You’ve got fresh new ink, and within days (up to a week), you notice your new tattoo has begun to scab. At first, this may seem really alarming. And you may worry that it’s a sign of infection or that your tattoo will get damaged. Fortunately, tattoo scabbing is completely normal. (It’s also normal to have no tattoo scabbing.)
Why a New Tattoo Scabs
A tattoo is created by needles pushing ink into your skin. Naturally, your skin takes time to heal after getting punctured so many times. When you first receive a new tattoo, in the first few days, your skin will likely ooze plasma, ink, and perhaps blood. Within a few days to a week, you’ll likely experience normal tattoo scabbing as that blood and plasma dry up and harden.
This is very similar to how the skin heals from any minor cut, abrasion, or scrap. Remember, scabs help protect a healing wound as white blood cells under the scab fight off germs and bacteria to prevent infection.
Even though tattoo scabbing is completely normal, it’s also a good reminder to take extra good care of your skin and follow your tattoo aftercare meticulously.
Tattoo Scabbing vs. Tattoo Infection
Tattoo scabbing is completely normal. However, if it’s accompanied by other symptoms, that could be a sign that your tattoo is getting infected. Here are some of the signs of infection to look out for:
- Redness and swelling around the tattoo
- If your tattoo feels hot to the touch
- Fever or feeling waves of hot and cold
- Pus, especially several days or weeks after getting a new tattoo
- Red, raised bumps or sores
- Hardened skin around the tattoo.
If you do experience any of the symptoms above, please reach out to your healthcare practitioner immediately as you may need a round of antibiotics to help clear up the infection.
Are There Any Risks to Tattoo Scabbing?
Yes, tattoo scabbing is completely normal, but it can increase the risk of damaging your new tattoo. For instance, scabs can catch on clothing, towels, or bed sheets, especially if the scabs are thicker or denser. If those scabs rip off, that could damage your new tattoo by distorting the skin or removing some of the color. Thicker scabs can also take longer to heal, which increases the risk of infection.
Plus, scabs can be itchy, which can tempt people to scratch or pick at the healing skin. Again, removing the scab prematurely could damage skin and remove color from the new tattoo or distort the shape.
You may be able to decrease scabbing of your new tattoo by keeping it covered with a tattoo bandage for the first 24 hours followed by a second application that can be worn for an additional 3 to 5 days. Saniderm’s aftercare bandages create a barrier over your new tattoo to protect it from dust, bacteria, moisture, sweat, and external irritants. They also allow airflow and oxygen in to promote healing.
Once the bandage is removed, avoid scratching, rubbing, patting, or hitting your tattoo if it gets itchy, as this can also break up the scab and lead to damage or an increased risk of infection. Instead, try applying a very light layer of balm or lotion made for your tattoo to help relieve itchiness and encourage healing. The added moisture can help support the healing process and allow the scabs to sluff off naturally.
While you want to avoid allowing the tattoo to get too dry—which can lead to an itchy, uncomfortable tattoo—you also want to avoid letting the tattoo stay too wet.
For instance, one common concern with adding a balm or lotion to a damp tattoo is that it can lead the tattoo to bubble. That is, the scab can swell up and look and feel soft and gooey. Again, this raised skin is more likely to accidentally get pulled off, which can lead to a distorted or faded tattoo. It can also increase the risk of infection. Larger tattoos especially are at a higher risk of bubbling, but this side effect can happen with any tattoo as it goes through the healing process.
While you want to use a light layer of aftercare balm or lotion, you want to avoid overdoing it, so the skin stays too wet and the scabs aren’t able to dry out and naturally sluff off. During this time, you’ll also want to avoid submerging your tattoo in a bath, pool, or natural body of water.
What to Do with a Scabbing Tattoo
First, don’t panic. Scabbing is a natural, normal part of healing, even if it doesn’t occur with every tattoo.
Then, take good care of your new tattoo by keeping it clean with warm water and a fragrance-free tattoo-approved soap that doesn’t contain any alcohol or harsh chemicals. While you’re at it, make sure you’re cleaning your new tattoo in a clean environment, so you aren’t exposing it to germs and bacteria that could lead to infection. And only touch your tattoo with clean hands.
After cleaning, make sure your tattoo is dried completely by patting it with a clean, fresh towel. Don’t use the same towel on your new tattoo as you’ve used on the rest of your body as this could introduce bacteria to the healing skin and lead to infection.
Apply a very light layer of tattoo balm or lotion a couple of times per day. Then protect your fresh tattoo from sun exposure, dirt and grime, and from rubbing on your clothing, towels, bedsheets, etc.
With proper care, within a short time, your tattooed skin will no longer itch, the scab will naturally sluff off, and you can revel in the beautiful art on your body.