Tattoos are created through ink being injected into the dermis layer of the skin using specialized needles. When tattoo needles puncture the skin they create thousands of tiny micro wounds. Your body, being the amazing thing that it is, immediately leaps into action. It responds in a number of ways, but for the purposes of this article, it primarily responds by sending what are called macrophages to the site of the wound. The pigment particles from tattoo inks are too large for macrophages to destroy. The pigment becomes “stuck” in the dermis, resulting in tattoo art! Macrophages heal and begin closing the numerous needle incisions, devouring foreign contaminants in the process. Over the course of the next 1-3 weeks, depending on the healing methods used and the individual’s immune system, your body treats the tattoo nearly identically to any other skin wound and busily works to repair the area.
Depending on your healing method and respective immune system, visible tattoo healing occurs over a period of 2-3 weeks. A maturation period of deeper, invisible healing then occurs, lasting anywhere from 20 days to 2 years.
- After the initial hemostasis and inflammatory phases occur during the tattoo and for 24 hours afterward, the traditional tattoo healing process begins with the shedding of the dead, or dying, layers of skin above the ink pigment applied by your tattoo artist.
- Simultaneously, your body is also repairing the layer of skin that contains the tattoo pigment, itself.
- Once the healing tissue reaches a certain point, the flakes/scabs will begin to fall away on their own. DO NOT ever pick or peel these flakes/scabs — let them come off in their own time.
- Immediately afterward, you will see “cellophane-like” (slightly shiny) tissue beneath. This shinier-than-average skin will eventually return to normal, healthy looking skin.
- Keep the area moisturized. Your body takes time to begin its natural exfoliation process again when you get a tattoo. This can take up to 2 weeks to return to normal.
- Your tattoo will typically be considered “healed” when the scabbing/flaking phase ends. At this point, your skin should feel relatively normal and healthy again and you can resume your normal routines and activities.
Moisturizing Your Tattoo
Getting a tattoo interrupts your body’s natural exfoliation and oil production process. This makes it highly important to moisturize your healing tattoo regularly. Try not to over-moisturize the area either, however, as this will likely clog your pores, resulting in rashes or pimples. In extreme cases, during early stages of healing, over-moisturizing can actually dissolve platelets and re-open the tattoo wound. The result is more plasma weeping from the wound, which causes more severe scabbing. Remember: the goal when moisturizing your tattoo is maintaining a moisture level consistent with your normal, non-healing skin.
Maintain Good Health When Getting A Tattoo
Since your body’s immune system has a limited amount of energy to dedicate to the healing of the wound, it’s important, for proper tattoo healing, to be in relatively good health. If you’ve recently suffered injury or illness, we recommend you avoid getting tattooed – at least until you feel like you’re 100% again. If you’re healing a broken arm and decide to get tattooed at the same time, your immune system must divide its healing efforts between both injuries. This results in both injuries healing more slowly, which is never ideal, and can result in complications. Avoid intense physical exertion, intoxicants, and intense stress when healing a tattoo for best results. Rest as much as possible and eat a clean, high-nutrient diet. You want to give your body ample resources to heal your tattoo as quickly and effectively as it possibly can.
Your Body Is the True Healing Indicator, Not Time
It’s important to remember that there are many factors that can contribute, either positively or negatively, to a tattoo’s healing. Some of these factors include your body’s natural ability to heal, the quality and punctuality of your after care, the size and detail of the individual tattoo, the technical skill of the respective artist in working the skin, the color of the ink, and even the types of ink used.
Be Aware of the Final “Maturation Phase” of Wound Healing
It’s important to understand that just because a tattoo is deemed “healed” does not actually mean the skin, itself, is completely done healing. The maturation phase is the final phase of your skin’s wound healing process. During this phase of wound healing, collagen that was destroyed is re-accumulated and remodeled. The cells being used to repair the wound, which are no longer needed, are removed through a process known as apoptosis (programmed cell death). Consequently, cellular activity decreases significantly in the area. Generally, collagen remodeling begins approximately 21 days after the wound occurs, and can continue for a year or more. Although, it rarely takes that long in the case of tattoos.
It’s easy to believe that your skin’s healing is complete when the scabbing/flaking phase is over. However, keep in mind that some tattoos don’t scab or flake at all. Especially if you opt for a wet tattoo healing method using Saniderm. When you run the tattooed area under a warm tap, in the shower for example, it’s clear that the skin is still more sensitive than other skin in the same area. This sensation can last for weeks or even months after getting your tattoo. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid the outdoors, physical activity, etc. — presuming you’re past the initial phases of healing. Though, it may still be wise to avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight and other situations where skin trauma could occur.
Take care of your body, and it will take care of you!
This really couldn’t be more true in the case of healing a tattoo. Keep your tattoo vibrant and never neglect proper wound care!