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How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?

Taking proper care of your tattoo will keep it looking its best.

Taking proper care of your tattoo will keep it looking its best.

How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?

Tristan Hoag

By Tristan Hoag on February 13, 2018

To get the best tattoo, you need to consider things like how long does it take for a tattoo to heal and how to take proper care of a tattoo

You wake up, and from the feeling in your head, you must have had quite a night. From the ache on your gauze-wrapped shoulder, though, you can guess that you also have some work to do. It was one of those nights! This is when you need to start asking yourself: how long does it take for a tattoo to heal?
 
Regardless of how you decided to get your tattoo, or if you can even remember making the choice, you're hardly alone. Once the realm of sailors and biker gangs, tattoos are becoming more commonplace and have lost some of the social stigma they once carried. As an increasing portion of the population is sporting ink, this is resulting in an increase in tattoo-related injuries and diseases.

Learning how to take care of a new tattoo will shorten the healing time and help to prevent you from becoming a part of these statistics!

Caring for a new tattoo


Standard tattoo healing time is usually two to four weeks. During that time, you should be keeping the tattoo clean, moisturized and protected.

When the tattoo is finished: Apply a covering of white petroleum ointment like Vaseline or Aquafor, and cover it with a bandage. This will usually be done before you leave the tattoo studio.

Three to five hours later: Remove the bandage and gently wash the tattooed area with soap and water. Gently pat it dry with a clean towel, then let it air dry for five to 10 minutes. When the skin is dry, apply a thin layer of ointment.

For the next four days: You should wash the tattoo and add ointment three to four times per day.

When the skin on the tattoo starts to flake: Don’t scratch or pick at the tattoo, and don’t let it dry out for the first few weeks. You can switch from Vaseline to a moisturizer at this point.

Note: Never scratch, pick, or scrub the area, as this can damage your tattoo. Avoid antibacterial soaps as they can sometimes cause your skin to react.

What could go wrong with a tattoo?


While your tattoo is healing, your post tattoo care habits can have a great deal of consequences, both for your tattoo and your health.

Health concerns:

Although tattoos are often obtained on a whim, they can still represent a potential health risk. You are still introducing foreign particles into the skin, and this brings some health risks with it. If you have a fresh tattoo and you experience:

  • Rash
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pus draining
  • A fever

You should see your physician as these are all signs of a possible infection and should be dealt with immediately.
In addition to the risk of normal infection, although most states place some regulation on tattooing and other forms of body art, only 11 require licensure for tattoo artists.  While tattoo artists in general take their craft and the associated medical risks very seriously, you can’t always assume that an artist has been trained in proper safety techniques. Poor infection control while tattooing can contribute to the spread of diseases such as Hepatitis C.

The risk extends beyond the realm of individual tattoo artists, as well. The FDA doesn’t regulate the production of tattoo inks, and only intervenes when there is an outbreak. Some inks have been found to carry bacteria such as Mycobacterium chelonae that had managed to get in during the manufacturing process.

Aesthetic concerns:

Typically, people don’t get tattoos wanting them to end up looking bad. If you don’t take proper care of your tattoo during the healing process, it is the artwork that will pay the first price. According to Lindsay Baker, a tattoo artist at Niteowl Tattoo in Northhampton, MA:


"The healing period is the most vulnerable time of a Tattoo’s life. The ultimate goal is to preserve the look of the tattoo when it was first finished. There are many things that can affect this. If the tattoo isn’t cleaned regularly, the wearer runs the risk of infection which can completely destroy the tattoo. Scabs, if picked, can pull pigment as well as new skin from the area which will result in a loss of color or pigment without a doubt. If a scab occurs, the best thing to do is to let it either dry out or put a little lotion on the scab until it falls off on its own. A scab doesn’t necessarily mean anything terrible will happen to the Tattoo. If the scab is left alone then it is allowing the new skin under it to develop and become strong enough to push the scab off when it’s ready."

When you get a tattoo, you are placing your health and your appearance in the hands of the artist. Learning how to recognize the difference between a good tattoo artist and a potential epidemic is the best way to ensure that you get the best results from your tattoo.

Finding a reputable tattoo artist


If you’re not sure whether you got your tattoo from a reputable artist, or if you are considering additional tattoos in the future, you should consider the following:

  • Check with the state department of public health to see if licensure is required in your state, and to see if the studio you are looking at is registered. You can also ask if any complaints have been lodged.
  • Ask about the shop’s sterilization processes.
  • The artist should be using single use ‘throw-away’ kits.
  • Be sure the artist uses a new needle for each session.
  • Your artist should wear disposable gloves and use fresh disposable towels during the session.
  • Watch the artist work and make sure that he or she is being careful to avoid contamination.
  • The work area should be clean and free of clutter and stains.
  • Ask about the ink being used; the ink should be in single use-containers and come from a reputable source.

If you have any concerns about the artist’s safety or the cleanliness of the parlor, you should think hard before letting them pierce your skin. As with any of the other decisions regarding permanent body art, not taking the time to do your research can have consequences!

The answer to the question ‘how long does it take for a tattoo to heal’ depends in a large part on how you treat it. The better care you take, the faster your skin will recover, and the better your tattoo will look.

How long does it take a tattoo to heal? Get a fast answer to medical questions like these from the medical Experts on JustAnswer – without the wait for a doctor appointment!


    What was your best or worst tattooing experience? Tell us about it in the comments!