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Tattoo Scabbing: Causes, Appearance, and What to Do

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Are you prepared that your brand new tattoo will look dreadful during the initial healing process? If it’s your first time getting inked, you won’t expect that. The ground reality is that the distressing tattoo wound starts peeling, scabbing, and getting mighty itchy during the healing stage. The result — the tattooed area, looks awful till the scabbing is gone. 

This is a time you need to show utmost patience and self-control since tattoo scabbing is a natural part of the healing process. In this article, you’ll learn what exactly tattoo scabbing is. Additionally, we share details about its causes, appearance, and what you should do when you experience tattoo scabbing. Don’t forget to check out the FAQ section at the very end! 

What is Tattoo Scabbing and is it Normal?

Tattoo Scabbing
Source: @dandelionnn98 via Instagram

Tattooing — or going under the needle — causes a cut (abrasion) in your skin, which results in the natural formation of protective tissue that covers the cut. That awful-looking protective tissue is nothing but tattoo scabbing.

The tattoo is an open wound that eventually heals. The scabs, in effect, play a crucial, protective part by offering protection to the healing skin underneath the wound.

Any attempts to speed up the natural scabbing process will prove to be counterproductive. Nevertheless, you should be aware of the factors that influence how fast your tattoo will scab. These factors are the size of the tattoo design, its placement, and type of ink used; your skin type, hydration level, and healing rate; the tattoo aftercare regimen adopted by you; and the weather.   

The answer to the popular question: “Is tattoo scabbing normal?” is a definite yes. Nearly everyone gets tattoo scabbing during the aftercare process. The scabbing is accompanied by peeling and flaking. The trick is, instead of blowing your cool, anticipate the inevitable phenomenon, and be patient during the healing process. 

When Does Tattoo Scabbing Appear?

So, you’ve just gotten yourself inked. The artist has bandaged your tattoo. You head home from the tattoo studio, and after a couple of hours, you remove the bandages according to the instructions given. What next? Well, as you start the recommended aftercare instructions, you won’t experience any, or much of, tattoo peeling or scabbing for the initial 3 to 4 days.

In those initial few days, the tattoo may look as envisaged, yet the skin will be red, swollen, and bruised until the initial wound heals sometime around day 4. Once the initial bruising ends, depending on your tattoo type, general health, and skin type, the scabbing begins during days 4 to 6 of the healing stage.

During days 4 and 6, the earliest signs of scabbing are the light, raised scabbing that occurs as the outer layer of your tattoo wound starts knitting back together. At this point, the scabs aren’t all that thick. 

You shouldn’t pick at the scabs as that can cause immense scarring, discoloration, and leakage of ink. You should follow the proper aftercare regimen, involving regular, thrice daily antibacterial washing of the tattoo area at equal intervals between each wash. 

Further, you’ll be required to keep the layer moisturized with a recommended ointment to maintain the hydration levels required for proper healing.  

tattoo Scabbing
Source: @juliiemartineau via Instagram

A week after you get your new tattoo, the tattoo appears and feels the worst as the scabbing begins to peak. This peak stage of the scabbing usually lasts from day 7 to 14 after getting the tattoo. During this time, the scab thickens and toughens before finally flaking off. 

The flakes, in appearance, are usually small chunks or scales that shed off. Once again, and especially at this juncture of the healing process, you need to be extremely patient by ensuring you don’t end up picking or scratching your skin. By not picking, pulling, itching, etc., you’re ensuring there’s no risk of infection, ink dropout, or scarring.

To relieve the itching, you can apply a recommended moisturizer multiple times daily. If that doesn’t help, a doctor-recommended dose of an antihistamine tablet should help. In case you experience extreme, prolonged scabbing and itching or the redness and swelling haven’t dissipated, you should immediately make a visit to your medical practitioner for further treatment.

When Does The Scabbing End?

When Does Tattoo Scabbing end

The short answer is during the third week, which happens to be the end of the significant part of the healing stage. Healing stage days 15 through 21 are when the thick, tough scabs completely flake off on their own. 

Bear in mind, the end of this period doesn’t mean the tattoo has completely healed. There is still some healing that continues, especially in the deeper layers of the skin. Therefore, it’s imperative you continue to resist the urge to itch the tat until it has completely healed. The exact duration of healing depends on the individual and the tattoo care regime.

What To Do During Tattoo Scabbing?

Tattoo scabbing is inevitable. Yet, there are certain things you can do to ensure the healing process is maintained on its natural track:

  • Stick to a recommended tattoo aftercare regimen.
  • Even if you’ve opted for the dry healing tattoo aftercare regimen, stick to that with utmost patience.  
  • Always seek timely medical attention if your scabbing and itching are excessive and prolonged. There might be an infection requiring immediate medication.
  • Scratching, picking, and prodding of scabby tattoo skin should be avoided at all costs. It is never a good idea to fool around with a tattoo that is still healing.
  • When you’re cleaning your tattoo thrice a day, it should always be done with the best antibacterial soap and some mild water. After washing, pat drying should be done with a soft paper towel. 
  • To avoid a chance of infection, never soak or immerse your healing tattoo in water. By soaking the tattooed region of your body in water, you’re causing the scabbing skin to shake off and prematurely shed. Even when there are no scabs, yet the tattoo is still healing, you should avoid immersing it in water. 

FAQs

Q) Is it normal to experience tattoo scabbing?

As mentioned earlier, it is normal for freshly tattooed skin to scab. Scabbing is part of the natural healing process. The thing to ensure is to never peel or scratch off the scabs. Always let the scabs fall off naturally when the time comes.

Q) How long does tattoo scabbing last?

Tattoos usually begin to scab at the onset of the 4th day of initial healing. The peak is reached in the second week, and the scabs thicken and naturally, completely shed between days 15 to 21 of the healing process. So, to answer the question, tattoo scabbing typically lasts 12 to 18 days, or on average, about 2 weeks.

Q) When should I be worried about tattoo scabbing?

We’ve already determined that the tattoo scabbing process is a normal part of tattoo wound healing. Yet, you should be wary about exceptional circumstances, including experiencing underlying issues with the healing process. Depending on the specific situation, you may have to revisit your tattoo artist for a revision of the aftercare regimen and products or to find out if a visit to the doctor is pre-eminent at that stage. 

That said, signs you may have a worrisome condition at hand include excessively thick, heavy, and tough scabs; an infected tattoo (red scab edges); relentless swelling and oozing puss; and pain and dripping blood.

Q) Does the dry healing method take care of tattoo scabbing?

The dry healing method entails not applying anything — no lotion, no balm, no moisturizer — to your newly inked skin after removing the tattoo shop-bandaged wrap. Instead, all you’re required to do after removing the bandage or wrap is to wash the wound as recommended with mild antibacterial soap and lukewarm water. The result of this is you’ll find your scabs lasting longer and the itchiness extended during the 2nd and 3rd weeks of the healing process. If you have the patience, all that is alright, as long as you leave the tattooed ink untouched to heal naturally. 

Q) Should I apply Vaseline on my tattoo scabs?

It is not recommended to apply Vaseline or any other petroleum jelly-based product on a healing tattoo. Such non-porous products trap moisture in the skin, thus clogging the skin and not letting it breathe. Oxygen is necessary for the proper healing of a tattoo. 

Conclusion

Any freshly-inked tattoo is an open wound that scabs during healing. From the time the scabbing begins, you should keep the scabs moisturized. You also need to completely refrain from the urge to pick or scratch the scabs. Being patient for a couple of weeks is all that’s required of you so that the scabs can naturally shed.

Remember, by interfering with the natural healing process by picking your scabs, and your tattoo could turn out discolored, let alone result in scarring or infection. Finally, if you experience heavy, bumpy skin scabbing, pain, and blood, that’s when you need to seek the help of your tattooist and a doctor.

About Author

Jonathan Corby "Jonny" is a guy who is passionate about Tattooing and successfully running a Tattoo Studio in NY. Through my journey as a Tattoo Artist I have made unforgettable memories. This irrational poetry and sense of freedom of art on skin has given a blissfull experience to my life. Each Tattoo has a story behind it; Lets share one!