How to Mitigate and Treat Tattoo Peeling
Whether you’re covered in tattoos or you just got your first one, going through the peeling and flaking phase of tattoo healing can be highly unpleasant. Seeing large, colorful flakes of your tattoo peeling off may lead you to believe that your tattoo is losing color and ink or that something is wrong with it. However, tattoo peeling and flaking is a natural part of the healing process and is seldom something to worry about. But still, the more you can prevent it, the better.
In this article, we’re going to explore the process of tattoo healing, scabbing, flaking, and peeling in detail. We’ll also give some helpful tips for mitigating tattoo peeling and potentially avoiding the worst parts of scabbing by using the wet healing method with Saniderm. But most importantly, we’ll cover some critical DO’s and DO NOT’s to avoid scabbing and flaking, as well as taking care of a peeling tattoo.
What is Tattoo Scabbing?
It may not be obvious to some, but your new tattoo actually begins as an open wound. During the tattoo process, needles penetrate your skin thousands of times per minute. Your skin’s natural response to this trauma is to form scabs over the wound as a protection mechanism. But these scabs won’t usually present themselves like a typical bloody scab you may get from scraping your knee. Instead, the tattooed skin will harden, forming a protective layer of skin in an attempt to keep potential contaminants out of the wound. This thin, hardened layer of skin will naturally peel and flake off, unveiling a newer, healthier layer of skin.
As your tattoo scabs, the skin underneath it begins to regenerate, forming new skin cells. However, when the scab peels off, it will pull off the dead skin that initially experienced the trauma with it, which can include the topmost layers of your new tattoo! For obvious reasons, that is bad. This can result in a patchy, distorted, and dull design. So for that reason, it’s highly important to take preventative matters to avoid scabbing and mitigate peeling.
Is It Normal for Your Tattoo to Peel?
The short answer is yes: peeling is both normal and expected. It’s part of the healing process that typically begins within a few days of receiving a tattoo. This is a sign that the skin is regenerating, starting with sloughing off the dead, damaged skin cells, so new skin cells can form and grow.
As mentioned above, though, excessive peeling may indicate an issue, especially if it’s combined with swelling or inflammation or signs of infection, such as redness or feeling hot.
What is Tattoo Peeling and Why Does A Tattoo Peel?
This is a typical example of tattoo peeling/flaking. Once again, it’s completely normal and nothing to be concerned about, but the more you can mitigate it, the better.
Essentially, tattoo peeling is the epidermis (top) layer of your skin going through extreme exfoliation. Exfoliation is something your skin does naturally on a daily basis, disposing of millions of dead skin cells. You don’t normally notice that your body is doing this because the exfoliation level is very minor.
However, when you get a tattoo, it becomes almost impossible to ignore. Unlike normal exfoliation, the skin flakes will be significantly larger in size and contain tattoo ink. This can certainly be alarming, but it is usually nothing to stress about.
Luckily, the bulk of your tattoo ink will be safely embedded deep under the dermis, or the skin below the surface. Some tattoo peeling is inevitable, but you still want to mitigate the peeling as much as possible to avoid distortions in your tattoo. Less peeling means a much lower chance of scabs forming and less itchy unpleasantness.
When Does A Tattoo Start To Peel and How Long Does it Last?
On average, new tattoos begin peeling around day four or five. This will vary from person to person. Some may experience peeling as early as day two and others may not experience it until about a week later.
Once the peeling begins, it usually subsides within a week or two. A myriad of reasons explains why some tattoos peel before others. And there are many reasons some tattoos peel more than others. These include the location of the tattoo, size, color, saturation, and how roughly or deeply the needles penetrated the skin.
Additionally, whether or not the tattoo has been covered with Saniderm, if aftercare products are at play, and which products are being used can determine the time and frequency of tattoo peeling. Areas exposed to friction and flexion, like fingers or elbows, will likely take longer to peel. Exfoliation happens much less frequently in these areas since the skin is naturally suited to endure more wear and tear.
Normal tattoo peeling can last anywhere from two days to one month. However, we have found that you can lessen the duration and amount of tattoo peeling by using the wet tattoo healing method.
What is the Wet Tattoo Healing Method?
The wet tattoo healing method involves the use of a dermal tattoo bandage, like Saniderm. Applying a tattoo bandage over a new tattoo protects your tattoo from unwanted contaminants, significantly decreasing the likelihood of infection. Common contaminants include pet dander, dust, bacteria, dirt, and other environmental elements.
It also keeps your body’s natural healing elements at the wound site and prevents them from forming scabs. This results in a clean, moist (or wet, hence the term “wet” healing), nutrient-rich environment for your tattoo to heal.
Furthermore, tattoo bandages are not to be confused with traditional cling wrap. Cling wrap is a thin plastic film, designed for trapping in moisture and keeping oxygen out. Saniderm is a polyurethane acrylic adhesive medical bandage that has been engineered specifically to heal tattoos. Oxygen and water vapor being able to enter and exit a healing wound is extremely important.
Saniderm bandages are permeable enough to allow oxygen and water vapor to move through but secure enough to block water and contaminants from entering the bandage. Essentially, Saniderm works by locking in your body’s natural healing fluids, moisturizing the tattoo and minimizing scabbing, peeling, and scarring.
DO’s While Caring For a Peeling Tattoo
- DO – Wear loose clothing.
Tight clothing may rub and pull against your tattoo, potentially pulling off skin prematurely. Ideally, you should wear loose and comfortable clothing throughout the entire tattoo peeling process. The less you have rubbing up against your tattoo, the better.
- DO – Give your body time to heal through its own natural processes.
As anxious as you may be to show off your new ink, it probably won’t look pleasant until after it’s healed. It will likely look dry, patchy, and flaky for a few weeks. Remember that your skin has undergone trauma and will need time to return to health. Be kind to your body and give it time to heal. Additionally, following a careful tattoo aftercare routine can help your tattoo heal faster.
- DO – Keep the freshly tattooed area clean.
Cleaning your tattoo is a crucial part of the tattoo healing process. If you’re healing your tattoo with the wet healing method, you’ll need to clean your tattoo with a mild soap before and after each new bandage application. Regularly cleansing the tattoo will rid the area of any dirt, plasma, blood, or oil that might be clogging your pores. To promote faster, healthier skin growth, be sure your tattoo is clean and able to breathe. Additionally, make sure you’re wearing clean clothes and using fresh towels and sheets.
- DO – Keep your tattoo moisturized.
After removing your first bandage and cleaning the tattoo, using an aftercare product will help prevent itchiness. Petroleum-based products should be avoided, as they are known to clog pores. Instead, opt for a mild and gentle aftercare product formulated specifically for tattoos, like Sanibalm. If you plan on applying a second bandage, apply the product directly on the tattoo only. Keep the surrounding area dry, as the adhesive on the bandage will not adhere well to a moist area.
DO NOT’S While Caring For a Peeling Tattoo
- DO NOT – Pick or pull on the scabs/flakes.
As tempting as it may be to pick away dead skin that is barely hanging on, DON’T DO IT! Your scabs are probably still attached to healthy skin, and if removed prematurely, the wound may reopen and bleed. If this happens, it could disturb the ink from the skin, distorting the tattoo design.
- DO NOT – Itch, scratch, or rub your peeling tattoo.
Although you may think your hands are clean, your fingernails are great hiding places for bacteria. Rubbing or scratching may transfer bacteria from your nails to your open wound, risking infection. Additionally, scratching that itch may peel or flake off scabs prematurely, damaging your tattoo design.
- DO NOT – Submerge your tattoo in water for extended periods.
Whether you’re using a tattoo bandage like Saniderm or not, submerging your tattoo in any liquid should be avoided for at least a few weeks. Taking a normal shower with your Saniderm bandage on is fine, but submerging it will weaken the adhesive. Once the adhesive loosens, it may allow water, soap, dirt, bacteria, etc. to enter the wound. Again, allowing contaminants to enter the wound site will increase your chance of developing a tattoo infection.
Signs of a Bad Tattoo Healing
As your tattoo is healing, it’s important to know what to watch out for, so you know when to reach out to your tattoo artist or when it’s time to head to your doctor’s office. Five signs to watch for include:
- Flu-like symptoms, such as having a fever or the chills, are tell-tale signs that your body is fighting an infection or an allergic reaction. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, reach out to your preferred healthcare practitioner ASAP.
- Red, swollen skin–while some swelling and redness is normal and expected, if your tattoo still looks inflamed days after getting your tattoo, it could indicate that there’s a problem brewing. It’s best to address it sooner rather than waiting to see if it develops into an infection.
- Excess fluid is another sign to watch for. A tattoo will naturally “ooze” fluids like excess ink, plasma, and even blood in the first hours or even a day after a tattoo. But if the tattoo continues to leak fluid–especially if it’s green or yellowish–it could indicate infection and should be looked at by a doctor immediately.
- Itchy bumps or hives can be a sign of an allergy either to the ink or to the products you’re using. Even after the tattoo has healed, if you notice your tattoo is itching or showing unexplainable bumps or hives, you’ll want to reach out to a physician. Allergic reactions can take weeks, months, or even years to appear.
- Scarring is a natural response to an open wound. Scabs naturally form over skin as part of the healing process. However, once fully and properly healed, a tattoo should have no signs of scarring.
What to Put on a Tattoo While It’s Peeling
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your tattoo heal fully and look its absolutely best for decades to come. These include:
- Keep it clean: Especially as the tattoo heals, it’s vital to keep your skin clean. Make sure you start with clean hands and use only a gentle, fragrance-free, antibacterial soap. Then allow the skin to air dry or pat it gently with a clean towel.
- Choosing tattoo-specific products for aftercare: As your tattoo is healing, the skin can begin to feel dry, tight, and itchy. Applying a very light layer of a water-based cream designed for tattoo aftercare like Sanibalm can help relieve discomfort as the tattoo heals.
- Protecting your skin from excess sun exposure: Due to the UV light, excess sun exposure can prematurely age the skin, leading the skin to look dull, dry, and to lose elasticity. What’s more, it can cause your tattoos to fade. So, take extra precautions to protect your skin by properly using a broad-spectrum sunscreen (30 SPF or above). Fifteen minutes before sun exposure, apply the sunscreen to exposed skin, especially your healed tattooed skin, and then reapply every two hours that you’re out in the sun.
- Skip the tanning beds: To help your skin stay healthy and firm, avoid an increased risk of skin cancer, and prevent tattoo fading, skip the tanning beds. (They can also lead to discomfort or pain of tattooed areas for some people.) If you want to look tan, there are numerous sunless tanning cream or spray options to use instead.
- Talk to a dermatologist: Skin can react within days or even years after it’s been tattooed. If you start to notice changes, reach out to a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin) for guidance and treatment.
Tattoo peeling is a common and natural part of the tattoo healing process. But, you can significantly minimize peeling and potentially avoid scabbing by following the wet tattoo healing method. In addition to using Saniderm, following our guide to new tattoo care will teach you all you need to know about caring for your tattoo. We’ve formulated our products to help you heal your tattoos quickly and with ease, resulting in stunning tattoos you can be proud of for years to come.