Immediately after getting a brand new tattoo, grab a picture of it before the artist wraps it up – this is the best it’s going to look until it’s fully healed, and once it’s wrapped you’ll need to leave the covering on for 1-2 hours.
Once this initial time has passed and you’re safely home, it’s time to begin treatment of your fresh ink. Unwrap the tattoo slowly, as the bandage/plastic wrap will usually stick to the wound and have a decent covering of blood, ink, and plasma on it. No worries, as this is completely normal for the first 24 hours.
The key to a long-lasting, comfortably-healing tattoo is to take gentle but regular care of it during the first few days of healing. After removing the initial bandage, make sure to gently clean the area with fragrance-free soap (such as Dial Gold) and warm water, taking care to blot the area rather than rub it. The tattoo will be tender to touch during this time, but will still look clear after it’s been cleaned up. Make sure to finish the cleaning routine with another light covering of A & D ointment (or your preferred medical ointment).
The second day, your new tattoo will look and feel similar to the day prior. The biggest thing you’ll notice is a drastic decrease in blood, ink, and plasma on your bandaging – while you’ll still see some as you clean the area, it should be significantly less than the first day. The actual tattoo may develop a red hue around its edges during this time as well, depending on its location and if it’s irritated at all from clothing and/or movement. Regardless, it will still look clean and smooth after fresh cleanings.
By the fourth day, you can typically begin transitioning from a medical ointment into something simpler, such as fragrance-free lotion. The tattoo may begin developing small areas of scabbing and still have a red hue depending on irritation, but it won’t be quite as tender to the touch as it was during the first few days of healing.
By day five, the tattoo will usually be trying to scab over. While not every tattoo develops into scabbing, they will typically begin feeling tight as the skin is healing itself. This can be a different type of tenderness depending on clothing and location of the area, but routinely putting lotion on the tattoo will help some with any discomfort and give moisture to the area to prevent it from cracking.
By the end of the first week, your tattoo will typically be starting to peel, much like a sunburn, and any scabs will have fully formed as well. Skin may still feel tight, but more noticeably will begin to itch quite a bit as the fresh skin is healing underneath. It is vital to not scratch or pick at the tattoo during this time, as any scabs or peeling skin that are pulled off prematurely will take ink with it, resulting in splotchiness that will need to be touched up once fully healed.
Whether your tattoo is scabbing, peeling, or both, it is ideal to not pick at or scratch at the tattoo. Continue to apply lotion regularly, and if the itching is too much to deal with, try scratching your regular skin around the tattoo or tapping the tattoo itself to help alleviate the discomfort.
By this point, skin may be flaking off on its own – most noticeably during cleaning and/or showering. This is natural, and while the flakes of skin that come off may be the same color as the tattoo ink, it won’t be taking any pigment out of the skin as long as it’s been taken care of properly. The key is to let your body flake off the excess skin on its own – never pick at or tear skin prematurely so as to avoid damaging the tattoo.
A little over two weeks in, the tattoo will be virtually finished healing. There may be some white areas of skin that are dryer than others, but continue to apply lotion and keep the area hydrated to combat this. For the most part, however, the tattoo will typically be close to fully healed by now, albeit on very fresh, new skin.
Nearly three weeks after the tattoo, your fresh ink should be virtually good-to-go. By this point, the skin will be fresh and new, but should no longer have any discomfort or scabbing to worry about. At this point, you’ll be able to see if any areas need to be touched up, which most artists will typically do about a month after the initial session.