THE FIRST STAGE:
Healing starts as soon as your tattoo session has finished. Consider the tattoo as a large open wound, and the skin will start producing plasma to begin the clotting and scabbing process. Your artist will clean the area with a gentle cleanser, then apply a thin layer of petroleum and add a bandage/wrap to the tattoo for protection against bacteria. This should stay on 4 hours. This allows the wound to close to a safe point for exposure.
Once you’re ready to remove the bandage (carefully), it’s likely you will notice that your tattooed area will be weeping with plasma and pigment. This is completely normal and is the body’s way of trying to repair itself. Gently wash the area thoroughly (in small circular motions) with unscented, antibacterial soap such as Dial. Pat dry with a clean towel. Spritz the area with witch hazel and allow to air dry. Wash your tattoo twice daily and after intense physical activity or when exposed to potential contaminants.
After 24 hours you may apply a non-scented lotion or tattoo ointment on your freshly washed tattoo. We recommend Lubriderm, Cetaphil, or Aquaphor (applied very thin). Thick layers will potentially suffocate, delay healing and harbor bacteria that could lead to a potential infection. The lotion or ointment is typically applied twice a day, but you can apply it when needed (when it feels tight or itchy.)
Fresh tattoos will usually be sore for a few days. The feeling is usually like a moderate-to-severe sunburn. Along with the soreness, the area around the tattoo will likely be red, probably raised above the skin slightly, and potentially bruised from working on the area.
You may feel slightly run-down for a couple of days. This is typical if you received a large tattoo done over a multi-hour session. This is your body’s way of dealing with the trauma it has recently endured. The tattooed area will also feel warm to the touch for a few days. This is normal, however if the redness, soreness or heat lingers for more than a week, go and see a doctor to ensure there is not an infection present.
Towards the end of the first stage you will start to see the formation of flaking or occasionally scabbing. Your tattoo will start to look dull and cloudy. This is the new layers of skin growing over the pigment and the old skin sloughing off. The sharpness will come back slowly following the end of all the healing stages. DO NOT pick off any scabs or flaking skin that have formed. This will delay healing and may pull ink from your tattoo. It's important not to use any rough washcloths or towels as these could pull off any drying scabs and delay healing around any damaged areas of the tattoo.
THE SECOND STAGE:
A lot of people regard this as the worst stage in the tattoo healing process. This stage is infamous due to the INTENSE itching. At this point the scabs are hard in some cases and a few of the smaller ones are probably ready to start flaking or come off, again DO NOT PICK THEM. Picking your scabs will ruin your tattoo. This is going to continue for a few more days. Your skin is going to become very dry, itchy, flaky and hard to ignore. The scabs will appear to have color You can tame the itch by gently slapping it, applying Witch Hazel, more frequent thin layers of lotion, and ice packs. Always ensure your tattoo is completely clean and dry before applying lotion. Water trapped between the lotion and the skin can cause your scabs to soak up water and become softened. This makes the scabs far more likely to be pulled off by becoming stuck to something, such as bedsheets or clothing.
If you apply too much lotion, blot off the excess with a paper towel until only a faint shine can be seen on the surface. You don’t want to suffocate your tattoo with lotion as it needs to breathe while healing. At the end of this stage your skin is going to become flaky and start to dangle from your tattooed area. It will be very tempting to peel these or pick the pieces of skin off but do not interfere with them, they will fall off when they’re ready. The flakey dry pieces of skin all over your tattoo means your tattoo is going to look very unsightly and hideous for a few days. Again, completely normal.
THE THIRD STAGE:
This is the point where the majority of the scabbing, flakey and dryness has subsided, although a few of the heavier scabs may still be present. Continue to moisturize whenever your skin begins to look/feel dry. Throughout this stage your tattoo will continue to look somewhat defused, dry etc. and can even look a bit glossy/shiny like plastic. When a healing tattoo looks faded it can often be quite worrying, but rest-assured this is normal.
Potentially, it can still have a very fine dead layer of skin but this will naturally flake away over the next month or two until your skin has completely regenerated back to normal. The clarity and beauty will return when your new skin is completely healed and settled. This can be up to a few months. For this reason, it's sometimes common for a black tattoo to look like it's turning grey during healing, but the deep, sharp blacks should return with time.
This is the perfect time to check your tattoo over for any problems such as patchy spots, fading that may have occurred during the tattooing procedure or happened during the healing process. You can then contact your artist to arrange a touchup if necessary.
Although your skin can appear back to normal after the 2-3 weeks of healing stages, the deeper layers of skin will still be repairing themselves. Your most upper/outer layers of skin will always heal the quickest. The under layers of skin will most likely take 3-4 months then start to look much clearer and sharper. Most tattoo healing problems will have totally cleared up by this time too.
Over time expect that as your tattoo ages, it will have a natural dispersion of the ink particles. This is normal. The skin is an organ and will continue to change over time.
To ensure your tattoo stays as sharp and saturated as possible for the years to come, keep it protected from the sun and any additional damage. Use the highest SPF sunscreen on the tattooed areas when sun is unavoidable. This is due to the pigment particles naturally being dispersed and processed through the lymphatic system when the skin has to regenerate itself. The sun is damaging to all skin types and will create this fading and blurring of tattoos.