How Long Does It Take For a Tattoo To Heal?

Last Updated on May 7, 2021

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written by tattoo artist Steven Martin

Many of us crave the idea of getting a tattoo but are often put off but the pain of getting one. But how long does a tattoo actually take to heal?

After getting their first tattoo, people often ask themselves how long it will take to heal? How long do I need to replace the plastic film and clean my tattoo? How long do I need to keep it out of UV rays?

After getting your first ink, you’re dying to show it off to all your friends, but for the first few weeks, it may not be so pretty, and it may take longer than many of us may think to heal fully.

On average, a tattoo tends to take around 2-3 weeks to heal, but this can vary from tattoo to tattoo and from person to person– for some people, it can take months!

But what about the scabbing dealing with ink sack and changing the film?

No need to worry; I’m here to help. I’m going to break down everything you need to know about the healing process and how you can help your tattoo heal faster.

Here’s everything you need to know.

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How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?

So how long does it take for a tattoo to heal, and what does the process look like? Many people may look at their tattoo after 3 weeks, and the surface looks completely healed, but it can actually take up to 4 months for the tattoo to heal fully.

As we all know, our skin has layers, and although the top layer may look completely healed, the needle has gone through a fair amount of layers, and you should take extra care for the first few months even if your tattoo ‘looks healed.’

The healing process can differ from person to person because of factors like health, age, lifestyle, and quality of aftercare– all these factors can contribute to how fast or slow it will take for your tattoo to heal.

Now I know, once we’ve got a freshly inked tattoo, we are itching to show it off to the world, but with the proper care, you can and still help speed up the healing process.

But your health isn’t the only thing that may slow your healing time; another critical factor is the size of your tattoo and the detail of the tattoo. This is because there is more surface area needed to heal.

So how long does a big tattoo take to heal over a small one?

A large tattoo can take 3-4 weeks before it even shows signs of being healed may even take longer. For smaller tattoos, the surface can take around 2 weeks to heal; medium tattoos may only take 2-3 weeks to heal too.

The place of your tattoo can also indicate how long it will take to heal; a tattoo on your hand may take longer to heal than one on your forearm as the skin is much thinner and the skin is much more fragile, your hand is also much more exposed and used every day making it harder to protect.

Tattoo Healing Process:

As with any cut, scratch, or wound, your body goes through stages of healing; this is the same for the healing process for tattoos.

Stage One: First Week:

During the first week after having your tattoo done, your skin may experience oozing, swelling, and painful sensation on the skin; you may notice that the ink is beginning to leak from the wound (don’t panic. This is normal!)

In this stage, you should cleaning multiples a day and keeping the skin clean to prevent infection and encourage scabbing of the wound. We want the tattoo to scab as this is our body’s way of healing open wounds and prevent bacteria and infections.

A few days after your tattoo has begun scabbing, it will start to peel, which is completely normal. Your body is responding to an injury, and this is a key part of the healing process.

You may be asking yourself, can a tattoo heal in a week?

Well, not exactly no, you may notice the top layer starts to form over the top of the tattoo, but this is part of the tattoo healing stages; it will take at least a month or two for a tattoo to heal fully.

Stage Two: Second Week:

During the second week, you will notice significant flaking, and your new tattoo and the skin around the tattoo will become itchy. This is because your tattoo has dried up and scabbed, causing the skin to be slightly dry and irritated.

Resist the urge to itch and try applying tattoo lotion provided by your tattoo artist– this will massively help soothe the skin and relieve the urge to itch.

As you may have noticed in the first week, the scabs will begin to peel more and more, this flaking can be tedious and annoying as it may make your tattoo not look as appealing for a while, but it is your body’s way of healing.

You will notice that your tattoo will peel the most between the 7th and 10th day after getting your new tattoo.

Try not to pull off the loose skin as that part may be still healing, and you may open the wound and cause it to take longer to heal– it may even detriment your design!

Stage Three: Week Three and Four:

Your tattoo should be on its way to being almost healed at this stage, but it may still appear scaly, shiny, or cloudy even in these stages.

During this stage, your body is working to heal the deeper layers in your skin; despite it seeming like it has healed, you should still be cautious for the next few months as the deeper layers take longer to heal.

If your tattoo appears scaly, shiny, or cloudy, then don’t panic; this is not how your tattoo will look in the end; it just indicates that your tattoo is still in a stage of healing.

Keep your tattoo clean and maintain a good aftercare routine, continuing to gently rub the aftercare lotion provided by the tattoo artist and allow your body and skin time to heal.

Remember your SPF! Protecting your tattoo from direct sun exposure and UV rays has never been more important in the healing process. Try to keep your tattoo covered as much as possible during the healing phase, and make sure to wear SPF 50 on the area.

Stage Four: Week 5+

This stage is nearing the end of the tattoo healing process and is at the point where your tattoo is nearly fully healed.

In this stage, it is now safe to do things you love again, such as going swimming, taking a bubble bath, and enjoying an active lifestyle without the worry of infections as the tattoo’s open wound is now healed.

Make sure you remember sunscreen to the tattoo when in direct sunlight to prevent it from fading– no one wants a faded tattoo now, do we?

But all in all, your tattoo is going through the last stages to being fully healed.

How to speed up the tattoo healing process:

The best way to speed up the tattoo process is by regularly cleaning, looking after your tattoo with tattoo aftercare– plus, for all my scab pickers, resisting the urge to pick off the layers of skin.

As well as looking after your tattoo, I would also recommend maintaining good personal hygiene, a healthy balanced diet, and taking daily multivitamin supplements to help aid your body towards recovery.

Using the right products on your skin can massively help when it comes to the tattoo healing process. Here are some tattoo aftercare tips for speeding up the healing process:

Remember to wear sunscreen:

Wearing sunscreen is crucial for a tattoo in both the healing process and preventing your tattoo from fading. Direct sunlight and harsh UV rays can cause your tattoo to fade, and during the healing process, fresh tattoos are especially sensitive to the sun.

During stages 1-3, I recommend keeping your tattoo covered with clothes such as wearing long sleeves or wearing long pants over shorts.

If you got your tattoo in the summer months, I would cover the tattoo when you can and if it cannot be covered all the time, make sure you regularly top up the tattoo with SPF 50.

Allow your tattoo to breathe:

When it comes to changing the dressing, I understand it is very easy to replace the original bandage with a new one, but it’s best to let it breathe for an hour or two before coving it again.

The first few days will require this protection in the clear plastic or surgical wrap, but after a few days, I would regularly clean the wound but don’t cover it.

Not covering the tattoo will allow it to get plenty of oxygen and reduce moisture build-up, promoting scabbing.

Clean the tattoo and skin daily:

This step is arguably the most important; cleaning the tattoo and the skin surrounding the tattoo with lukewarm (but sterile) water 2-3 times a day is crucial.

Make sure you don’t touch your tattoo with dirty hands, clean your hands thoroughly using an antibacterial soap before cleaning.

Start by splashing some of the sterile lukewarm water onto the tattoo, followed by a fragrance-free soap and alcohol-free soap to clean the open wound and the skin surrounding the tattoo. You can then either let it air dry or clean it using a paper towel.

Once dry, apply a high-quality tattoo lotion supplied by the tattoo artist or recommended by them to prevent soothe the skin and prevent it from drying out. Make sure this tattoo lotion is fragrance-free too.

Apply ointment daily:

It is so important that you let your tattoo breathe and give it the air to help aid with the healing process; products like vaseline may be too heavy for your tattoo.

Your tattoo artist may recommend products like lanolin, petroleum, and taking vitamins A and D as a form of tattoo aftercare. Coconut oil is also a brilliant way to keep your skin moisturized as its natural and fragrance-free.

Don’t scratch or pick the skin:

This is critical during the healing process that you don’t pick at your skin and prevent scratching the scab on your body around the tattoo.

This can actually increase the healing process, and in the worst-case scenario, it can result in scarring.

Avoid scented products:

Top tattoo aftercare instructions indicate to avoid scented products; this includes scented lotions and soaps directly on your tattoo.

Instead, switch to an unscented shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel until your tattoo ink has fully healed. Fragrances can actually cause a reaction in tattooed skin and may cause infections in your new tattoo.

Your skin is sensitive after having a tattoo, so avoiding scented products on your body will help speed up healing.

Don’t get it wet:

Except for the circumstance of cleaning your tattoo in sterile water, you should avoid getting your tattoo or skin around the tattoo wet for the first two weeks.

Try and avoid getting it wet in the shower or bath, and don’t swim for the first weeks. I wouldn’t recommend swimming until stage 4 to be on the safe side.

Summary:

All in all, how long does it take for a tattoo to heal? There are many factors to consider as to how it will take for a tattoo to heal, but as a general rule of thumb, it can take 3-4 weeks for the skin to heal and up to 4 months to fully heal.

The healing time can be sped up with the right aftercare and using the right skin-care product around the tattoo; also, resisting the urge to pick the scabs will massively help too. Remember, the scabs are part of the healing.

Keeping the area dry (except during sterilized cleaning) and out of direct sunlight and keeping moisturized with the right tattoo cream will reduce the healing time.

Despite the healing process being quite long, it is definitely worth the time; our body goes through stages of tattoo healing, but after a month or two, you don’t have to worry too much, just some sunscreen, and you’re good to go.

Enjoy your fresh ink!