Tattoo healing is a different experience for everyone. What may be a simple aftercare process for one person could be a headache for the next. One common issue that people notice with a new tattoo is that the skin in the region is very tight and taut. Why does this happen? And should you be concerned about it?
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Why Your Tattoo Might Feel Tight
Tattoos go through numerous stages of healing that make this wound quite different from other bodily abrasions. There are a few normal and unconcerning reasons why your tattoo might feel tight.
Likely Causes of Tightness
- Natural Healing - When our body reacts to an abrasion, wound, or injury, it sends blood and plasma to the area that experienced trauma in order to try and create a barrier, form a scab, and heal it. Scab formations, excess collagen in the wound, or skin cell regrowth can all make the area feel tighter than usual.
The easiest way to imagine this is you creating a hole in a wall by accident. You use putty to try to fill the hole, but the hole must be over-packed and must dry and seal before you can sand down the excess and make things even again. This “fullness” gives a sensation of being tight - your skin is packing the area full of collagen before releasing excess pieces in scars or flakes of skin.
- Drying of the Skin - As your skin moves through various healing stages, it will reach a dry stage. If you are not properly moisturizing your tattoo at this time, your skin will feel very taut. This tightness may also transition into feeling very itchy.
- The Regrowth of Skin - Slow and healthy skin regrowth actually helps develop tight skin tissue that leads to less scarring and resulting in a beautifully healed tattoo. In fact, loose skin might be a cause for concern; healthy skin forms collagen in a lattice formation which gives that taut feeling.
The Healing Process
The easiest way to understand why your tattoo feels tight, or when to expect tightness, is to go through the various healing stages of a new tattoo.
Stage 1: Open Wound
This is when your tattoo is most vulnerable. At this stage, it will go through a process called weeping where it pushes out excess blood, ink, and plasma from the tattoo in order to help clear it from bacteria and start forming a barrier, or scab, on the area.
Tips for stage one:
- Wash and pat your tattoo dry twice a day.
- Do not put any moisturizers on your tattoo until it has stopped weeping (around day three).
- Expect some minor swelling or redness, or a burning sensation, which will fade after a week.
Stage 2: Itching
Around the second week, your tattoo will begin to get drier and will experience itching and irritation. At this point, you will likely have some noticeable scabbing or skin flaking. Remember not to scratch your tattoo. Your tattoo will likely feel tight at this stage.
Tips for stage two:
- Apply moisturizer at least twice daily, after washing your tattoo.
- Do not pick at or peel your scabs or flakey skin as this could pull ink out with it.
- You can begin to use sunscreen at this stage.
Stage 3: Drying Out and Milk Scabs
his is the final healing stage and it lasts from week three to just over a month. At this stage, most of your scabs will have fallen off and you may notice a milk scab, which is just skin regrowth.Your tattoo will feel very tight at this stage.
Tips for stage three:
- Continue to moisturize your tattoo daily.
- Do not be alarmed if your tattoo appears slightly faded at this point; it is still healing.
- The skin is still tender and vulnerable, so use sunscreen and take precautions.
Stage 4: Healed
Your tattoo may not look as bright as it did when it was brand new, but you’ll definitely have a beautiful work of art that’s ready to be shown off at this point. When your tattoo is fully healed, which can take one to three months depending on the complexity and size of your tattoo design, your skin should also stop feeling tight.
Signs to Look Out for in Addition to Tightness
Tightness or taut skin on and around your tattoo is normal, but there are a few symptoms that, when paired with tightness, could be a cause for concern.
- Allergic Reaction - bumps, blisters, rashes, redness, and excessive itch
- Sun Allergy - hot-to-the-touch skin, redness, blisters, hives
- Emerging Skin Conditions - eczema, keloid scarring, atopic dermatitis
- Infection - red streaks, fever, chills, blisters, pus with a foul smell
If you experience any of the above, speak to a medical professional immediately.
Our Final Thoughts
Tight skin on and around a new tattoo is completely normal. In fact, it’s a sign that your skin is healing in a strong and healthy way, and preparing your tattoo to be shown off to the world. Though it might cause a bit of discomfort, it’s nothing to be concerned about. Amplify your moisturization routine if you notice it gets a bit excessive, and if it’s ever paired with additional symptoms, speak to a professional for advice.