Tattoo Tales: Healing, and everything they don’t tell you about scabs.

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Tattoo Tales

So in my previous tattoo blogs I’ve talked about everything from picking a shop, to designing the tattoo and the actual sitting for it. Whenever you look at aftercare or when your artist tells you about it, the process usually involves a little washing, a little moisturizer and that’s it.

Aftercare is much more. And a whole lot they don’t tell you about.

This falls into two categories. The large scale tattoos, and the smaller ones.

For most tattoos the process is fairly simple. You’ll go home, leaving the bandages on for as long as you can. An hour or two at the least. When the artist finishes the tattoo, they slather it with a rich ointment. It’s not good to doctor a tattoo with it, but in those first few hours it helps to keep the skin pliable.

I shower and wash my new tattoos. Allowing water to run over it to break up dried blood and the ointment makes it easier to wash the skin. At most, use a washrag. The skin will be very sensitive, but it’s necessary.

One of the things the artist should tell you about, is avoiding direct sunlight. I can tell you from experience that it hurts like the worst sunburn ever to be standing around in the sun with a fresh tattoo.

You’ll be told to not soak the tattoo and that’s important. Why? Because maintaining the scab is important. The healing of a tattoo, especially something bigger, is not a pretty process. You need to keep the scab in place so that the skin heals with as little breaking or peeling away of the scab as possible. The reason behind this is that when you pull off the scab, you bleed and therefore loose ink making the healed tattoo splotchy and uneven as far as the color goes.

In order to keep the scab soft and pliant, use lotion or another one of the more expensive tattoo aftercare products. In the following days, apply lotion every one to two hours. At first it’s going to be uncomfortable and very raw. Wearing lose clothing makes it more comfortable.

For line work, the tattoo won’t be that bad and generally heals in about five days. Everything else can take up to two weeks.

When I had my arm done, I had a problem with swelling. I didn’t elevate my arm the days after the tattoo was done and it swelled – huge. I wound up wrapping my entire arm after slathering it with lotion and keeping it up.

The thing no one ever warns you about, is that after five days, if your tattoo is bigger, the itching will begin. This is usually when the skin has healed up enough that you will have a solid scab, not just bare skin. The itching will be bad. I try to pat my skin and apply lotion. The hardest part of a tattoo, is this phase. The itching and then the peeling of the skin that will inevitably come.

And yes, when your skin peels, it will be the color of the tattoo and not flesh toned.

You’ll have two to three peeling phases.  One that’s a lumpy scab, usually sluffing off around two weeks after the tattoo and then a thinner scab a few weeks later. It’s important to keep on using lotion to make the skin more pliant and healthy.

Eventually the skin will be completely healed in roughly four to six weeks and you’re good to go!

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