Tattoo scabbing is a perfectly normal part of the healing process of a new tattoo. But like any wound, your tattoo scab needs proper care, treatment, and, most of all, a thorough understanding of what is considered normal scabbing and what is not.
Our complete tattoo scabbing guide will not only calm your nerves about tattoo scabbing, but will give you the best run down about the dos and don’ts for your new tattoo during its most crucial healing time.
Table of Contents (clickable)
Is Tattoo Scabbing Normal?
Scabs are really fascinating and healthy reactions that our bodies have to a wound. “In less than 10 seconds after a cut occurs,” states website Mental Floss, “a shield-like cap we know as a scab forms over the area as a way to protect the wound from infection while the new skin is created. It’s kind of like an organic bandage made by your own body. ”
A tattoo is what the body would consider to be a wound. It’s for this reason that one of the first reactions our body has is to push excess ink, blood, and plasma out of the tattoo in an attempt to ward off infection and keep away outside germs. As such, our tattoo building a scab is a perfectly normal reaction that a healing tattoo will have.
If you see your new tattoo forming a scab, don’t panic! In fact, most scabs are there to protect the tattoo. Your beautiful piece of art and ink is sitting below that, so long as you are patient with your aftercare process and let it be.
That being said, there are “good scabs” and “bad scabs” and how you maintain your tattoo from day one will help ensure that your tattoo is not forming scabs that could be detrimental to its integrity or your health.
But don’t worry: we’ve got you covered.
Do All Tattoos Scab?
The short answer to this question would be: yes. But many of these scabs don’t look as you would expect.
Because of where the ink is placed in the epidermis, along with the skill or heavy-handedness of your artist, combined with environmental factors, scabs will often not look like the one you formed on your knee in the fifth grade.
One of the most prominent and long-lasting forms of scabbing on a new tattoo is called a milk scab. This is when there is a thin layer of translucent scabbing that forms over your tattoo that makes it look “milky” (hence the name). If you’ve been blessed with a really excellent artist, you may be lucky enough to only experience the milk scab phase.
Other scabs you may experience on your tattoo include the area being raised and slightly crusty, or on thicker, more detailed, or more coloured tattoos, you may have heavier scabbing on the surface. It’s also normal for your tattoo to peel.
When Scabbing Isn’t Normal
While scabbing is not a sign of concern, very thick or very dry scabs could lead to a tattoo issue called cracking. Tattoo cracking could lead to excessive bleeding, distortion of your tattoo, or even infection.
In addition, there is the problem of tattoo bubbling which happens when a scab becomes too wet. The scab becomes saturated with hydration and these “bubbled” pieces can get caught on clothing and jewelry. Ripping these scabs open can make you vulnerable to infection.
Here are a few warning signs to look out for when your tattoo scab is no longer normal:
- Extremely thick scabs throughout the tattoo (not just on the more filled or detailed areas)
- Bubbling of the thicker scabs that make them soft to the touch
- Swelling, redness, or inflammation around the outside of your tattoo
- Continued bleeding, ink oozing, or plasma release after 48 hours
- Any leaking of pus from the scabs
- A feeling of fever or chills following your scabbing
Sometimes, a heavy-handed tattoo artist, or an artist’s apprentice who is inexperienced, may have pressed the needle too firmly during tattooing. This can cause excessive scarring because of the impact of the injury. If you are noticing scabbing on your tattoos with one artist more than others, it may be helpful to speak to your shop or the shop owner to discuss any concerns.
While scabbing can vary depending on your own skin sensitivities and immune system, environmental factors, the artist’s skill level, as well as the size and placement of your tattoo, never hesitate to ask someone if you are unsure about how healthy your tattoo scab may be. Leo Palomino, a tattoo artist in Orlando, says, “Professional, experienced tattoo artists know tattoos and what is normal healing, so never hesitate to call or stop by and ask about any concerns you have. ”
How Long Do Tattoos Scab For?
There are different stages of healing for your tattoo that begin as soon as you leave the artist’s chair.
- Days 1 to 3 - You are not likely to see any scabbing during this stage. At this time, you may see that your tattoo is weeping: it’s pushing out any excessive ink, blood, or plasma to cleanse the wound. Your tattoo may also be extra sensitive or bruised during this time. It’s normal that there is some redness around your tattoo during these first few days.
- Days 3 to 6 - At this point, the redness and sensitivity of your tattoo should begin to disappear, as scabbing begins. The scabs will be raised and should not be thick. They should look different than a scab that has formed from a friction burn or injury. If you continue to see excessive redness around the outline of your tattoo and it continues to hurt to the touch, it may be best to speak to a professional to insure you are not experiencing any infection.
- Days 7 to 14 - During this stage, your tattoo will likely experience the most scabbing. This should look like semi-thick scabs that are flaking, peeling spots where there is less colour or detail, and it will probably be extremely itchy! It’s extremely important that during this stage you do not pick at or peel any of your scabs. This can cause discoloration to your tattoo and could lead to an infection.
- After Two Weeks - At this point, most of your scabbing should have flaked off. This is when you will probably notice a milk scab; this makes your tattoo look a little faded or discoloured. This will likely fade around or after three weeks' time.
During the entire healing and scabbing process, it is essential that you are properly washing and moisturizing your tattoo. A proper aftercare procedure includes:
- Washing with fragrance-free antibacterial soap every morning and night;
- Drying your tattoo by patting it dry using a paper towel or clean towel;
- Moisturizing your tattoo after it stops weeping, two to three times a day;
- Making sure you are not touching or picking at your tattoo during the healing process.
What to Avoid While a Tattoo Is Scabbing
If you want to ensure that your scabs are forming healthily and healing properly, and you want to increase the healing time of your tattoo, there are some simple rules you can follow.
Ensure you implement a proper aftercare procedure from day one.
As soon as you walk out of your tattoo shop with your brand new tattoo, you should be ready to implement a routine that includes cleansing, moisturizing, and caring for your tattoo like you would any other wound. The more stringent you are with the aftercare procedures, the better and faster your tattoo will heal. Be sure to talk to your tattoo artist if you need some advice or product suggestions, such as soap, ointment, or lotions, for aftercare.
Don’t submerge your tattoo in water.
Even though you should wash and dry your tattoo twice every day, you need to be sure that you aren’t submerging your tattoo in water. This means showers and not baths, no pools, no ocean or lakes, and no hot tubs. Bodies of water can contain an excessive amount of bacteria, and you also risk softening your scab later in the healing process which can also be dangerous.
Don’t smother your tattoo in lotion.
Since we are on the topic of “don’t get it too wet”, the same rule applies for any lotions or moisturizers you are using. You don’t want to risk having your scabs bubble, and putting on too thick of a layer also stops your tattoo from breathing which it needs to heal properly. You shouldn’t see any remnant product after you’ve applied your lotion.
Don’t wear tight-fitting clothing.
Avoid wearing anything that may rub up against the new tattoo or risk ripping off the scabs and flakes prematurely. This tight clothing could also cause you to sweat and that can add irritation to your tattoo. Your new tattoo should be kept out of the sun for at least 3 weeks, so covered but loose-fitting clothing is best.
Don’t scratch or pick at your tattoos.
There is a reason our parents used to tell us not to pick the scabs on our knees; picking a scab makes us vulnerable to infection. But, even worse for tattoos in particular, you risk distorting the image or removing the ink when you pick at or scratch a scab.
Not only is there bacteria beneath your fingertips that put your wound at risk, you may cause permanent scarring over your tattoo. This will not only increase the healing times of your tattoo but may leave you with the disappointment of a ruined tattoo.
Keeping your hands off the area ensures you are protecting the ink that lays under your scabs.
How to Prevent Thick Scabs from Forming
Scabs are a completely normal aspect of the healing stages of a tattoo, and avoiding them completely is nearly impossible. It is possible, however, to follow a regimen that allows you to avoid getting the thick, ugly scabs that are prone to cracking, on your new tattoo.
- After your tattoo is wrapped by your tattoo artist, after around four to six hours, remove the wrapping and wash your tattoo with lukewarm water and fragrance-free antibacterial soap. Be sure to rub thoroughly (but not too roughly) to get rid of any tattoo weeping - this includes excess ink, blood, or plasma.
- Pat the tattoo dry with a paper towel that will not shed any product remnants, or a brand new towel to avoid any bacteria from a used one.
- Repeat this process every morning and evening.
- After three days, you can begin to use a moisturizer on the area. Lotion should only ever be applied on a thoroughly cleaned tattoo and only ever in a very thin layer to allow the tattoo to breathe. Be sure the product is free of toxic ingredients and fragrances. Check out our website for the lotions we recommend.
- Continue moisturizing and protecting your tattoo for up to two weeks, and you’ll likely avoid any major scabbing.
Remember to consult your tattoo professional if something looks or feels concerning to you during the healing process.
Our Final Thoughts
Scabbing is just another part of that new tattoo experience, and it’s important to keep your hands away from them and not be tempted to pick or prod at flakes and loose pieces. With proper and meticulous aftercare, you’ll increase your healing time and be able to enjoy your art as it's meant to be seen: scab-free.