As a tattoo commentator and writer, I rely on my personal experience and time working in a tattoo studio.
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.
Why Can't I Scratch My New 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 it, 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 artwork 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.
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 where the scab was before it was scratched off.
Infection is the other serious consequence of scratching. Your fingernails play host to a wide variety of germs and microorganisms, no matter how clean they look. When a person drags their fingernails across a piece of skin, they collect 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 can cause enormous amounts of damage to the tattoo and, in extreme cases, people have been known to lose a limb. See your doctor immediately if you suspect infection.
How to Deal With an Itchy Tattoo
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 and scratching.
Damage to tattoos by mindless scratching can occur in a split second. There's no going back once your sharp fingernails make 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. 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 spot 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.
AfterShock Tattoo Aftercare Box Set
For a complete aftercare system, I recommend AfterShock Value Box that has all the products you need for the entire 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.
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 skin. 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!
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 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 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 by thoroughly and regularly washing your tattoo. Using 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 aftercare lotions.
More Information on Your Healing Tattoo
- Tattoo Aftercare Tips: How Should I Look After My New Tattoo?
Read this article for practical and tested tattoo aftercare instructions. Find out what you need to do, why you need to do it, and how to be most effective.
- I Just Got a New Tattoo—When Can I Go Swimming and Get My Tattoo Wet?
Read this if you've recently gotten your tattoo inked and want to know if and when you can get your tattoo wet.
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.
Meye on February 13, 2020:
This is my first tattoo and it itches so much! I just pat it whenever it itches and sometimes scratches it gently with a cloth above it. The itchiness is insane and I can't wait for it to heal.
dapo on February 04, 2020:
I scratched my tattoo and it now looks distrorted. Is this something that a good artist can fix with a touch op?
Nelson Johnson Jr. on December 22, 2019:
Put your tattoo in front of a cool fan on high speed and si there until you feel better
Keith k on November 20, 2019:
I take allergy medicine to help calm down the itchy ness.
Dallas Bosworth on June 04, 2019:
I JUST GOT MY TATTOO ON SUNDAY AND WELL SO FAR NO ITCHING YET BUT IM PREPARED FOR IT LOL. AN BEING A FIRST TIME PERSON OF HAVING A TATTOO THIS IS AMAZING PROCESS
Alexandra Fox on May 20, 2019:
An ice pack covered with a tea towel works, slightly dabbing it over the tattoo, making sure you don’t lift away any scabbing, really help with itchiness and the healing process :)
Leina on May 03, 2019:
A few days after getting a tat over my hand.. when it got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore I just put my hand under cold running water until my hand felt numb . Then put on some a&d and it kept it manageable for a few hours lol
Angie on October 10, 2018:
I use a blow dryer on the cool setting to stop the itch
E on October 05, 2018:
Put ice on it
Britney on July 12, 2018:
I just look at how pretty it is and try not to tell myself to ruin it
Heather on July 10, 2018:
Aquaphor is the lotion recommended by my artist, it works great at relieving the itch!
Kat on July 04, 2018:
I’ve had some success with washing and applying ointment regularly as well as wrapping it in a clean wrap or bandage and applying pressure as it gets itchy keeping it wrapped at night helps to keep it safe
Kestrel on June 30, 2018:
I’ve been dealing with it by scratching the same spot my tattoo is on but on the other side of my body
Latassia on April 22, 2018:
I just slightly rub my tattoo softly when it itches.
Jayhawks on April 19, 2018:
This isn't my first tattoo but tap on my new tattoo and it won't stop itching what else where is there to do
Randy on November 04, 2017:
I have found that blowing on my tattoos has helped with itching
Lala on August 23, 2017:
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.
Roro on July 30, 2017:
I pat the area where the itch is or i shake the body part, distracts me for a bit.
Nikita on April 04, 2017:
I have now got 6 tattoos and the 1 i just got has to be the worse one its so itchy
Days on March 09, 2017:
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!
Mike on December 06, 2016:
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.
Emily on October 25, 2016:
Be active and try not thinking about your tattoo
cc on October 02, 2016:
Slightly dab kitchen toll on the tattoo :)
Sathiya on August 10, 2016:
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.
Glen fleetham on August 09, 2016:
I used a tiny make up brush and slightly tickled my tattoo but not to much as scared I will damage it
Vanessa on February 09, 2016:
To calm the itching down I gently blow on it like I did when I had a cast on my arm.
Emily on January 04, 2016:
Currently pressing an ice pack on my tattoo. Seems to be helping with the itchiness.
heaven sent on September 23, 2015:
I scratch very lightly over clothing where I'm not digging in..it helps but still isn't the same as digging in...
Mad on September 09, 2015:
If the itching is not too intense, blowing on it helps a little, but only when you're blowing on it. Itching around the tattoo helps without touching the tattoo. Also, if you blow on it, don't spit on it. Hope your itchies go away soon!
Davey on July 22, 2015:
Recently got a small rib piece. Not a place I want to get touched up later. Step one is always trim the fingernails back as comfortable and safe as possible. I've found with previous tattoos that when it itches, take the moment to shower/wash the tattoo. This cleans the tattoo, and removes the irritating dead skin all at once and will regular washing seems to keep the itching down.
When that's not available, I gently run one finger on the outside of my shirt along the tattoo, very lightly. Seems to help me, at least.
Storm on May 29, 2015:
I do shaking my part of tattoo, it helps
machinegirl on May 20, 2015:
doing the cold cloth/compression now. it is helping, but very temporarily. Lol my bf has already scolded me today about touching my tattoo.
Mirian on April 10, 2015:
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..
Anne (author) from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS) on March 27, 2015:
Tattoos can have the mot intense itch. What is your trick to not scratch!