Let me guess: You recently got a tattoo, diligently followed the proper tattoo aftercare, and just noticed that your tattoo is now peeling. Wtf. If this is your first time getting a tattoo, the many stages of the healing process can send you straight to the internet, frantically searching for explanations as to why your tattoo's peeling. But lemme assure you—peeling is usually normal. Usually. Still, if you accidentally zoned out during the aftercare instructions given to you by your tattoo artist and need a brief refresher, here's a recap of what you should expect (and more importantly, what you shouldn't), what to avoid, and what you can do to help your new ink heal correctly. Ahead, tattoo artist Joanna "JoJo"Roman of Chronic Ink and Skin Dip Beauty on everything you need to know about peeling tattoos.
Does a peeling tattoo mean it’s healing?
Yup, that's exactly what that means—and a little peeling is completely normal. Roman lists three things you can expect as the skin heals: a little flakiness, itchiness, and scabbing. Although the tattoo shouldn’t be overly scabbed or too dry (the less peeling and scabbing, the better), a little bit is just part of the healing process. But wait! What happens if your tattoo doesn't peel? Is that a sign that something has gone awry?! According to Roman, minimal or no peeling can be normal reactions, too, and whether or not you peel largely depends on the application of your tattoo and how you care for it afterward.
When does a tattoo start peeling?
For the first couple of days, your skin will feel raw and tender because the broken skin is still very fresh. But after a couple of days, it should start to tighten up and dry out, and roughly two or three days from the application is when you’ll start to see this peeling process begin. Cue the itchiness, flakiness, and scabbing.
Is it normal for a tattoo to peel after 3 days?
According to Roman, how much damage is on the skin will determine how long the healing process of a tattoo lasts. "If you get a full-color tattoo, obviously, that’s going to take a little bit longer to heal than something that would be a fine-line tattoo," Roman explains. "So the fine line tattoo, you might see it starts to heal within a week. But for something that has a lot more ink deposited in the skin, you can expect about two or two and a half weeks for it to heal." If the peeling, flaking, or scabbing continues after two and a half weeks, that's a pretty good indication that something's not normal, and it's time to consult your tattoo artist.
Do tattoos fade after they peel?
If your tattoo is applied properly and everything goes smoothly during the healing process, then you shouldn't see much fading. One exception: Fine-line tattoos. Roman points out that because of the nature of fine-line tattoos, they might need a touch-up (most artists offer a free touch-up within a certain time period), but generally speaking, the better the healing process goes, the more likely the tattoo won't fade.
Do you wash a tattoo when it’s peeling?
Definitely! From day one you should be washing your tattoo with a fragrance-free cleanser twice a day, morning and night, and letting it air out to keep it clean and dry. Just don't submerge it in water (like in a bath or pool) until it's totally healed. It's definitely a good idea to also avoid saunas or working out because sweat can cause moisture to sit on the tattoo, and as Roman explains it, too much moisture on the tattoo will cause the pores to open and lead to ink fallout and fading.
Should I put cream on my tattoo when it’s peeling?
This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site. During the first two-ish days, you're gonna want to avoid lotions, but once you start to feel some tightening, drying, and peeling a couple of days after application, that's when you'll want to start using light layers of lotion after washing it. But—and this is important—don't reach for just any old lotion. Roman says you want to stick with a tattoo lotion, like the Skin Dip Beauty Thirst Trap CBD Tattoo Balm, which uses CBD to also help with the inflammation, or a fragrance-free formula to avoid irritation. If you follow all of this advice to a T, keep it clean and moisturized with light layers of moisturizer, then you might even avoid itching, peeling, or scabbing entirely.
What should you not do after a tattoo?
Roman's best advice is to imagine that your tattoo is an open wound (because, um, it kinda is). Anything that could potentially get into the tattoo could cause an infection and lead to a poorly healed tattoo or worse, so it's really, really important that you follow proper aftercare instructions. While your tattoo is healing, especially in those first two days when the skin is very broken, it's super important to keep it clean (that includes regularly changing your bedsheets), dry, and out of the sun to prevent the chance of sunburn.
What happens if you peel your tattoo?
Just don't, k??? If you were to pick off the scab before it was ready to come off, Roman says you could potentially take the ink (which hasn't fully deposited into the skin yet) along with it. Once it heals, you’ll probably see a lack of ink where the scab went missing, and you'll definitely be mad about it. "You have to give it time for the ink to settle into the skin," Roman says. "If you pick it too early, then the ink won’t be able to do it."
Peeling is normal (to an extent) but that doesn't mean you should peel it yourself. Let your skin do its thing for the two-ish weeks and keep the tattoo clean and dry while it heals for the best results. If you experience any scabbing that seems abnormal (like thickening over the entire tattoo or green or yellow areas that fill up with puss), see your doctor to address the infection. A poorly healed tattoo sucks but an infection left untreated would be way worse than that, trust.