What the Tattoo Healing Process Is Like

After getting a tattoo, it usually takes a few weeks for it to completely heal and be able to reveal your new ink in all its glory. The process of tattooing is one that involves fine needles that wound your skin, as they deposit ink deep into layers of your skin. As a result, the tattoo healing process involves temporary stages of redness, oozing, itching, and peeling.
How Long Does a Tattoo Take to Heal?
On average, a tattoo takes two to four weeks to heal. However, it takes about three to six months for the skin underneath the tattoo to fully heal.12 This time depends on specific skin reactions, tattoo size, and ink colors used.

For example, tattoos with large areas of color may create more inflammation in your skin, since more needles prick the skin—resulting in a more prolonged healing stage. People also experience longer healing times after a tattoo allergic reaction or infection.

Can You Get a Tattoo While Pregnant?
The Healing Stages of a Tattoo
Tattoos typically go through four healing stages as different layers of skin heal. Right after you're inked, your tattoo is basically an open wound. Those tiny needles deposit ink through your epidermis (top layer of skin) and into the upper dermis (middle layer of skin). After a few weeks, the tattoo will look completely healed. Underneath, your dermis will continue to heal for months.3 

Stage 1: Inflammation and Oozing 
As your body reacts to the skin trauma, it'll send blood to the tattooed area, causing redness and swelling.4 This is an immune response to jumpstart healing. The tattoed area may also feel warm or sore, and you may notice blood, clear fluid (plasma), or ink weeping from the tattoo.5 After three days, your tattoo may still look red, oozing, and swollen. These healing signs often occur for about a week, but redness and swelling should disappear after two weeks.6

Stage 2: Itching
Wounds often feel itchy when they heal, and tattoos are no different. Tattoos often itch during the first and second week of healing, and the tattoo will also start to flake as the skin begins to heal.5 Whatever you do, do not scratch your tattoo. Hives or a rash, in addition to itching, are signs of an allergic reaction, not proper healing.4 With proper tattoo aftercare, itching usually goes away after two weeks.6

Stage 3: Peeling 
After about five days, you may notice scabbing and flakey skin. As your tattoo heals, especially large tattoos, flakey skin will start to slough off. You may also develop scabs that begin to peel off.5 This may be alarming, but it's not the actual tattoo peeling off; it's just skin. Peeling means your tattoo is healing. Let your skin naturally slough off, and avoid the urge to pick off any scabs or dry skin. Tattoo peeling and scabs typically occur for two to three weeks.1

Stage 4: Skin Remodeling
After two weeks to a month, your tattoo should appear healed. It shouldn't be red, itchy, or flakey. However, the skin underneath the tattooed surface (the dermis) is still recovering. During skin remodeling, your dermis creates new skin cells to heal and strengthen the wounded skin.37 
How to Help Your Tattoo Heal More Quickly
Proper tattoo aftercare helps your tattoo heal properly and prevents infection. Proper tattoo aftercare includes:89
Follow your tattoo artist's bandage/wrap instructions: Depending on the bandage or tattoo wrap type, remove the bandage a few hours after tattooing. If you use breathable bandages, reapply them between cleansing and ointment application for the first week.  
Gently wash your tattoo but avoid other water: For one to two weeks, wash your tattoo with warm water and fragrance-free cleanser up to three times a day. Don't submerge your healing tattoo in hot baths, long showers, hot tubs, lakes, oceans, or swimming pools. 
Apply ointment or lotion: After washing your tattoo, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment two to three times a day. After the first two weeks, you can use water-based lotion or cream. Avoid using petroleum-based products, which can fade your tattoo and keep your tattoo from airing out.
Keep your tattoo out of the sun: Avoid tanning beds or direct sunlight for at least four weeks as the tattoo heals. Sunburn and UV light can affect healing time. (Once your tattoo heals, you should apply sunscreen.)
NEVER itch or pick your tattoo: Picking off scabs or itching your tattoo will delay healing and may damage your ink. Drying your tattoo with washcloths or towels can also remove scabs and delay healing. Friction from wearing tight pants or shirts over your tattoo can also irritate the skin.
Even after your tattoo appears healed, keep your tattoo moisturized and protected from the sun. The skin underneath that tattoo still needs some love as it heals. 

How Do You Tell if a Tattoo Isn't Healing Properly?
Temporary redness, oozing, flaking, and soreness are typical signs of tattoo healing. But if you develop an infection or allergic reaction, it can affect proper healing. Signs your tattoo isn't healing correctly include.105
Persistent redness: Skin shouldn't stay red for weeks or start to darken or spread.  
Green or yellow fluid: Pus oozing from your tattoo is a sign of infection.
Persistent swollen skin: Skin on or around the tattoo shouldn't look puffy for weeks, which indicates an allergy to tattoo ink. 
Hives: These itchy, raised welts are a sign of an allergic reaction to your tattoo and can occur a few days or weeks after getting a tattoo. 
Scarring: Tattoos will scab and heal but should never scar.
Fever or chills: Tattoo infections or allergic reactions can cause flu-like symptoms.
When to Contact a Healthcare Provider
See your healthcare provider if you experience any signs of a tattoo infection or allergic reaction. Waiting to seek help can further damage your tattoo and cause severe health issues. 

Tattoo infections can occur immediately or months after getting a tattoo.5 Unhygienic tattoo practices—like using needles that aren't sterile or ink contaminated with bacteria or mold—can cause serious infections. Even ink that is sealed can be contaminated. A tattoo infection can require months of antibiotics—or even hospitalization in worse-case scenarios.4 Signs of a tattoo infection include:5

Painful bumps
Spreading rash
You can experience allergic reactions days or months after getting a tattoo. Allergic reactions can be trickier to treat since the ink is permanent. Allergic reactions are often isolated to specific colors of ink, like red. People can also have an allergic tattoo reaction after antiretroviral treatment for HIV or joint-replacement surgery. Seek medical attention ASAP if you have signs of a severe allergic reaction, like:5

Racing heart
Chest tightness
Shortness of breath
Intense swelling
Hives or rash