Itchy skin is a torturous part of the new tattoo experience. At the same time, it’s important to keep your hands off your tattoo except to wash and moisturize it. More often than not, itchiness can’t be avoided, but the irritation can be diminished with some helpful tips, and after a certain point in your healing, it’s definitely safe to scratch your tattoo again.
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Why Do Tattoos Itch And When Can I Scratch?
A tattoo is basically an open wound, caused by the trauma of needles puncturing your epidermis and depositing ink into your lower dermis. As with all wounds, your body will go into an adrenaline-fueled immune system response trying to heal this area of your skin, regenerating cells during the process, and pushing out foreign bodies from the wound.
Numerous factors could contribute to the itchiness of a tattoo depending on where you are in the healing journey of your fresh ink, and this common symptom could range in intensity as well.
The First Three Days
Within the first 72 hours of a new tattoo, your tattoo goes through a process called weeping. This is when your body is pushing excess blood, plasma, and ink from your wound, protecting it from unwanted bacteria.
It is not likely that you will experience itching during this stage, but may have some swelling, irritation, or a stinging sensation. If you experience any excessive itchiness or rash development during this stage, that could be the sign of an allergic reaction to the ink or the equipment used to make your tattoo (such as latex gloves, for example).
At this stage, you should absolutely not scratch your tattoo. It is most vulnerable, and any scratches on a raw and open wound will completely distort your tattoo and potentially cause infection. If you are unreasonably itchy at this point, speak to a tattoo professional for recommendations.
Days Four to Seven
After the weeping stage, your tattoo will begin to form scabs over your wound. This causes the skin to dry out and crack, which may cause minor itchiness and irritation.
You absolutely must not scratch your tattoo during this stage, as you could rip off essential scabs on your tattoo that will not only lengthen the healing time, but may also pull away pieces of your ink from your tattoo and cause permanent distortion.
In addition, your tattoo is still quite open to severe infection, and the bacteria under your fingernails presents a big issue to a new tattoo. Loofahs and wash towels are also not to be used to ease the itch, as these are abrasive to a new tattoo’s healing layer of skin.
During week two of your tattoo, you may notice a lot of your scabbing begins to fall off, but you may now have pieces of skin flakes remaining on your tattoo. These are especially irritating as they are dry and seem to tingle the skin it touches, causing severe itchiness.
Although this is likely to be one of your most itchy weeks, you must absolutely not scratch your tattoo. Ripping off the pieces of skin through scratching could disturb the healing process or pull off ink from your healing tattoo.
When you have noticed that there are no scabs, no peeling skin, and your tattoo may have a milky appearance to it, you are generally at a stage where it is safer to scratch your new tattoo, as your epidermis is almost fully healed.
That being said, some gentle scratching with clean hands to soothe any minor irritation is fine, but going to town on a new tattoo and risking puncturing your epidermis is dangerous and could reintroduce infection to your fresh ink.
At this point, you shouldn’t feel any abnormal desire to itch your tattoo and your skin should be fully healed. It’s safe to scratch at this stage, but keep an eye on any rashes or sensitivity.
How To Ease The Irritation
Scratching your tattoo should always be a last resort. Even for older tattoos, scratching your skin puts you at risk for scarring and distorting your tattoo. There are alternative ways to ease the frustration of an itchy tattoo.
- Apply a Moisturizer - After your tattoo has moved out of the weeping stage, the easiest way to tackle itchiness before it starts is to apply moisturizer to your tattoo as part of your aftercare regimen. It’s also a quick solution for an older tattoo that feels itchy.
- Gently Pat or Tap The Area - This stimulates a neurological response in your skin that is similar to the relief of scratching.
- Take a Shower - Cool or lukewarm showers help hydrate your skin, so long as they are short and your tattoo is not placed directly under the stream of water. Briefly washing your tattoo at the sink may also provide your tattoo with some itch relief.
- Cool The Tattooed Area - You can apply a cold compress to a tattoo to soothe the itchiness, but it must be done carefully. Read our article on how to safely ice your tattoo.
- Wear Loose Clothing - Tight clothing can cause further irritation to an already itchy tattoo.
- Check Your Products Carefully - Most itchiness in a new tattoo is caused by products containing fragrances, chemicals, or dyes. This causes an allergic reaction in our skin, or a burning response from our open wound. Be sure that the products you are using on your tattoo have been tested prior to use; we recommend an elbow test for 48 hours.
When Itchiness Is a Cause for Concern
Itching irritation is a normal part of a new tattoo, but severe irritation paired with any of these symptoms are a cause for concern:
- Excessive redness that outlines the tattoo and doesn’t dissipate
- Pimples and pus-filled growths
- Excessive scab growth
- Fever or chills
These may indicate an allergic reaction or an infection. Allergic reactions could be caused by tattoo ink (red and yellow pigments are known to cause the most reactions), or from your aftercare products. It is very important that you seek out experienced artists in regulated tattoo shops using high-quality inks, and that your aftercare products are thoroughly researched and tested on your skin prior to use.
If at any point during your healing journey you are concerned about the state of your tattoo, it is essential that you seek out professional medical assistance.
For more information on when itching irritation is normal for a new tattoo, check out our article The Tattoo Itch Guide: How To Stop And Prevent Tattoo Itching.
Our Final Thoughts
It’s important to avoid sticking your nails onto your tattoo and scratching for as long as you can, and to seek out alternative options for easing the itching irritation. Scratching your new tattoo could lead to an extended healing time, distortion of your tattoo, or an infection.
After around a month, it should be safe to scratch again without damaging your tattoo. Remember that your tattoo’s longevity depends on how well you care for it even after the healing period, and keeping it clean and moisturized is often the solution to many symptoms of dryness, such as an itch.