What to expect during healing
STAGE 1- SORENESS AND REDNESS
A tattoo acts very similarly to a cut or a scrape during the healing process. It can be red and irritated and sore to the touch. Bruising may also occur on a larger tattoo or a sensitive area such as the inner bicep. During the first day or two some swelling may occur. All these are normal and to be expected of a new tattoo. It is crucial to keep the area clean and try not to hit it or cause any additional trauma to the area such as sun or chlorine from pools and hot tubs. Tap water is permitted. This stage may last up to 3 days.
STAGE 2- THE SCAB FORMS
Tattoos may or may not scab. This varies from person to person and can have a lot to do with the amount you bled while getting your tattoo. It is important not to pick at your scab. This can cause color loss or even scar tissue. Picking off a scab may also increase the chance of infection. You are removing the newly formed skin which is attached to the scab and basically re-starting the healing process including possible bleeding. It is also very important not to soak the scab in water or too much ointment. This can cause your scab to become "gooey" (See: Causes of infection) and porous trapping bacteria in it. A light coating of ointment is all that is needed 2 to 3 times a day. This scabbing may last up to a week before it starts to fall off on its own.
STAGE 3- FLAKING, PEELING, ITCHING
As your tattoo heals, you will notice peeling and flaking off of any scabs that formed. The new skin tissue under this is very thin and fragile. It is really important not to damage it by scratching it. You will want to apply ointment frequently in small amounts. Allow all the scabs and flakes to fall off on their own. This can last a few days so you will want to keep the ointment on hand without over applying it.
STAGE 4- SHINY SKIN/ DRY SKIN
The new skin will be shiny and possibly very dry. At this point, moisturize frequently with an unscented lotion like Aveeno or Curel. Try to keep it looking moist. You are almost done!
STAGE 5- FULLY HEALED
You will be able to tell when your tattoo is healed when you run your finger over it and it has the same texture as the surrounding area. No more flakes, bumps or dry spots. When you look at it at an angle, the skin should appear matte not shiny. You are now fully healed!
Before you do anything with your tattoo, always wash your hands and then carefully remove the bandage. DO NOT RE-COVER YOUR TATTOO. This should be done within the first 12 hours after getting your tattoo. You are now going to wash your tattoo with a mild unscented soap such as Dove or Ivory. Use warm water and your finger tips only, no cloths. Avoid direct water pressure on your tattoo. Allow the water to flow over your tattoo and use your fingers to carefully remove any residue left from the ointment that your artist applied before he put your patch on. Use a disposable paper towel to pat off any water and then let it air dry. Do not apply any ointment on this first day and allow as much air to it as possible. Make sure that all linens or fabrics touching your tattoo are always clean and not too tight around the area.
On the second day, avoid direct water pressure in the shower but do allow water to flow over it to clean off any residue or lint from your sheets. Pat dry with a paper towel and apply a small amount of ointment, (your artist will recommend the brand they prefer). Pat off any excess with a clean paper towel. You want your tattoo to be moisturized not WET or DRY. Do this 2-3 times a day for the next 2 weeks or until your tattoo is completely healed. Make sure your hands are washed before touching your tattoo.
NEVER scrub, scratch, soak, pick at, wear tight clothing over, molest, expose to sunlight or tan your tattoo in any way. This WILL cause infection, scar tissue and/or color loss.
FAQs and Troubleshooting
IT'S BEEN TWO WEEKS AND MY TATTOO IS STILL NOT HEALED. IS THIS NORMAL?
Healing a tattoo is not always easy. It requires a lot of dedication and patience. The aftercare instructions we have provided need to be followed very carefully, while keeping in mind everyone heals differently. Healing time can be affected by any immune systems issues you may have. This could be as simple as a common cold or flu. If you are sick, your immune system is already fighting off an illness and is weaker than normal. It is not recommended to get tattooed because of this. If you suffer from any immune system disorders such as diabetes or hiv/aids, you should talk to your doctor prior to getting tattooed and expect a longer and potentially more difficult healing period. You need to advise your artist of this because there are measures that can be taken to minimize any possible complications. An example would be to do your tattoo in multiple sessions instead of in one shot. Taking a multi-vitamin while healing can also help boost your immune system. As long as your tattoo shows no signs of infection, you need not worry. If you are worried, please come in and let one of our artists look at it.
IS MY TATTOO INFECTED?
A lot of people misinterpret normal healing or mild irritation as an infection. A tattoo in a hard to heal area can be just that, hard to heal. These areas include the wrist at the bend, the elbow and even areas on the foot. Any skin that is exposed to any friction from clothing or a shoe will prove more difficult to heal. An area where the skin naturally moves or bends more will also be harder to heal. Ideal tattoo healing conditions rarely occur, so be patient and follow the aftercare instructions. If you are concerned with the way your tattoo is healing, please come in and let us look at it and we will do our best to help you figure it out.
COMMON SIGNS OF INFECTION
The following signs of infection DO NOT necessarily mean you have an infection. Everybody heals differently and what you do during the first few days can affect your healing process.
-Persistent soreness, redness and swelling of line work 4-5 days after the tattoo was done
-green/yellowish puss or discharge (if you have green ink in your tattoo, it should not resemble the ink in colour)
-hot temperature and warm to the touch
-greenish scabs (will show on paper towel)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please come in so we can look at it. If you are unable to, apply a thin coat of Polysporin, if you have used it before, and discontinue the use of any other ointments until you can speak to your artist. If you are very concerned a walk-in clinic can also help.
CAUSES OF INFECTION
The top layer of everybody's skin is covered in bacteria. Just like any scrape or scratch, a tattoo can get infected. For the most part, this can be avoided by keeping the area clean, never touching your tattoo without washing your hands and following the aftercare instructions carefully.
The most common cause of infection for a tattoo is too much ointment or keeping it covered with a patch. This can cause the tattoo scab to become "gooey" and if not addressed, you can easily end up with an infection. By keeping a patch on your tattoo, you are creating a moist and warm environment on your tattoo, an ideal breeding ground for bacteria leading to infection. Applying too much ointment can have the same effect as keeping it covered. If you notice your tattoo appears “gooey” follow the cleaning instructions as laid out in Aftercare.
I HAVE PIMPLES AROUND MY TATTOO, IS THIS NORMAL?
Pimples can occur after getting tattooed. There are two main causes for this. First and most likely, you are reacting to the ointment or the over application of it. If you are using something that is clogging your pores, try applying a lot less. You may want to use a lighter and thinner ointment. An unscented skin cream if you have sensitive skin can work well such as Aveeno or Curel. Sometimes less is more.
The second cause can be the shaving that was done to the area. Prior to starting your tattoo, your artist likely shaved your skin. As we all know, this can cause irritation to the area in the form of ingrown hairs. If this happens, there isn't much you can do other than use less ointment and wait for it to go away.
I WOKE UP THIS MORNING AND THERE IS INK ON MY SHEETS
When your tattoo is fresh, it is not uncommon for there to be some ink transfer when it gets moist. This normally will happen when you wash your tattoo or if you get hot and sweat. This does not mean that you are rejecting the ink; this is merely the ink that is in your pores and the superficial layers of skin. If your tattoo dries to your sheets or a piece of clothing over night, DO NOT tear it away. Bring the sheet to the nearest sink or shower and soak the area with warm water. The fabric should freely fall away from the tattoo without any assistance and will not cause damage to your tattoo.
DOES MY TATTOO NEED A TOUCH-UP?
A tattoo will look its best when it is freshly done and when it is completely healed. During the healing process, the colors may not be as vibrant and the scabbing may cause obstructions in visibility. Things can look pretty blurry. It is impossible to know whether or not a touch-up will be required during the healing period. A tattoo cannot be re-worked until the skin is normal and no longer shiny. (See: Stages 4 and 5 of What to expect during healing.) We do guarantee our tattoos, so as long as proper aftercare instructions were followed, contact us for a touch up free of charge. Your artist will want to see it first, so come by to book your appointment. He may even see something that you didn’t and may want to correct this as well. Colour loss or fading occurs a lot more when doing a solid color or black tattoo. Touch-ups are normally done within a few months of getting your tattoo, to ensure that the colours will match and any fading caused by the sun will be uniform. So, don't put off getting your touch-up!