How to Heal a Tattoo with No Scabbing

New tattoo: Staying fresh under plastic wrap.
New tattoo: Staying fresh under plastic wrap. | Source

Tattoo Scabs: Good or Bad?

During the first few days after having that fresh ink pounded into your skin, you're prone to scabbing, and if you've ever been tattooed before, you know how annoying that scab can be.

Yes, scabbing is a natural part of the healing process. Yes, it's normal and healthy. The problem with scabbing is that even if you can control the urge to itch during the day, when you hit the hay at night, sometimes you just can't control that urge! You may wake up with scabby ink bits under your fingernails and chunks of ink missing from your precious work of art.

Another thing that can happen is that clothing or blankets might get caught on the rough scabby edges and rip them off. No, there's nothing wrong with scabs, unless you're hoping to avoid bloody messes and tattoo touch-ups.

One time, my cat clawed through my fresh scabby tattoo, and not only did it not feel pretty but it didn't look pretty, either. I had to get the tattoo touched up because my cat left a not-so-sexy claw mark right through it!

Tattoo-In-Progress. | Source

How to Heal a Tattoo: The Controversy

I've heard many different aftercare tips and techniques. Some tell you to use soap, some tell you not to. There are those who believe that keeping the tattoo wrapped keeps it safe and there are others who think that bandages are for sissies. Some say wrapping the fresh tattoo with plastic wrap is the smartest thing they did while others scream about how stupid that is. It can be very confusing when deciding what to do or use during the healing time. I'm not an expert, but I do have experience, and I'll tell you what worked for me.

As a professional piercer, I've always scoffed at the use of Bactine (a first-aid antiseptic), so when I heard about it being used to wash tattoos instead of glycerin, I admit I scoffed. But anything was worth a try at least once. I was told to wash my new tattoo with soap and water and put antibiotic ointment or lanolin cream on it. Later, I learned that these treatments may not be the best aftercare methods since a lot of people can have reaction to such creams, especially lanolin. So if you have an allergic reaction, these products will certainly not work for you.

When people have problems with aftercare products, they often assume that they're infected and start taking unnecessary measures that can result in their tattoo not healing properly or needing unnecessary touch-ups. Some will tell you to just wash it with water, no soap, but in my experience, you should definitely use some sort of soap or cleanser, it just needs to be mild, without dyes or fragrance (glycerin soap is the best). Some tell you to rub it with unscented lotion or sensitive skin lotion a few times a day after washing—this does work better than ointment, but you will most likely still end up with some scabbing.


Healing Tattoos Cleanly: What Worked for Me

So I tried to keep an open mind. I tried all the suggestions and here's what has worked like a charm for me. I haven't had a tattoo scab in over three years using this method. Obviously, you should follow your tattoo artist's instructions but there are some basic ground rules that always apply:

  • always wash your hands with soap and water before touching your tattoo,
  • no scratching or picking,
  • wear loose and clean clothing,
  • no sun or tanning beds,
  • no soaking in baths or hot tubs, etc.

Here's what works for me:

1. After being tattooed, make sure that your artist gives you a bandage. If they don't, they don't know what they are doing. You do not want any infection to enter your bloodstream through your open surface wound. Leave the bandage on until you're ready to go to bed and at this point, just wash your tattoo with a bit of cool water, rubbing lightly with your hands (never use anything except your hands!), then cover it with an antiseptic, antibacterial lotion, cover it with plastic wrap, and go to sleep.

2. In the morning when you take off the plastic wrap, it will be slimy and your tattoo will be coated in white blood cells. Again, rinse it with cool water (mmmm feels so good!), dry it by dabbing with clean paper towel. Rub some unscented lotion on it and let it get some air! Let it air for an hour or longer and then then cover it with an antiseptic, antibacterial lotion and plastic-wrap it again.

3. In about 4-6 hours or so, when the plastic wrap is all slimy again, repeat step 2 and air it again. Keep repeating the process, always making sure you give it some air in between wrappings.

4. On the third day, before you go to bed, begin washing with glycerin soap and water, making sure you always rinse it clean (don't leave any soapy residue). Dab it dry lightly with clean paper towel, rub it with a tiny bit of unscented lotion, and wear something light and breathable, preferably made of cotton, to cover it while you sleep.

5. After about a week, washing it twice a day is plenty and rubbing it with a very small amount of lotion after dabbing dry with clean paper towels will work very well (make sure you don't overdo the lotion!). Continue this aftercare for the next 2-3 weeks until the initial healing period of your tattoo is over and done with!

Brand new tattoo: Still healing.
Brand new tattoo: Still healing. | Source

Happy Healing

Phew! When you're done, wipe the sweat from your brow and sit back and enjoy a lifetime of your beautiful piece of artwork that you didn't have to see turn into a scabby mess!

If you don't think that this aftercare process is worth the time and energy, don't bother getting tattooed or if you already have a way that works for you, of course do it that way! This is just what works for me (as well as my friends) after many years of receiving tattoos and trying different forms of aftercare, I just wanted to share it in case it may work for anyone else.

For those of you who haven't been tattooed and are interested in receiving a tattoo, before you make that decision, know that it is a bigger commitment than meets the eye.

Good luck and happy healing!

What works for you?

  • I think the plastic wrap works great.
  • I skip the bandages and let it air out.
See results without voting

What's the most important ingredient for healing a tattoo right?

  • Fresh air.
  • Keeping it bandaged.
  • Lotion of some kind.
  • Antibacterial or antiseptic lotion.
  • Aloe vera.
  • Time heals all wounds.
See results without voting

More by this Author

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    A professional body piercer shares her tips-of-the-trade for how to make sure your piercing heals quickly and well, including daily cleansing routine pointers and how to avoid and treat infections.

Comments 34 comments

WAfi 3 years ago

hey I'm from bangladesh and due to the lack of pro tattoo artist in here I had to do them myself with the "stick n poke" method.I've done two of them and they turned out to be great but...due to scabbing not a single drop of ink is left in my skin...I donno if its the ink or else but the skabbing ruined every attempt I made.

for after care the only things in here I have access to is vaseline and dettol (anti bacterial/mild soap).

what should I do to avoid scabbing?

Camilla Newman profile image

Camilla Newman 3 years ago from Spring, Texas

i've used this method and it works awesome. WAfi the stick n poke method takes forever! lol. a lot of what helps with this method is the plastic wrap and rinsing off the accumulated white blood cells underneath. keeping them covered helps them to stay moist so you can rinse them away after taking the wrap off, this way the pus and blood dont dry and turn to scabs. idk what all you have in bangladesh, but some sort of plastic covering(plastic wrap, clean plastic bags) cold water, glycerin soap(you can tell its glycerin because it will be a clear-ish looking bar most of the time), and some sort of antiseptic(spray, soap, cream) doesn't have to be these brands but just those main components. ive heard vaseline can pull the ink out of the skin... idk. im sure you have some of these in bangladesh?

Tess 3 years ago

I recently got my thigh tattooed. Love it large piece of art, however around day 3 ish I was in bed sick for 2 days straight, barely moved let alone got out of bed to wash and re lotion my fresh ink. now i am pretty sure the scabbed ink has now healed back onto my thigh and it is all patchy and discolored. I am so upset and don't really know what to do. Please if you have any advice I desperately need to hear it. I sat for 11 1/2 hours for this and I am so worried it is completely ruined. e-mail me

Laura 2 years ago

I got tattooed last week, and since my last tattoo didn't heal properly, I upped the ante on proper aftercare. First I bought aquaphor, dove soap, st. Ives, aloe vera gel with lidocaine, vitamins A, Biotin, D, and E, and I drank aloe vera juice with precise regularity. I applied aquaphor 3 times a day, washed with the moisturizing soap, applied st. Ives moisturizer every other time it felt dry, and the aloe gel in alternation. It DIDN'T SCAB and the colors took beautifully. I wish I had done this before. I have to get one of my tattooes touched up, because of improper aftercare

Anastasia 2 years ago

This is all wrong and horrible advice. When you get home take off your bandages and do not put anything like plastic anymore. A tattoo needs to. Breath like any other cut or burn.

A girl with 20+ tattoos.

Meg 2 years ago

Please nobody take this advise! As the poster said before, never ever ever wrap your tattoo with plastic wrap!!! This is why the artist covers it with the bandage!!! And not the plastic wrap. Tattoos are supposed to scab, all mine have and are beautiful. If your gonna get a tattoo you need to suck it up and live with the scabs, it's what the whole healing process is all about. Gotta get a touch up? Big deal. They're usually free anyways and part of getting tattoos in the first place.

Dex Etherton 2 years ago

I have NEVER scabbed, and I have no idea why anyone would say you will.

However, wrapping a tattoo over night for the first 2 nights or so is a very good idea! I have always done it, when you remove the film, the ink is still wet underneath (that which comes through) and you can wash it off. If its not goes hard and 'scabs'....

clean it 3 times a day and use a thin layer or bepanthan. I gave the same advice to friends and family, and NONE of their tattoos have ever scabbed.

Bethany 2 years ago

To each their own, this is actually very similar to the healing method suggested by a well known tattoo artist from Canada who tattooed my friend years ago. She heals all of her tattoos with basically this same method ever since and they are beautiful.

I tried this on my last tattoo and it healed a lot faster and no crusting up, just some very light flaking and less itching! All the colour stayed in beautifully, which I can say didn't happen on my previous tattoos which were left unbandaged and followed to a T the aftercare laid out by the artist.

I think it's really personal preference and different bodies. If this person had success with this healing method it was nice of them to share it, if you have a method that already works for you why are you searching out other methods? @Meg

This method worked well for me, and I have linked a few of my friends to it also! Thanks for sharing! :)

Cody 2 years ago

Do not cover your tattoo multiple times like this related says. 2-4 hours after you get it done the wrap comes off and stays off.

Cosmic 2 years ago

It's so simple, apply bepanthen (nappy rash cream) 2-3 times a day and wrap in cling film at night, your tattoo will be almost fully healed in a week. I have used other methods such as savlon and even preparation H!

I have many tattoos and currently in process of a colour music themed 3/4 sleeve and this method is the best by far!

ReeRee 2 years ago

so what you're saying is wrap it in plastic whilst it's healing which will cause it to get sweaty and wet and it's supposed to be good for it?? Not to mention the bacteria that will grow in this wet warm environment! This is the worst advice I've ever read for tattoo after care!

Boo 2 years ago

People are crazy haha. Wrapping the tattoo again for the first 3 days or so works great. It helps keep the tattoo moist. You do not want to dry it out first few days contrary to what some are saying. And as long as you don't keep it on for too long and rinse with the orange soap you'll be fine. I also like the bactine method with VERY little lotion/ointment only to refresh a dried out tattoo.

Tat master 2 years ago

This us hilarious...listening to anyone other that your tattoo artist is a mistake. All professionals recommend you take any bandage and wrap off immediately when you get home. It's only applied to keep bacteria from entering your tattoo during your commute home.

Toss the bandage or plastic wrap, keep it clean with using soap and water, after it's dry use an antibacterial cream like aquaphor or a&d for 3 days then switch to a none scented lotion. Keep lotioning it as you feel or see it dry. You absolutely want to keep it moist, not wet, not slimy, but you also want it to breathe. Hence a think layer rubbed into the skin with some open air and your artwork will remain fresh and heal perfectly.

Scanning has to do with the tattooing itself and the amount of bleeding. Most people who took a pain pill, aspirin or drank alcohol before their tattoo or just have thinner blood, bleed more than those that don't. With an experienced tattoo artist, you should bleed to a minimum assuming you didn't take any crap before starting your piece. Time and clean air heals all wounds. Wrapping them is a bad idea as is lacking on crap the suffocates it from breathing.

Time and air, trust me, I'm a 25 year tattoo artist. Worse case scenario, you get it touched up by a pro and follow instructions the second time.

Jersey 2 years ago

Terrible advice . Just terrible :(

IndigoMoon 2 years ago

This method absolutely works. I am baffled by the large amount of people who are downing it just because of the wrapping factor. It actually works amazingly , my very first tattoo artist told me about the method and my tattoos are 7 years later are as bright as when I first got them.

Miguel Monteiro profile image

Miguel Monteiro 21 months ago

Hello i from Lisbon Portugal and my tattoos are all black and grey. After a wash my tattoo but I never dry with paper, I let the tattoo let dry in the open, this way my tattoos are really black and different than most, I have tattoos they seam new not with years as everybody ... If this make any sense...this is my trick , regards

Villaingrrl 20 months ago

I have 8 tattoos, two are very large pieces that almost completely cover my left arm. My last 4 were done by the same artist. His aftercare instructions for large pieces are 4 days of plastic wrap, washing and appying A&D every four hours and re-wrapping.

All my pieces have healed quickly and beautifully. Ive never had any scabbing or itching and after the wraps come off minimal peeling and the colors are as bright as the day they were done. I will always use saran wrap.

My other tattoos (no saran wrap) didn't heal nearly as quick and the color is nowhere as bright as they should be.

Ryan 19 months ago

Had many tattoos giving this method a try. Every time I usually just use lotion whole time but this makes sense. Try it once and you won't go back

Megz 18 months ago

The plastic they wrap you in is supposed to get you home! Then you take it off. Keeping a wound/tattoo wrapped in plastic will cause it to stay moist and bacteria loves moisture. Please do not do this. It greatly increases your risk for infection. Use unscented lotions and soaps. Lotions chucked full extra stuff, even if it's good for you skin normally, could pull out or fade color.

JMITCHELL82 14 months ago

I have been getting large tattoos for almost a decade. I use the same artist but I have taken all the advice of my artist I've used for all my large pieces but everyone has different skin and all skin heals differently. I have a full color chest panel, detailed tribal work from ankles to knees on both legs, and a whole back piece. Since I am a licensed professional these types of artistic design are not really appreciated much in the "professional" workplace. Point is I have always had to keep my new piece covered by clothing as soon as I got it done. This method is similar to what I do and I have used plastic wrap on every one of my new tattoos and they are so bright, retain their color, and never had one scab in almost a decade. When I get home from getting my freshly done tattoo, I always wash my hair and face in the sink because shampoos have fragrance and other irritants in them that cause the tattoo to burn. I then get in the shower and use he same mild soap to gently was the tattoo and my other areas (you know where) quickly. I might be doing over kill on this part but I don't use bar soap because I think bacteria can sit on it despite it claiming to be antibacterial. So I use antibacterial body was and use one for sensitive skin because that type doesn't have dyes or scents to them that will burn or dry out your tattoo. I have to wear button down shirts at work and they are fairly expensive and I don't like the ink and natural body fluids that produce to make ink marks on my clothing. So after showering I let it air dry while I'm ironing my clothes or doing whatever. After its air dried I get plastic wrap and use paper tape to keep it in place. Paper tape is great because it comes off easily and does not have all the irritants other tapes have so you shouldn't get any rashes. Before I apply the plastic wrap I will put a high quality unscented lotion on very lightly. If you decide to go with plastic wrap you will have a natural moisture buildup anyway because of body heat. After four hours I wash gently with the tips of my fingers with the same soap I described earlier, and instead of lotion I spray lightly with Bactine spray. This feels amazing the first few days after. I only use this method until it begins to peel and then I leave it uncovered and apply lotion (unscented) three to four times a day until all peeling has gone away on its own. Only then will I use A&D ointment because these ointments can actually cause ink pigments to pull out of the new tattoo. The ointment only keeps you from having to apply lotion at more frequent intervals. Like I said I'm not a tattoo artist but I am a medical professional. This is only what has worked for me and kept my tattoos bright, clean, and looking great. As pretty much everyone has said before just talk to your tattoo artist about things that work best for you. He or she will tell you if it is an absolute mistake to do what you're doing. If your not comfortable talking with your tattoo artist about other aftercare techniques than he or she tells you, you're probably not going to the right person. They are artist who want their work to represent themselves in a positive way. If you screw their work up people will think it's the tattoo artist who did that to you and not you making stupid choices in your after care.

JRS 14 months ago

Its a great article.

As Roxanne said, there are various methods to do the after care.

Nobody can tell which one is better until one person have two identical tattoos that treated differently.

Im a dermatologist that have a passion on tattoos.

Currently i have some tattoos. some of my tattoos scabs and some not. unfortunately i cant compare between them due to different technique used (some use traditional thai tapping method).

Ive been reading on this topic and nothing scientific, all based on their own experience. As we know, people always resistant to changes so they usually defend their method.

In my opinion, based on many research that have been done by other practitioners, the best way to aid wound healing is to keep it moist.

Why? because originally our normal skin have the ability to retain water and after its jabbed by needle so many times, it looses the ability. This is where all the idea of using cream, ointment, until wraps is introduced. The main idea here is to trap water inside our skin.

The question now is, how moist is moist? which one is the best?

The answer is depend on yourself and also your environment, for example: how dry is your normal skin, what is your daily activity, and how is the climate where you live.

Based on this questions, we can decide which one is the best method for you. Cream, ointment, wraps have their own advantages.

Cream is easy to apply, soothe better, but sometimes it stings because it contains alcohol. while ointment is sticky but last on your skin longer than creams. Wraps have the best ability to retain water, but should not worn more than few hours.

So, there is no after care that works best for all.

In my opinion in general:

Use cream if you could apply it every 2 hours

Use ointment (like bepanthen) if you could apply it every 3-4 hours

Use wraps if you could not apply this things that often.

Do not use wraps if you sweats a lot, it will soak the wound.

About the scabs, all wounds including tattoo wound, will scabs.

What makes a difference is how big is the scabs. if you moisturize it good enough, it will produce very small scabs that usually went unnoticeable and lost during washing. If you keep the wound dry, it will form a big scabs (small scabs that stick together).

I hope this helps.

Stop killing each other just because you have different method.

August 13 months ago

stay calm and hold your horses.

1. Clean bed, clothes and etc.

2. clean wounds heal faster when Oxygenated.

I my self use a mild soape and water 2-3 times day and use good ointment with some anti bakterial properties.

dont keep it wrapped in plastic. ( has the same effect as soaking in a bath, and a plausible playground for bakteria)

Keeping the tatt clean, moist and a sprinkle of common sense should give great resualts.

Klaudia 11 months ago

I have a few tattoos and I got one done not too long ago. All my tattoos apart from the latest one I just left alone. Meaning no wrap, just the cream that's supposed to let them heal and quickly they all faded. This latest tattoo I decided to take care of differently: put cream on it and keep it covered in fling film all day, obviously changing the film every few hours, and then taking it off at night and letting it breathe. Worked perfectly and my tattoo is as bright as ever. For those saying it's a breeding ground for bacteria, yes it is. But if you take the time to wash the tat in between wraps with anti bac soap then nothing bad will happen. This article is spot on.

Hellbetty 10 months ago

guess it depends on where it's located...seems feet n hand would have to be wrapped cause they're exposed to more "dangers" unlike the parts that are covered with clothes my opinion

inkoholic 10 months ago

Before running off at the mouth saying DONT do this, DO this, im right, your wrong...blah...blah..etc. Theirs no RIGHT or WRONG way. Everyone has their personal "opinions". Roughly 90% of my skin is ink. Ive tried about all the "tricks" in the book. They all healed fine with no infections! The most important thing is keeping your tattoos CLEAN! Some scab more than others, but they all scab some. Scabbing is not bad, its a process of healing. Im gonna try not to right a book here...keep in mind, ive tried several different ways! So my (personal opinion) is to keep it covered for the first 2-5 hours while its a "fresh" open wound. These days I don't use any ointments at all...from day 1, plane jane lotion is all I use. I gently wash my tattoos with a mild soap and water with clean hands 3-4 times daily, and pat dry. I apply very little lotion several times daily. Oxygen is very good for a new tattoo! I let them air out any chance I can. I can not see how wrapping it would help any. Again just my opinion...warm, moist, sweaty, non oxygenated environment=home for bacteria to thrive in! Ive used ointments as well, I think the tattoo fades a bit more, and takes a bit longer to fully heal. If you keep your wound clean the body will naturally heal itself. I think some people get confused about all the "rights and wrongs" and forget that the body can take care of its self! Keep in mind some people are allergic or have very sensitive skin and dont know it, they dont realize their actually making the process harder to heal by adding extra products. Not realizing that theyre allergic, now the body has to work even harder to heal!

No rights or wrongs, they all work. In the end, its NOT the wrap, ointments, medications, techniques, etc, etc....Its the body that heals itself.

................................INK ON.............................................

nick 10 months ago

Im going to agree with "inkoholic" 100% I have several tattoos, my experience is the same as yours. Keep it covered for just the first few hours. Keep it clean! Little bit of lotion is all you need, just to keep it from drying out. No wraps...air is very good! My tattoos also seemed to fade more with ointments too, not a whole lot but some! Ointments also seem to slow down the healing process. I also just use regular lotion from day one, they heal faster and brighter.

Candcae 6 months ago

There is nothing wrong with this I have over 30 tattoos and healing this with a wrap makes your tattoo heal like a mouth sore. Seriously the best way to heal a tattoo for all you nay sayers

philly mike 5 months ago

I've got 13 tattoos. you know what I think is the best thing to do. Nothing ,leave them alone,period. no touché, no nothing.Worked for me!

jayo jft96 4 months ago

People its simple I have 33 tattoos, TMI, just go home wash it gently warm soapy water, pat dry, then the best 2 options are use BEPANTHEN 2/3 times a day or PALMERS COCOA BUTTER 2/3 times a day! oh an don't bath/shower it just a little light wash with your fingers gently, its so simple, please dont cling film it in bed, bacteria can breed fast, and ink can come out in the slime which should really be in you!!! If you grazed or cut yourself you wouldn't sleep in cling film to heal it, keep it simple guys an don't stress, and ENJOY.

sr113 profile image

sr113 3 months ago

I'm not going to comment on other people's rituals because once you stop counting how many tattoos you have, and start counting how many hours under the gun, you'll have your own ritual. Here's my method:

I schedule my tattoo so that the work will be done very close to my bedtime. My artist bandages & wraps in cling wrap. I go to bed, and about 6 hours later I wake up and remove the bandage. I give it a good wash with Johnson & Johnson's Head to Toe Baby Wash. I swear by that stuff. Way better than soap. I let it air dry, and give it a 24 hour air out period, with 1 or 2 additional washes throughout the day. The next morning I wash it and give it a coat of Bag Balm. Just enough to keep the skin from drying out. Then I change my sheets, and start a load of laundry, because I'm going to be changing my sheets every single day for the next 2 to 3 weeks while it heals. I reapply Bag Balm throughout the day as needed; give it a wash at lunch time, and once again before bed, always keeping it lubed. After it heals, sunscreen EVERY day. Protect your art. Once last tip: allergic reactions to large amounts of red ink can be common. If that happens, elevate it if it's on a part of your body where that's possible, and ice it for 20 minutes after each wash.

GeminiMama 2 months ago

I just got my entire left leg done, Tree of Life on my hip and thigh with three flowers and philagrie going all the way down to my ankle. Looks beautiful all except for me literally waking up scratching my leg. Yes, I lost some ink, I'm super mad at myself but know that it can get touched up.

Here's my question: what do you guys think about Saniderm? Yes or No? I know a few guys who have used it and their tats look amazing, I tried it and though it worked I only left it on for a day and a half. It's like a huge bandage that totally hurts as your taking it off. So if I could get some feedback that would be awesome!

Ben 2 months ago

From a healthcare professional's perspective, this method is a great way to get an infection. Ideally you should use a similar method to any minor procedure - a clean bandage (no plastic), and within 4-24 hours remove and do not rebandage.

Lily 6 weeks ago

Having been a Wound Care Nurse, i would thoroughly recommend wrapping the large tattoo in clingfilm and then periodically antiseptic washing the area - drying the tattoo out for approximately half an hour, adding bepanthen (which works well in moist environments and then wrapping again in cling-film)

At least until the tattoo stops weeping.

A moist environment for the wound will prevent it from scabbing.

Miguel 5 weeks ago

Sorry my English

Many are the tattoo artist that like to show other guys how beautiful and full of color are my tattoos my secret is first 2 hours take the plastic film , 4 times a day COLD water not much

Glycerin soap

NEVER dry my tattoo


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