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Tattoo Scabbing | What's Normal and What is Alarming

Posted by Drew Plotkin (Chief Dude Officer) on

Dude!

You did it!

You sat like a champ while getting your tattoo, listened to your artist’s aftercare instructions (or followed our epic tattoo aftercare guide), and everything looks and feels great, but you’re starting to see what appears to be scabs develop over your tattoo.

You’ve heard that scabs will occur, but maybe you’re wondering just what exactly these alleged tattoo scabs are supposed to look like?

Will they look like light scabs from a mild sunburn, or will they look like the brutal scabs you got on your knees and elbows as a kid when you crashed hard on your bike? (Or from that prison shivving you don’t like to talk about. We understand dude. #respect)

Let’s take a closer look at myths and facts about tattoo scabs so we know what’s normal and what’s “holy crap; we need to go to the hospital, STAT!”

Normal Tattoo Peeling Abnormal Tattoo Scabbing
Normal Tattoo Peeling
Abnormal Tattoo Scabbing

What is Normal Tattoo Scabbing?

Ok so here is the pickle with tattoo scabbing.

It's actually NOT good or normal for tattoos to scab but people think it is and commonly misuse the term scabbing to describe what is in reality, - skin flaking or skin peeling..

A scab is a protective tissue covering that forms after your skin has been damaged. When you scrape your knee or skin, a blood clot forms and eventually hardens into a protective crust.

Tattoos all FLAKE when they are new and healing, usually around 4-5 days after your tattoo session. Flaking or peeling is good and a sign of healing. You want the dead skin to ‘drop off’ so a new, happy layer of protective skin can form naturally and create a protective barrier for you and your new tattoo. Remember, Never pull and pick at these skin flakes. Just keep the area clean and hydrated and let the flakes fall off naturally.

Normal Tattoo Peeling Abnormal Tattoo Scabbing

IF a normal flaking tattoo gets infected or picked at, THEN, it can scab, which is more likely to leave a permanent scar. Other factors that can cause an otherwise healthy, healing tattoo to form a scab are exposure to saltwater, pool water, or sun exposure.

Until your tattoo is fully healed, it’s important to avoid swimming or exposure to the sun. Trust me, dude. It’s not worth the risk - just be patient.

Skin peeling or flaking is a very normal part of the healing process after getting tattooed.

Is Tattoo Itching Normal?

The most annoying part of the new tattoo healing process is the dreaded ‘new tattoo itch. The ‘drying-out’ process can create an itchy sensation. It is, indeed, very normal to the tattoo healing process. Proper tattoo aftercare is the key to minimizing this annoying itch while also helping to heal and preserve the look and detail of your new artwork.

A lot of people ask if it's ok to scratch and pick at light tattoo scabs or flakes?

NO!! Absolutely not!

Do not pick at, scratch, or slap your new tattoo, no matter how badly you want to. 

Resisting the urge to pick at the peeling skin can be difficult, but think of the time, pain, and money you’ve put into your tattoo. Don't ruin it when you’re in the home stretch.

I’ve seen a lot of people try the slapping method since it technically isn’t scratching.

Don’t do it, don’t go to the dark side. Your itchy tattoo will betray you, dude!

For one, once you start, it’s really difficult to stop. The more you do it, the worst the itch will get.

And two, slapping or tapping can cause just as much damage as scratching. You’ll break the protective cover, which can cause ink loss and infection.

You’ve earned every drop of your amazing new ink. Don’tscrew it up in a moment of weakness.

One of the best ways to combat an itchy tattoo is with tattoo aftercare products. It moisturizes and nourishes new tattoos to aid healing, but remember, NEVER use petroleum-based products.

Petroleum products were popular for tattoo aftercare for a while but by now most people realize petroleum smothers your skin and in its existing moisture. Tattoos need to breathe, and if not allowed to breathe, your scabs will turn soggy, letting bacteria and foreign debris get into your new tattoo, which could easily cause infection.

If you’re struggling with an itchy tattoo, check out our How To Properly Scratch An Itchy Tattoo guide to help you through it.

Is Tattoo Peeling Normal?

Let’s first ask ourselves, do all tattoos lightly peel or flake?

Yes, they do.

If your tattoo consists mainly of thin light line work, you’ll experience lighter flaking that falls off on its own in a relatively short period of time.

Normal Tattoo Peeling Abnormal Tattoo Scabbing
normal tattoo peeling red tattoo
Possibly infected tattoo

If your tattoo covers a large area with lots of detail that required the artist to work the same place multiple times, your skin should produce a higher amount of flaking and peeling but still should be nowhere near the scab type associated with a bike crash.

Most skin flaking forms around the three-day mark when the plasma from your blood has had the chance to build up and dry out, creating what can look like a light scab. But again in most cases, this is really just skin flaking or peeling and not an actual crusted-over scab.

Is Tattoo Scabbing Cause For Alarm?

It could be. As I said before, having actual scabs form over your new tattoo is not the norm with new tattoos that are healing properly. Very light flaking or peeling is normal, but don’t confuse that with a scab. There are several things to watch out for when things are starting to go wrong.

  • Your skin is red and inflamed around the edges of a crusted scab
  • Excessive pain around the tattoo that isn’t decreasing with time
  • Oozing pus and blood after 48 hours
  • Excessive swelling
  • An extremely bad sign is you’re running a fever, which could be a sign of infection.

If you start to experience any of these signs, consider seeing a medical doctor asap.

Waiting too long to treat a tattoo could result in infection. Staying on top of your tattoo aftercare from the outset is one of the best ways to avoid problems in the first place.

The best way to do that is with our Aftercare + Brightening Tattoo Balm. With 20 plant nourishing oils and butters, it will help heal, protect, and brighten your tattoos. Plus, it smells AMAZING.

Conclusion:

Skin flaking and peeling is a perfectly normal part of the tattoo healing process. Just remember, DON’T pick and scratch at them; you’ll be fine. Mind over matter. If you start to see signs of infection,see a doctor.

To avoid any sort of aftercare complications, keep your tattoo properly moisurized and minimize exposure to unknown water sources and sunlight.

Once your tattoo is fully healed, purchase our Brighten and Protect Bundle to keep your tattoos looking sharp and safe from the sun.

- Drew Plotkin (Chief Dude Officer)

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4 comments

  • Nicholle on

    This article is so helpful! So good to know especially if your new in the tattoo world!

  • JD on

    Abnormal tattoo scabbing can easily turn into a serious situation. It’s so hard not to pick at it too.

  • Benny Cole on

    You can always tell when someone had a tattoo that scabbed when it was new too. A lot of old-timers tattoos have that speckled look – back before tattoo aftercare was even a thing, lol.

  • Kevin on

    Great article. I’m constantly arguing with people about this subject. Tattoo scabbing is definitely not normal for a healthy healing tattoo.

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