Before going in to get your first tattoo—or if it’s been a while since your last piece—you’ll likely have many questions. What type of art or design will you get? How will you feel sitting with your tattoo artist? How much will it cost? Will it hurt; is it safe? And, how long does it take a tattoo to heal?
Before you can proudly show off the new art pieces on your body, you’ll want to give your tattoo time to fully heal. Today, we’ll discuss the healing process, the healing stages you can expect, how long it takes a tattoo to heal, how to care for your healing tattoo, common issues and factors of healing tattoos, and how to help your tattoo heal faster. So, let’s get to it…
How Long Does It Take for a Tattoo to Heal?
While your tattoo will have shed most of the scabbing and dry skin within the first three weeks, it can actually take up to six months before the skin deep beneath the tattoo surface is completely healed. As expected, the skin will tend to heal more quickly for smaller tattoos, and it can take longer for larger tattoos. Your tattoo artist’s technique can also impact the healing process for your pieces.
How you treat your new tattoo can also greatly impact how quickly it heals. For example, picking at the scabs, forgetting to moisturize or protect the tattoo from the sun, or using products that aren’t designed to help heal a new tattoo can all slow or prevent the healing process.
What’s the Tattoo Healing Process?
Tattoo healing has four stages, with different care instructions for each stage. So, what are the stages of tattoo healing?
Stage 1 (week 1): Inflammation
You’ll leave your tattoo appointment with a fresh, clean bandage or wrap to protect the open wound. Your body will begin the healing by sending blood to the area. You’ll likely notice the skin is red and swollen and may feel sore or “burn” a bit. It may also be oozing a little blood, plasma, and ink.
Stage 2 (the second week): Visible Recovery
After a week, the swelling should have calmed down, and you will likely notice the tattoo looks dull and the skin is flaky and itchy. You may also see some scabs. Make sure you’re regularly using a tattoo ointment or lotion as directed to help decrease any discomfort and help the tattoo heal more quickly.
Don’t worry, your tattoo will soon look as expected. This is part of the healing process. Can a tattoo heal in two weeks? No, not yet. You still have a couple more stages and several weeks before your tattoo is fully healed.
Stage 3 (week 3): Invisible Recovery
After a few weeks, your tattoo should no longer be very itchy, though the skin may still look dry and the tattoo may look dull. If, however, you are still experiencing any redness or swelling, contact your tattoo artist and/or doctor, as this could be an early sign of infection.
Your tattoo is not yet healed, and it’s likely covered with a layer of dry skin. Avoid using any products to exfoliate, and avoid picking, scratching, or otherwise irritating the piece, and instead allow the skin to naturally sluff off. Otherwise, you could damage the tattoo or even scar the tender, healing flesh.
Stage 4 (months 2 – 6): Deep Layer Healing
After a couple of months, your tattoo may look fully healed at this time, with any final itching and redness in the past. (Thank goodness.) However, the deeper layers of the skin are still healing, so it’s important to continue your long-term aftercare, which includes staying hydrated, protecting your tattoo from the sun, and keeping your tattoo clean and moisturized. During this time, there’s no longer a need to keep your tattoo covered or so well protected. In other words, it’s time to show off your new ink (if you so choose)!
Tattoo Healing Time
Many people notice their tattoos look like they’re fading after the first three days to a week. This is completely normal during the tattoo healing process. Remember, it can take 14 or more days to visible recovery of the tattoo. And, it can take between 60 and 180 days to invisible recovery (that is, until the skin is fully recovered).
To help your tattoo heal more quickly, it’s important to stay hydrated, to eat healthfully and provide your body with the nutrients it needs to heal, and to get plenty of quality sleep. The body repairs when you sleep, so you want to make sure you get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep as you heal. This isn’t the time to burn the candle at both ends.
That said, it can be uncomfortable to sleep on fresh ink. And sleeping on a tattoo even after a week may not be a good idea. You may need to take some steps to ensure you don’t roll onto your new tattoo for at least a week after getting it. Remember, it is considered an open wound. You also don’t want to put pressure on the tattoo as it needs to be able to breathe to heal. Plus, it will hurt to lie directly on it and may damage the tattoo.
So, when can you sleep on your new tattoo? Again, it can depend on how large the tattoo is as well as how long it takes you to heal. For many people, you can likely sleep on it after day three or four. But if you have a larger tattoo or a compromised immune system, it may take three or more weeks before you can sleep on your tattoo.
How to Care for Your Healing Tattoo
In addition to getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and eating foods to help your skin heal, it’s also important to avoid too much overindulging in anything that could slow healing—this can include drinking, partying, using recreational drugs, smoking, or even overworking or overexercising.
It’s also a good idea to avoid overindulging in fatty or sugary foods. Remember, you have an open wound, and your body needs some extra TLC as it heals.
How Can I Make My Tattoo Heal Faster?
Speaking of tattoo aftercare, taking some extra steps may even help your tattoo heal faster. These include:
- Using a breathable, medical-grade tattoo bandage as your tattoo heals. Tattoos need to stay clean, but they also need oxygen. The right bandage can help protect your tattoo without smothering it.
- Keep your tattoo clean by washing it gently with lukewarm, clean water two to three times a day. Remember to make sure your hands are very clean before washing and then use a fragrance-free antibacterial soap designed for tattoo aftercare. Allow it to air dry or gently pat dry with a clean paper towel before applying a recommended tattoo ointment or lotion.
- Avoid any heavy products and instead use quality, fragrance-free products like Saniderm ointment or lotion, which are designed to help your tattoo heal quickly.
- Loosely cover your new tattoo with clothing to help prevent sun damage or tattoo fading. (Avoid using sunscreen, though, until the tattoo is fully healed.)
What You Cannot Do After Getting a Tattoo
What you don’t do after getting a tattoo is just as important as what you do. For example:
- Don’t scratch, pick at, peel, or rub your new tattoo. If it is feeling dry, itchy, or uncomfortable, you may want to gently pat in some more tattoo lotion. Just make sure your hands are clean first and don’t overapply products!
- Don’t skip your tattoo aftercare, as you could end up with an infection, discoloration, or a slow-healing tattoo.
- Unless you’re cleaning your tattoo, avoid touching it, and then do so only if your hands are completely clean. Make sure that other people keep their mitts off it as well.
- Don’t submerge your tattoo in a bathtub, shower, hot tub, lake, etc., until at least two weeks after receiving your tattoo.
- Don’t sweat excessively after getting a tattoo. Instead, enjoy lower-intensity exercise where you don’t get too sweaty but still move your body regularly. You’ll also want to avoid saunas or steam rooms.
- Don’t expose your tattoo to direct sunlight.
- Don’t shave your newly tattooed skin. Wait until the skin is fully healed before worrying about hair removal.
- Don’t use thick, medicated ointments or petroleum jelly, which can smother your tattoo, prevent it from breathing, and slow healing. (Instead, use a quality medical-grade ointment or lotion designed for healing tattoos.) While aftercare is important, you don’t want to over-treat your tattoo.
- Don’t wear tight clothing, especially clothing that doesn’t breathe well or leads to sweating, rubbing, or chafing. Take a break from activewear as your skin heals and choose loose-fitting natural-fiber clothing like cotton, which allows the skin to breathe.
How Long Does a Tattoo Take to Heal: The Bottom Line
How long it takes for a tattoo to heal depends on many factors: from how well you heal to how well you take care of your tattoo to how well you take care of your body to your body’s unique healing ability. It can also depend on what type of tattoo you got—how big, how colorful, and even who did the work. For instance, smaller tattoos heal faster as do those that are just black and gray rather than colorful. And tattoos performed by someone who lacks experience and may be using more force can take longer to heal as the skin may be more swollen or raised.
Fortunately, as long as you take care of your new tattoo, your skin will soon heal, and you can enjoy your tattoo for years to come.
How do you know when your tattoo is healed? Once there are no more scabs, and the tattooed skin texture is the same as the surrounding area and the tattoo is no longer faded, you’ll know your skin is fully healed and you can enjoy all your usual activities.