My New Tattoo Is Itchy—Can I Scratch It?

Updated on March 29, 2015
Woman’s “sleeve” tattoo of lady’s head with butterflies
Woman’s “sleeve” tattoo of lady’s head with butterflies | Source

Can I Scratch My Itchy New Tattoo?

No. You can't.

Scratching a new tattoo before it has completely healed can cause major damage to your tattoo.

In a new tattoo, ink can become trapped within the epidermis or top layer of skin. As it heals, some of this ink will slowly leach back into the skin and your tattoo. If you scratch your tattoo, you could remove the top layer of skin or scabs prematurely, which might cause patchy areas on your new tattoo where ink has been lost. It may appear as a white mark that might fade over two to three years (but who wants that?).

Also, when you scratch your freshly inked tattoo, you're dragging dirt and germs across your new wound. This type of contact between bacteria and open wound can develop into an infection, which can seriously damage your tattoo and cause health problems.

Why Is My Tattoo So Freaking Itchy?

Unfortunately, itchy skin is just one of the stages of the healing process. Dead skin cells are sloughing off your skin as new ones are appearing, and the discomfort is just a side effect.

Even though it itches like hell, know that you're not alone.

Scratching your tattoo causes damage.
Scratching your tattoo causes damage. | Source

What Damage Can Scratching Do to a Tattoo?

When a healing tattoo is scratched, your nails prematurely scrape the top layer of skin or a scab off. When either skin or a scab in particular, is removed instead of accidentally crumbling and falling off, ink can sometimes come out of your tattoo as well. A hazy, light patch will appear in the tattoo where the scab was before it was scratched off.

Infection in a tattoo is the other serious consequence of scratching a tattoo. Your finger nails play host to a wide variety of germs and micro organisms, no matter how clean the look. When a person drags their finger nails across a piece of skin, it collects other tiny pieces of skin and any bacteria that is on the skin as well. This gets pulled across tiny openings in you healing tattoo, potentially causing an infection.

An infection in a tattoo can cause enormous amounts of damage to the tattoo and in extreme cases, people have been known to loose a limb. See your doctor immediately if you suspect your tattoo has an infection.

AfterShock Tattoo Aftercare Value Box

AfterShock Tattoo Aftercare Box Set

For a complete tattoo aftercare system, I recommend AfterShock Value Box that has all the products you need for the entire tattoo process. It has an antibacterial tattoo wash, tattoo healing creams, and daily lotions for moisture and the continuing care of your tattoo.

This premium kit also has an exfoliating gel designed to rejuvenate and brighten an old tattoo.

What to Do About that Itch

An intensely itchy tattoo can drive any sane person absolutely nuts. Whether you're standing in line at the checkout or sitting at home in a comfy chair, the itch can strike at any moment and you may find your fingers unconsciously reaching for and scratching your new tattoo.

Damage to tattoos by mindless scratching can occur in a split second. There's no going back once your sharp fingernails makes contact with the delicate, healing tattoo skin.

Don't expect sympathy either for your mental state and itchy crazies. You of course did this to yourself by getting an awesome piece of body art.

It can be rough out there, but there's no need to freak out. Mild to intense itching is all part of the healing process that your newly inked tattoo is passing through. In fact, if you weren't experiencing some level of itching, then you would need to double check that your tattoo is in fact healing correctly.

Aside from scratching, here are some other ways to make that itch go away:

  • Pat your tattoo or gently slap it with an open palm. Gentle is a key word here.
  • Place a thick material over the tattoo and gently graze the top of your fingers over the material. This is kind of like tickling the skin without going full scratch.
  • Apply approved tattoo aftercare cream. Don't go overboard however, since applying too much can create an environment conducive to infection.
  • Take a short warm shower. Again don't overdo it and soak your tattoo. This can also hamper healing.
  • Distract yourself from the itch. Go for a walk, eat something, or find someone to chat with.
  • Lay a cool, damp cloth over the itchy area for a short amount of time. The coolness of the washcloth should take the angry, itchy, burning feeling away. To make it super cold, put it in the freezer for a few minutes first.
  • Hold a flat palm over the tattoo without moving it until the itch goes away.

If you have a trick to stop yourself scratching your itchy tattoo? We'd love to hear about it. Please write your tips in the comments section at the very bottom of this page for everyone to read.

Arm tattoo on male
Arm tattoo on male | Source

Why Can't My Tattoo Get Wet?

Your tattoo is an open wound and standing water (e.g. bathwater) is not bacteria-free. Imagine the grime from your feet floating up to your new tattoo wound and penetrating the fragile outer layer. It's not a pretty picture, and neither is an infection.

That said, extremely short periods under water should not damage your healing tattoo. If it is soaked in water for a fair amount of time, you'll need to let it dry as much as possible. Potentially, some scabs may begin to prematurely lift if they get too wet. This can and most likely will result in some loss of ink.

But the best way to prevent tattoo damage and infection is to just stay out of the water!

Do you have a tattoo that is driving you absolutely batty with itchiness?

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How To Keep Scabs from Forming on Your New Tattoo

Scabs are simply a natural part of the healing process along with the dry, opaque, flaky skin of your healing tattoo (the skin that's driving you crazy). That said, too many scabs can be a problem.

What Causes Scabbing

In the one to two hours immediately after your tattoo session, your wound oozed both ink and plasma (a component of blood that appears as a clear, golden-colored fluid.)

This fluid also contains some of the ink that was deposited below your skin by the artist when they were doing your tattoo design. When plasma mixes with the air, it hardens. Scabs are the result of your plasma, ink, and the air combining together on the outside of your freshly inked tattoo.

You can keep scabs from forming on your new tattoo by thoroughly and regularly washing your tattoo. Washing your new tattoo with a tattoo-industry-endorsed, anti-bacterial wash within one to two hours should gently wash away all plasma fluid. This will keep away the scabs, but you'll need to replace your body's healing fluids with approved tattoo aftercare lotions.

Tattooed women in history, Betty Broadbent
Tattooed women in history, Betty Broadbent | Source

Itch Distraction: Funny Video

Questions & Answers


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        Randy 5 months ago

        I have found that blowing on my tattoos has helped with itching

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        Lala 8 months ago

        I just got a tattoo last week. The only thing helps me is this thick, clear wrap thing he put over it. I just gently scratch on top of it. it's too hard to scratch through it tho. Other times, I just fan the arm that the tattoo is on.

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        Roro 8 months ago

        I pat the area where the itch is or i shake the body part, distracts me for a bit.

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        Nikita 12 months ago

        I have now got 6 tattoos and the 1 i just got has to be the worse one its so itchy

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        Days 13 months ago

        My tattoo itches so bad I've scratched my other arm and it helps. I also scratched around if but not on it. might just be me but its worth a try!

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        Mike 16 months ago

        I find that when a tattoo is crazy itchy, it has to do with it drying out. I usually apply a non-fragrance moisturizer 3-5 times a day (especially during the dry winter months) to keep it from being too itchy.

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        Emily 18 months ago

        Be active and try not thinking about your tattoo

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        cc 18 months ago

        Slightly dab kitchen toll on the tattoo :)

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        Sathiya 20 months ago

        I got a my new Anchor tattoo on left hand fore arm on Last week, But still the tattoo is Like healing n outline of the skin is still shrink. Just i want to know when i can see my tattoo final stage.

      • profile image

        Glen fleetham 20 months ago

        I used a tiny make up brush and slightly tickled my tattoo but not to much as scared I will damage it

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        Mirian 3 years ago

        Before getting a tattoo make sure you choose the right time and its not around the time you take vacation or any kind of trip.. Itching is insane..

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        Anne 3 years ago from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS)

        Tattoos can have the mot intense itch. What is your trick to not scratch!