Getting a tattoo can sometimes be a spur-of-the-moment decision. But once the ink is on your skin, you may find yourself wondering: How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?

That’s an excellent question, and it’s one that often goes unanswered as you’re leaving the tattoo shop. Only 7 states have laws requiring tattoo artists to share care instructions that outline the healing process (thank you Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan and North Dakota), so owners of new tattoos are often left in the dark.

But the healing process is relatively short and straightforward. So here is the answer to your question: How long does it take for a tattoo to heal?

It takes a tattoo about a month to heal completely. It might be a little shorter of a process if your tattoo is just line art, but most tattoos take a full month. That said, the first week is the most intense and then things get a little easier after that. Read on to learn more about what to expect during the month of tattoo healing.


The 3 Steps in the Tattoo Healing Process

As your tattoo heals, you’re going to experience several different phases and stages. But those phases and stages are best lumped into 3 significant steps. Here’s a look at the 3 steps in the tattoo healing process:

Week 1: A Great Start … Followed By Oozing

Honestly, the first day after getting a new tattoo is the best day. Your tattoo is going to look fresh and bright — even a little brighter than it will ultimately look over the long-term. Unfortunately, you shouldn’t see much of your new tattoo is it should be covered in a bandage during the first 24 hours.

It’s Day 2 when things get a little nastier. Your skin will start oozing out plasma, which is the clear stuff that makes up half of our blood. This is a good thing, as plasma is going to accelerate the healing process.

You might also find that your new tattoo is radiating heat. This too is normal. Keep in mind that a fresh tattoo is essentially a wound, and your body is going to treat it as such. By the end of the week, your body’s response to the wound will create some scabbing.

Week 2: Scabbing and Peeling

OK, so Week 2 means that you’re past the open-wound portion of the heeling process. Your body has created a new layer of skin over your tattoo, which means your going to have scabs that eventually peel.

I’ll share more on this in a moment, but DO NOT mess with your scabs. Let them flake away naturally. If you choose to scratch or peel at your scabs, you run the risk of affecting the way your art looks — and that’s the last thing you want.

Weeks 3 and 4: Dull Art and Settling In

First things first: Don’t be alarmed during Weeks 3 and 4. Your art is going to start looking a little dull as the new skin forms over the top of it. This is natural, too. During this period, your tattoo will begin to settle in. It’s not going to look great until the end of the month, so just be patient.

As you get closer to the end of Week 4, you’ll notice that your new tattoo is getting more and more settled, which means it begins to shine through the new layer of skin more effectively. As you start your second month with your new tattoo, you should have a good idea of how it’s going to look permanently.


How to Take Care of Your New Tattoo

A tattoo is eventually going to heal on its own. That said, there are several things you should do to help the process along and to ensure that your tattoo looks great and remains infection free. Here are 5 ways to care for your new tattoo:

  1. Bandage: When you leave the tattoo shop, your new ink should be covered by a layer of petroleum jelly and a bandage.
  2. Wash: After your tattoo has been bandaged for 24 hours, remove the bandage and gently was the tattoo with soap (antimicrobial works best) and tepid water. Make sure you pat dry rather than rubbing. Continue washing at least twice a day for the next week using the same process.
  3. Treatment: You can skip the bandages from here on out, but you’ll want to apply an antibacterial cream or ointment twice daily.
  4. Clothing: Don’t wear anything that might stick to your new tattoo. This can be hard when a tattoo is on your torso or in another spot that’s typically covered by clothing. But try to wear light, loose-fitting items during the recovery period.
  5. Avoid: Don’t go swimming. Don’t sit in the sun. And don’t take a too-hot shower. Any of these things can hold back the tattoo healing process. Oh, and never pick at your tattoo or scratch it — that’s not going to help.

One last tip for caring for your new tattoo: If you become concerned about the healing process, don’t go see your tattoo artist. You need to see your primary care physician instead.


Final Thoughts on the How Long it Takes for a Tattoo to Heal

One last thought on the tattoo healing process: Keep everything as clean as possible. Keep your tattoo clean, and make sure you wash your hands before treating it. Also, if your new tattoo is in a hard-to-see spot, you may have to get a friend to help with the treatments. Make sure your friend is washing his or her hands, too.

Do you have any other thoughts on the tattoo healing process? Send us a message through our contact form anytime, or just leave a comment in the section below.