Beauty

14 Ways To Know If Your Tattoo Is Healing Properly

Here’s what is — and isn’t — supposed to happen.

Is tattoo scabbing, bubbling, or ink leaking normal? The healing process can be complicated, but som...
Shutterstock
Updated: 
Originally Published: 

When you get new ink, you may be wondering what happens after you get a tattoo and what are some of the gross things to expect. As your skin recovers from being poked and prodded, there will be scabs and itchiness, redness and swelling, and possibly even some blood. But that's all to be expected, and it should pass in a week or two once your skin is healed.

“During the tattoo process, you should definitely prepare yourself to see some blood, as well as some other bodily fluids,” Jaz Paulino, key tattoo artist at Fleur Noire in New York City explains to Bustle via email. “After the bandage is on, it is totally normal for blood, ink and plasma to ooze out as your tattoo begins the healing process.”

Anything that passes over into the realm of the truly gross, however — such as scaly skin, lots of pus, red lesions, etc. — may be a sign the tattoo isn't healing properly, or that you have an infection. So don't be afraid to let the professionals know, if anything goes awry.

"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," Leo Palomino, a tattoo artist at Atomic Tattoos in Orlando, tells Bustle. "They will be able to let you know if it is normal, [which] corrective actions to take, or when you should see your doctor or dermatologist."

Of course, it's unlikely you'll have a bad reaction — especially if you're doing things by the book. "Choosing a good tattoo artist, a reputable tattoo studio, and taking care of your tattoo are extremely important steps to ensure that your tattoo heals well, doesn’t get infected, and looks the way you want it to when it is healed," Palomino says.

By following the recommended aftercare instructions, you'll be able to make sure that your tattoo is really properly. Not sure if something’s off? Read on for a few gross things that are supposed to happen after getting a tattoo, as well as a few gross things that aren't, according to experts.

1

Should Happen: Light Scabbing

MesquitaFMS/E+/Getty Images

As your tattoo begins to heal, expect it to form a scab over the course of a few days. This is an entirely common part of the process, and a great indicator that your tattoo is healing. But it can get super itchy, so do your best not to pick or scratch at your skin. You should avoid picking those scabs and risking ripping them off.

Instead, "pat it gently and/or apply a light lotion to the area to avoid ruining your tattoo," Palomino says. You don't want to accidentally scratch out or pick off the ink, as it could completely mess up your new design.

2

Should Happen: Light Bleeding During The Tattooing Process

If you bleed a little during the tattooing process, don’t worry. That’s no cause for alarm bells. The needle your tattoo artist will use will create an open wound in the skin, so you may see a little blood as your tattoo artist is working their magic.

Again, it’s nothing to be concerned about. “You are penetrating the skin with a needle for a significant amount of time, so you are bound to see some blood,” Paulino says. “Definitely try to avoid drinking alcohol or taking any blood-thinning medications 24 hours prior to your tattoo appointment.” If you’re squeamish, make sure that you’re prepared beforehand.

3

Should Happen: Light Bleeding Once You Get Home

That bleeding may continue after you leave the tattoo parlor. You might also notice blood droplets forming on your tattoo once you get home, which is also totally OK. "Just wash the area gently using your palm with a mild antibacterial soap and pat it dry," Palomino says. "Then apply ointment or your tattoo aftercare product of choice after it has dried completely. On average [bleeding] lasts about 24 hours."

4

Should Happen: Leaking Clear Fluid

Fresh wounds often leak a clear fluid called plasma, so don't be alarmed if you notice some liquid seeping out around your new ink. "It is caused by blood and plasma going to the site of the tattoo and beginning the healing process of scab formation," Palomino says.

5

Should Happen: Ink Appearing To Leak Out

Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images

Along with the plasma, try not to be alarmed if seems like the ink is leaking out, too. "It may look like you are losing a lot of ink from the tattoo as well, but you are not," Palomino says. "Some ink will get mixed with the fluid but it’s diluted and looks like more is coming out than there really is."

All you need to do is wait for it to stop on its own, and protect your furniture and clothing in the meantime. As Palomino says, "When you are sleeping you may want to use a sheet you don’t mind possibly getting stained or place a towel down first to try and eliminate making a small mess."

6

Should Happen: Redness & Swelling

It's not uncommon for newly inked areas to swell up a bit or appear red, due to the tattooing process. Paulino says “redness and swelling around the tattoo can be considered normal, but only for the first few days. You just put your skin through a pretty traumatic experience, [so] it's going to be a little mad at you. However, if redness and swelling persist after about a week, we would recommend getting a medical opinion.”

As Palomino agrees that swelling shouldn't last for more than a week. But if it does, or you're in a lot of pain, definitely see a doctor as soon as possible.

7

Should Happen: Pimples On Or Around The Tattoo

Pimples around your tattoo aren’t a great sign, but their appearance isn’t something to lose sleep over. It mostly happens because of bacteria around the tat. “Breakouts can occur around a new tattoo as bacteria can find its way easier into the skin,” Paulino explains. “A lot of tattoo breakouts will occur without causing any further damage, however, picking a pimple or popping one can result in infections or patches of faded ink.”

They can also occur because of excess ointment or lotion use. So make sure you take it easy when applying your aftercare cream. "Your healing tattoo needs to breathe," Palomino says. "If you apply too much ointment you will smother it, leading to bacteria building under the skin, which becomes inflamed and results in small pimples on or around the tattoo."

8

Shouldn't Happen: Bubbling Of The Skin

Shutterstock

It's possible that the skin on and around your tattoo will bubble up, if it's not getting enough air. "If bubbles form on the surface of the fresh tattoo, it is caused by moisture getting trapped in your tattoo, usually from too much ointment," Palomino says. "You’re not allowing it to dry out completely and/or it’s been waterlogged."

To avoid bubbling, follow your aftercare instructions, and remove your bandage as directed. "It’s important that they’re allowed to dry out completely and not get waterlogged at any time," he says.

9

Shouldn't Happen: Pimples (Con't)

There is a chance, however, that the pimples are a sign of an infection. So if the blemishes can't be blamed on excess ointment, "another common cause is bacteria coming into contact with your tattoo, which is why it is extremely important to make sure you wash your hands prior to washing or touching your tattoo and make sure that what you use to pat it dry is clean as well," Palomino says. "Skip using your dirty towel hanging in the bathroom ... and grab a clean one."

And, again, give your tattoo time to breathe. "Make sure you do not leave it wrapped up too long either," he says. "You need to remove the covering/bandage as you are taught to do during your aftercare instructions provided to you."

10

Shouldn't Happen: Flaking Skin

Another sign of a possible allergic reaction is itchy, scaly skin. "Minor itching during healing is normal," Palomino says. "But, if you have an allergic reaction to the ink in your tattoo, it will probably show up as a red, itchy rash. Your skin could also flake and take on a scaly appearance."

Whatever you do, make sure you do pick at the flaky bits. “Never ever pick at the flakes once your skin begins to heal, as this can result in patches of faded ink,” Paulino says. “If you find your tattoo feels dry throughout the day, moisturize moisturize, moisturize. A thin layer of hydration will do wonders for some thirsty skin.”

11

Shouldn't Happen: Allergic Reactions

Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images

Some folks end up having an allergic reaction to the pigment in the tattoo ink, which may present in the form of an itchy rash. It's rare, though, and usually only happens with colorful inks, like red and yellow.

"In some rare cases, your allergy might cause small bumps to form across the tattoo," Palomino says. "If you have an allergy to colored food dyes, your risk of allergy to a tattoo pigment is higher and you should consider not using those colors in your tattoo."

12

Shouldn't Happen: Thick Scabbing

While a light crusty scab is to be expected as your tattoo heals, it's not as common to have a thick, heavy scab. This is a "sign that you are not properly caring for your tattoo by washing it at least twice a day and applying only a thin layer of ointment or tattoo aftercare product after it dries," Palomino says. "If thick scabs develop, they can remove the color beneath them."

So remember: don't pick. "Never prematurely remove a scab, [as] this will lead to damaging the tattoo as well," he says. Just leave it alone, and if you're truly concerned, let your tattoo artist know what's going on.

13

Shouldn't Happen: Pus

Your new tattoo will be at a greater risk for infection while it's healing, so make sure you keep it clean. "Make sure you do not touch your new tattoo, your friends do not touch your new tattoo, or even your pets," Palomino says. And again, follow your aftercare instructions.

Because, if a tattoo gets dirty, it can get infected. While a clear fluid is nothing to worry about, pus is something else entirely. If you notice that, as well as swelling, fevers, and chills, let your doctor know, Palomino says. You may need a course of antibiotics to kick an infection.

14

Shouldn't Happen: Lesions

Shutterstock

Some tattoos can form red lesions, again due to a bacterial infections. And this is something you definitely need to let your doctor know about, so they can set you up with the correct form of treatment.

Of course, these more dire reactions aren't as likely to happen — especially if you take good care of your tattoo, and keep it clean. If notice anything odd, though, or feel like your tattoo isn't healing properly, let your tattoo artist know. They know what's to be expected during the healing process, and what shouldn't happen.