So, you got some new ink - congrats! But now the endorphin buzz is wearing off, you might notice that your skin is starting to look a little alien and snake-like, complete with shedding flakes of skin. You’ve officially come to the worst part of tattoo aftercare, but with the help of this article, it should be a breeze.
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Related: Tattoo Cracking
Why Do Tattoos Peel?
Tattoos hurt because the needles used to get the ink into your skin penetrate the outermost layers– the epidermis and dermis. Basically, this means that your new tattoo is a big ol’ open wound which needs to heal. Our skin does this by regenerating the epidermis, and closing up that newly created gap.
During the tattoo process, your body sends platelets to the tattooed area. These tiny cells also work in scabs and blood clots – they’re responsible for building up a little layer of cells that prevents blood or fluid escaping from your skin. This cell layer is what gives new tattoos that tell-tale red blush, and slight swelling.
But once your injured skin cells die, along with those platelets, the epidermis has to regenerate. That means bye-bye to the layer of dead stuff; the peeling flakes. This process isn’t unique to the tattooed, our skin sheds almost constantly, and the average person loses around 40 000 dead skin cells every day! The only reason that tattoo peeling is so noticeable is because the flakes are larger, and shed together.
Just like a wound scab, or blisters from sunburn, dead skin cells fall off in scale-like flakes. Thankfully, peeling skin is the final stage in tattoo healing – once you get through this, you can go back to enjoying your new ink.
How Long Do Tattoos Peel For?
Most tattoos start peeling between three days and a week of getting inked. Sadly, there’s no hard and fast rule about how long a tattoo will peel, because this depends on a bunch of factors like your skin condition and the size of the tattoo. But having a patch of reptile skin can make it feel like that healing is taking forever.
Generally, tattoos take a few weeks to heal completely. Larger tattoos or designs with loads of color take longer, but your skin should have recovered within 14 days of being tattooed.
Although, this also depends on where you get inked. If your tattoo is on an exposed or tougher area of skin (such as your hands), it’ll take a little longer to heal.
And now here’s something weird: some tattoos might even peel more than once – a heavy peel followed by a lighter peeling. This is also normal, unless accompanied by a symptom of infection, such as excessive redness, swelling or oozing.
Is It Normal If My Tattoo Doesn’t Peel?
Everybody heals differently. For example, some people’s tattoos just don’t peel.
But that is nothing to worry about!
If you have naturally oily skin, it’ll be less prone to peeling, while the opposite is true of dry skin. The depth of the needles used, and your tattoo artist’s technique, will also affect how much or how little your skin peels. Finer lines tend to peel less than larger, solid blocks of ink.
Also, some people heal faster than others – blame it on genetics.
If you’re worried that your tattoo isn’t peeling, especially if it’s large with lots of color – you shouldn’t be. Unless the lack of peeling is accompanied by the symptoms of infection discussed above, you’re in the clear. If you’re symptom-free and still don’t have peeling, consider yourself lucky!
What To Do When Your Tattoo Is Peeling
1. Keep Washing
Your peeling tattoo should be washed daily, and preferably with antibacterial soap that is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. Once it’s clean, gently pat it dry with a paper towel.
2. Keep it Moisturized
Keeping your skin soft and supple accelerates the healing time while minimizing the size of skin flakes, and itchiness (even if it is just to a point). But not all moisturizers are created equal. There are tons of options on the market, but a dedicated tattoo aftercare ointment is best. You could also try a fragrance-free lotion without colorants or additives. Just remember to apply the lotion to clean, dry skin.
Will My Tattoo Fade And Lose Color When It Peels?
When your tattoo peels, it shouldn’t fade or lose color significantly. Normally, a tattoo should start peeling in the first week of healing, anytime from 3-7 days in.
The peeling of a tattoo is the body’s way of regenerating dead skin cells. A tattoo is basically a wound; therefore, the dead skin it produces will have to be replaced naturally. This is when peeling happens, but your color can still fade.