pick at the scabs on my tattoo?

A: No, you should never pick at the scabs on your tattoo. Picking at the scabs can cause the scab to fall off prematurely, potentially leading to scarring or loss of color in the tattoo.

Q: What should I do if my tattoo scabbing is thicker than usual?

A: If your tattoo scabbing appears thicker than usual, it may be a sign that your tattoo is healing slower than expected. In this case, it is important to talk to your tattoo artist for guidance and proper care instructions.

Q: Can a tattoo scab cover the whole tattoo?

A: Yes, it is possible for a tattoo scab to cover the entire tattoo. However, it is important to keep in mind that each person's healing process may be different, and some tattoos may scab more than others.

Q: Is it normal for my tattoo to bubble during the healing process?

A: No, it is not normal for a tattoo to bubble during the healing process. If you notice any bubbling or excessive oozing, it could be a sign of an infection, and you should seek medical attention immediately.

Q: Can I go swimming after getting a tattoo?

A: It is generally recommended to avoid swimming or submerging your new tattoo in water until it is fully healed. Water, especially in pools, hot tubs, or natural bodies of water, can introduce bacteria and increase the risk of infection.

Q: How should I take care of my new tattoo?

A: To properly take care of your new tattoo, you should follow your tattoo artist's aftercare instructions. This usually involves keeping the tattoo clean, applying ointment or lotion as recommended, and avoiding activities that may cause excessive sweating or friction on the tattoo.

 

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