Tattoo Healing Hacks: Secrets to a Flawless Recovery

Hey there!  So, you're either thinking about getting your first tattoo or stepping up from those small pieces to something bigger, right? You're in the right place. As a professional tattoo artist, I've seen it all and am here to share the ins and outs of the tattoo healing process. Trust me, knowing what to expect makes the journey way smoother.

Tattoo healing is an important part of the tattoo process. Proper aftercare can help ensure a smooth and successful healing journey for your new ink.

Understanding the Tattoo Healing Process

Tattoo healing is a journey for your skin. It a time when your body works its wonders to repair and rejuvenate the area where you got your awesome new ink. But hey, this journey requires some TLC from you too! So, let's dive into the wonderful world of tattoo healing together, shall we?

First things first, once you've finished your tattoo session, your tattoo artist will wrap your fresh masterpiece in a protective medical film or apply a temporary bandage. This is to keep your tattoo safe from dirt and bacteria that can cause an infection. It's like your tattoo's personal bodyguard!

Now, let's fast forward a bit. You've made it home, staring at your tattoo with awe and excitement. But hold your horses!! Don't get too carried away just yet. Your tattoo needs some love and attention.

The healing process typically takes around two to four weeks, but it can vary from person to person. During this time, your tattoo will go through different stages, and it's important to know what to expect.

Stage one: The Honeymoon Phase (Days 1-3)

applying adhesive wrap to new tattoo

This is when your tattoo is fresh out of the oven and still covered in that protective medical film. Your tattoo may feel tender, swollen, and even a little bit sore. But don't worry, it's all part of the game. Just make sure to follow your tattoo artist's aftercare instructions to the dot.  They know what they're talking about!

Tattooists by nature are curious and we try out all the not so clever healing options. We definitely know what not to do, so take our advice on how to make your process the best it can be.

During this phase, it's crucial to keep your tattoo clean and moisturized. Washing is critical. Gently wash it with a antibacterial, fragrance-free liquid soap and lukewarm water, pat it dry with a clean towel, and then apply a thin layer of moisturizer recommended by your tattoo artist. You’ll want to apply the mositurizer for about 30 seconds and wipe off the remaining product.

Stage two: The Itchy Stage (Days 4-7)

Person scratching healing tattoo

Now that the protective film has been removed, your tattoo will start to itch like crazy! The itching is like having a mosquito bite you can't scratch. But whatever you do, resist the urge to scratch. DO NOT TOUCH OR SCRATCH! Scratching will damage your tattoo and prolong the healing process. Think about all the little germs finding up your fingernails and pieces of unhealed ink being pulled out. Yikes!

To soothe the itch, you can gently tap your tattoo with clean hands, or apply a thin layer of cream or moisturizer. This really helps sooth the itch. Just make sure not to overdo it and to wipe of the extra moisturizer with a clean paper towel. Your skin needs to breathe and heal naturally.

Stage three: The Peeling Stage (Days 8-16)

During this stage, your tattoo will start to peel and flake, much like a sunburn. This is completely normal and a sign that your skin is regenerating itself. NO PICKING!  Avoid picking or peeling off the flakes, as this can lead to scarring or color loss.

Continue to moisturize your tattoo, with a aftercare cream to help keep your skin hydrated without clogging the pores.

Stage four: The Settling Stage (Days 17-21)

Man with healed tattoo drinking water

By now, your tattoo should be mostly healed, but it's still important to take care of it. During the settling stage, your tattoo may still have some dryness or flaking, but it should not be as intense as before.

Continue moisturizing your tattoo with an aftercare cream to keep your skin hydrated.

At this stage (about 2 weeks after getting your tattoo), you can also start to gradually reintroduce activities that may have been restricted during the healing process. This includes going to the gym, or wearing tight clothing over your tattoo. However, be sure to listen to your body and take it slow. If anything feels uncomfortable or painful, give your tattoo more time to heal before engaging in these activities.

At 4 weeks you can also start using a gentle, unscented sunscreen to protect your tattoo from the sun's harmful rays. Remember, sun exposure can fade your tattoo over time, so it's important to keep it protected. After 4 weeks you can also go swimming. Before this time any prolonged time in chlorinated water can bleach the pigments out of the tattoo.

Remember, every tattoo heals differently, and the healing process may vary for each person. It's important to pay attention to your body and follow the specific aftercare instructions given by your tattoo artist. They are the experts and know what's best for your tattoo.

Tips for Speeding Up the Healing Process

Tattoo healing is a unique journey for your skin; it requires some tender loving care and you as well. To help speed up the healing process and ensure a successful recovery for your new ink, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Tattoo Healing Tip


Follow your tattoo artist's aftercare instructions

Your artist knows best, so make sure to follow their advice. They should provide you with specific instructions on how to clean and care for your tattoo during the healing process.

Keep your tattoo clean and moisturized

It's important to keep your tattoo clean to prevent infection. Gently wash it with antibacterial fragrance-free soap and lukewarm water, pat it dry with a clean towel, and then apply a THIN layer of moisturizer designed for tattoo aftercare.

Resist the urge to scratch

As your tattoo starts to heal, it will itch like crazy. But scratching can damage your tattoo and prolong the healing process. Instead, try gently tapping your tattoo with clean hands or rubbing in a small amount of moisturizer to relieve the itch.

Avoid picking or peeling your tattoo

During the peeling stage, your tattoo will start to peel and flake, similar to a sunburn. It's important not to pick or peel off the flakes, as this can lead to scarring or color loss. Let your skin regenerate naturally.

Eat foods to promote tattoo healing 

A healthy balanced diet will also keep your tattoo darker and brighter. Some of the best inks on the market are mineral-based. If you are lacking in minerals, your body can take it out of your tattoo. Having a healthy lifestyle will keep your tattoo vibrant for years and years.

Dealing with Complications: When to Seek Professional Help

Dealing with a tattoo healing process can sometimes come with complications. While most tattoos heal without any issues, there are certain situations where seeking professional help is necessary. Your health and well being is our first priority!

Signs of Complications

Actions to Take

Excessive redness and swelling

It's normal for your tattoo to be slightly red and swollen during the first 72 hours of healing. However, if the redness and swelling worsen or become more intense after the first week, it could be a sign of infection. In this case, it's important to consult with your tattoo artist in person and/or a healthcare professional.

Persistent pain or discomfort

While tattoos can be a little sore during the initial healing phase, the pain should gradually decrease over time. If you experience persistent or worsening pain, it could be a sign of an infection or other complications. Seek medical attention if the pain becomes unbearable or if you notice any unusual symptoms.

Excessive pus or fluid discharge

A small amount of clear or slightly yellowish fluid is normal during the first few days of healing. However, if you notice an excessive amount of pus oozing or any unusual discharge coming from your tattoo after 3 days, it could indicate an infection. Contact your tattoo artist and/or a healthcare professional for guidance.

Foul odor

Tattoos may have a mild, natural scent during the healing process. However, if you notice a foul or unpleasant odor coming from your tattoo, it could be a sign of an infection. Seek advice from a medical professional to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

Long term tattoo care and maintenance

Taking care of your tattoo doesn't end after the healing process. Once your tattoo has fully healed, there are a few things you can do to ensure its longevity and keep it looking fresh for years to come. Here are some tips for long-term tattoo care and maintenance:

Long-term Tattoo Care Tips


Protect it from the sun

Sun exposure can cause your tattoo to fade over time. To prevent this, always protect your tattoo from the sun's harmful rays. Apply a mineral-based sunscreen to your tattoo (hourly), especially when you'll be spending time outdoors. Reapply sunscreen every few hours, especially if you're swimming or sweating. The best protection is using a UV protecting rash guard/clothing.

Moisturize regularly

Keeping your skin hydrated is essential for maintaining your tattoo's vibrancy. Apply an all-natural moisturizer to your tattoo daily to prevent dryness and keep the skin supple. Avoid using products that contain harsh chemicals or fragrances as they can irritate the skin.

Avoid excessive exfoliation

While exfoliating your skin is beneficial for overall skin health, it's best to avoid exfoliating directly over your tattoo. Excessive exfoliation can cause the ink to fade or become patchy. If you need to exfoliate the area around your tattoo, be gentle and avoid scrubbing directly over it.

Stay hydrated and maintain a healthy lifestyle

Drinking plenty of water and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can contribute to the overall health of your skin and help preserve your tattoo's appearance. Hydrated skin is more resilient and less prone to dryness and damage, which can affect the vibrancy of your tattoo.

Maintain a healthy balanced diet

A healthy balanced diet will also keep your tattoo darker and brighter. Some of the best inks on the market are mineral-based. If you are lacking in minerals, your body can take it out of your tattoo. Having a healthy lifestyle will keep your tattoo vibrant for years and years.

Final Thoughts on Tattoo Healing

Tattoo healing is a journey that requires patience, care, and attention. By following the proper aftercare instructions and taking care of your tattoo, you can ensure a successful healing process and enjoy your new ink for years to come. Happy healing!

From personal experience, both as an artist and someone covered in ink, I can't stress enough the importance of following your aftercare instructions. And seriously, pick a reputable artist and studio. It makes all the difference. Stay safe and happy inking!


Tattoo Healing |

Signs of Tattoo Infections |

Best foods to eat promote tattoo healing | 

Hayli Menzies
Contributing Author Hayli Menzies

Hayli Menzies is what your would call a modern homesteader. She is the Owner of Viridian Ink in Molalla, Oregon and has been a tattoo artist since 2010. You’ll find her consistently inspired by her garden and wild-child daughters as her most treasured tattoos are creatures, critters, nature and characters.