Why Does My New Tattoo Look Scaly?

Written by: Pete

Tattoos go through the strangest healing phases that make the tattoo look far uglier before it looks great again. One thing you may have noticed is that your new tattoo looks scaly. But why does this happen, how much is normal, and is there a way to treat it? Don’t worry: we’ve got your scaly skin covered.

Is a Scaly Tattoo Normal?

More often than not, your new tattoo looking scaly is a completely normal part of the healing process. The scaly effect you are seeing is commonly pieces of dead skin that are hanging off your tattoo, or scabbing that is dry, cracking, and falling off. At one point, your tattoo may even appear to look wrinkly or crusty. These are all normal and your tattoo always tends to look strange and terrible before looking great again.

Despite how tempted you may be to pick at these pieces of skin and remove those scales on your tattoo, don’t do it! Removing these scab or skin flakes can actually pull out ink with them, leaving you with a patchy and blotchy tattoo that requires a heavy touch-up. The flakes are all necessary to the healing process, though they will undoubtedly be annoying and make you frustrated that you’re unable to show off your fresh ink.

Along with scaly skin, here are a few other common symptoms during the healing stages:

  • Itching - Itchiness is almost always paired with scaly-looking skin. Under no circumstances should you scratch your tattoo! Check out our article, The Tattoo Itch Guide: How To Stop And Prevent Tattoo Itching.
  • Swelling - This is a more common symptom within the first week of healing. If it persists, you should speak to your artist or a medical professional.
  • Scabbing - Essentially your skin flakes are a kind of scab, but scabbing can also take numerous other forms when a new tattoo is healing. Have a look at our article, Tattoo Scabbing - Your Complete How To Guide.
  • Tenderness - A new tattoo is a wound, so a bit of tenderness and sensitivity is totally normal.

Is a Scaly Tattoo an Allergic Reaction?

Under most circumstances, scaly skin on your new tattoo is just dry skin that is healing. In very rare circumstances, it may be the result of an allergic reaction either to the aftercare product you are using or to the ink itself. An allergic reaction is also paired with the following symptoms:

  • Rashes - Allergic reactions usually manifest as rashes or hives. They may happen even weeks after you’ve gotten your new tattoo. If your tattoo is looking scaly but also showing signs of a rash, speak to a medical professional.
  • Pimples - If pimples are appearing under your tattoo along with the scaly appearance, this may also be a sign of an allergic reaction. If you are applying moisturizer, make sure it is in a thin layer to avoid blocking your pores. And if this is the reaction to ink pigment, it could dissipate in time. Red is the color that most frequently causes reactions.

How to Avoid Scaly-Looking Tattoos

Scaly-looking tattoos are almost unavoidable, but there are ways to minimize this symptom, shorten the length of time it lasts, or to soften the appearance if you intend to head out into public with your new tattoo.

If you are ever concerned, don’t hesitate to contact your tattoo artist for advice. But remember that scales and flakey skin are just a regular part of a new tattoo and are not out of the ordinary for tattoo healing. Just give it time and it will dissipate.

Our Final Thoughts

Your snake skin is no cause for panic! Scaly-looking skin is normal for a new tattoo. In fact, it’s a sign that your tattoo is moving through the healing stages and is almost on its way to being ready to show off. Remember to resist picking at these flakes of skin and to continue cleansing and moisturizing, as usual.

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