How to Heal a Tattoo With No Scabbing
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!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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?
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.