How long it takes a tattoo to heal can vary. While many factors can affect the healing process, it typically takes 2–4 weeks for a tattoo to heal.

While the entire healing process can take several months, the initial healing usually takes a couple of weeks.

During this time, it is vital that people follow the correct aftercare instructions and avoid or limit certain activities that could negatively affect recovery.

In this article, we will discuss the tattoo healing process and the factors that may affect it. We will also provide some aftercare tips.

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The healing process is different for every person and tattoo. Most sources indicate that tattoos generally take about 2 weeks to heal.

However, it may take up to 4 weeks for the skin to fully recover. Some complications may prolong the healing process.

The following is what a person can typically expect.

Day 1

Usually, individuals leave the tattoo studio with the tattooed area bandaged or wrapped in plastic. The tattoo artist will advise when to remove the dressing, which is typically 1–2 hours later.

People often see clear liquid oozing from the tattoo mixed with excess ink, which is normal. The skin may also feel sore and be slightly warm and red.

People should clean their hands, gently wash the tattoo with fragrance-free soap, and apply a water-based moisturizer.

Some tattoo artists may also recommend that people rewrap the tattoo for the first night. This may prevent the tattoo from staining clothing or bedding or sticking to sheets when a person is asleep.

Week 1

After a few days, the tattoo should begin to feel less sore and red. A person may notice their tattoo appears duller than it did initially. This appearance is not a cause for concern but a sign that the tattoo is healing.

Sometimes, as the skin is healing, people may notice some scabbing. It is important not to pick the scabs, as this can lead to scarring. At this stage, people may also begin to notice skin feeling itchy. However, it is important to refrain from scratching it.

Peeling is also a normal part of the healing process, as the skin rids itself of damaged cells. This can start a few days after having the tattoo, as the skin exfoliates, and new cells grow.

People may notice peeling or flaking skin when washing the tattoo. They should continue to wash and moisturize the tattoo 1–2 times per day.

The first few days and weeks are when allergic reactions to tattoo ink and potential infections are most likely to occur.

Week 2

The scabs are usually harder at this stage and may flake off naturally. It remains important not to pick the scabs, as it can disturb the underlying ink.

Many tattoos may be close to healing at this point. People should notice a reduction in redness and itching.

However, if the tattoo is still sore and swollen, it may indicate inflammation and infection. If this happens, a person should consult a healthcare professional immediately.

Weeks 3 and 4

Most of the scabs and peeling skin should have gone at this stage. People should continue to moisturize the skin to hydrate it if it feels dry.

The outer layers of the skin should have healed entirely, as they are the fastest to regenerate. The lower layers of the skin may take several months to heal.

An essential factor that influences the healing process is choosing a reputable tattoo studio that practices good aseptic techniques.

Poor tattoo hygiene can cause infections that slow healing and can lead to severe health issues.

For example, older research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that people can acquire infections from unlicensed premises and contaminated ink.

A 2016 study investigating the risk of infection with tattoos suggests that 0.5–6% of people may experience infectious complications. Choosing a reputable tattoo studio and closely following aftercare guidelines can reduce the likelihood of infection.

Therefore, it is important to choose a tattooist who adheres to state licensing laws. Federal law does not cover tattoo licensing. However, the National Conference of State Legislatures publish the requirements that are in place in different states.

The artist’s skill also affects the healing time, as rough or poor techniques can cause additional skin trauma.

The size and location of the tattoo can have an impact on healing as well. For example, tattoos near joints or areas that flex will take longer to heal than those in areas that do not move as much. Also, larger tattoos will take longer to heal than smaller ones.

Additionally, the type of tattooing device and color of ink can also affect healing time. For example, red pigments are more likely to cause delayed hypersensitivity reactions and slow the healing process.

Exposing a new tattoo to sunlight can cause fading, and the ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause a tattoo to scab over, which can interfere with healing. People should avoid sunbathing and other types of sun exposure for 1–3 weeks while the tattoo heals.

A tattoo is an open wound and is therefore vulnerable to infection. Typically, before the wound heals completely, tattoo artists recommend people avoid certain activities.

These can include strenuous activities that may involve sweating and moving the tattoo, such as working out, or submerging the tattoo in water, such as having a bath or a swim.

In rare cases, people with new tattoos can contract severe infections from water, including strains of flesh-eating bacteria.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommend the following tips to allow for proper tattoo healing:

  • Moisturize with a suitable cream: It is best to use a water-based cream or lotion to moisturize the tattoo and surrounding skin if dry. People should not use petroleum-based products, as they can cause fading.
  • Protect the tattoo from the sun: Tattoos may fade if people expose them to too much sunlight. People should apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. It is advisable to apply it at least 15 minutes before going outside and reapply it every couple of hours.
  • Avoid using tanning beds: UV lighting devices, such as sunlamps and tanning beds, can fade tattoos. They also increase the risk of developing skin cancer. In some individuals, UV light can cause a painful reaction in the tattooed skin.
  • Do not tattoo over moles: When getting a new tattoo, people should choose an area of skin with no moles on it. Otherwise, a tattoo could hide early symptoms of skin cancer and lead to a delay in seeking treatment.
  • Wash the tattoo: It is important to wash the tattoo regularly and gently with fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, antibacterial soap. People should also lightly pat the skin dry with a paper towel before applying a cream.

Learn more about aftercare tips here.

It is normal to experience some redness and swelling after having a tattoo. However, people should consult a healthcare professional if they notice any of the following unexpected symptoms:


If the tattoo is more red and painful or has pus or open sores, it is a sign it has become infected. If a person has a fever or chills, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Allergic reaction

People can develop an allergic reaction to a tattoo at any time, even years later.

A person should seek professional help if the tattooed skin becomes itchy, red, or swollen or has scaly patches or lumps.

If a person has a severe reaction in the form of breathing difficulties, dizziness, or rapid heartbeat, they should seek emergency medical attention.

Skin disease

Tattoos may trigger or exacerbate skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema, either on the tattooed skin or elsewhere on the body. If people notice any flare-ups or changes in their skin, it is advisable to contact a healthcare professional.

A tattoo will usually take 2–4 weeks to heal. During this time, it is important people closely follow aftercare guidance to ensure their tattoo heals and to avoid complications.

If the tattoo develops an infection or excessive inflammation, it can slow the healing process. If a person has concerns about how their tattoo is healing, they should seek guidance from a doctor.