First of all, it’s important to recognize the difference between tattoo scabbing and tattoo scarring. The former is normal, although scabs do not always form on new tattoos. The latter is obviously something to be avoided. Scabbing can lead to scarring but that should not be the case if several simple precautions are taken. There are other conditions that can cause scarring but the subject here is one of scabbing, what it means, how serious it can become, and how to deal with it.
A Tattoo Procedure Always Injures the Skin
As a rule of thumb, when a large area on your body is tattooed, you are more likely to have a problem with scabbing than would be the case with a much smaller one. When a tattoo is applied, it injures the skin. These injuries are in themselves slight and of little concern as long as they heal promptly and are not allowed to become infected. Any time the skin is injured, whether it is cut, scraped, or punctured, a scab will form as part of the healing process. In this sense, the presence of the scab is normal and is a good thing. The scab provides a protective covering over the damaged area while it is healing. In the case of a puncture, the area affected is usually extremely small. In the case of a needle, the area is very small indeed and any scab that might form over an individual puncture would likely not be noticeable.
The problem is, of course, that getting a tattoo involves having your skin punctured numerous times, which can create a multiplicity of small scabs. This, in turn, will at times lead to the formation of larger scabs. Depending upon the size and nature of the tattoo, and depending to some degree on your body chemistry, you may experience a number of large scabs over the area rather than a multiplicity of minute scabs. In summary, you really can’t predict whether or not you’re going to experience scabbing or how severe it might be if it should occur unless you have some past history to go by.
Following are five things worth knowing about scabbing and how to deal with it should it occur. All of this advice is rather straightforward and consists of things you should do as well as a few things you should not do. Just remember that whether you experience scabbing or not, a new tattoo causes injury to the skin and that injury needs to be treated as such.
Listen to the Advice Given by the Artist
A professional tattoo artist should not only know how to give you a tattoo that meets or exceeds your expectations, but he or she should also be knowledgeable about what is required in terms of aftercare. In most cases, the aftercare requirements are rather straightforward, but different artists sometimes use different inks or may perform slightly different procedures. The aftercare requirements may, therefore, vary somewhat depending on where you have received your tattoo, although these requirements will not tend to vary a great deal. The artists should, as a minimum, be able to tell you what the immediate aftercare needs are, the type of bandaging to use, what creams or lotions will be helpful, and so on. He or she should also make you aware that scabbing can occur and, if it does, how to keep it from causing unnecessary problems.
The number one thing you want to do, and the tattoo artist should be the one to do this for you, is to cover a new tattoo with a bandage. Such a bandage normally only needs to be applied for an hour or two, just long enough for the skin to produce a protective layer of film over the design. This protective layer is translucent. It is more of a film than it is a scab and it usually disappears quickly if it is cared for properly. If your it is not cared for properly, you will run a higher risk of having one or more scabs develop.
Caring for the new tattoo usually involves little more than gently washing the area two or three times a day to make certain it is kept clean. You also want to wash away any body fluids, especially perspiration, as they will tend to inhibit healing and promote scabbing. Scabbing is quite likely to occur if you’re experiencing any bleeding so make certain any blood that has accumulated on the skin is cleansed away. The tattoo artist may recommend a special ointment you should apply before bandaging it and for a few days after while you continue to wash the area to keep it clean. You will also need to keep the area moisturized.
Choose the Right Bandage
This choice will often be made by the tattoo artist. A tattoo bandage should never stick to the skin and it needs to provide adequate airflow. A non-adhesive gauze bandage is usually the best choice, although a bandage with a plastic film will also work. Sometimes an elastic retainer may be needed to hold the bandage in place depending to some degree on what part of your body the tattoo has been applied.
The primary function of the bandage is to absorb seepage of plasma, blood, and any excess ink. It also needs to be thick enough to prevent clothing from irritating the area during the initial phase of healing. Selecting the appropriate type of bandage is usually not particularly complicated since the bandage will only need to be worn for a few hours. In fact, it is generally recommended that any bandage that is applied be removed after several hours. Otherwise, the bandaging may become counterproductive.
Selecting the Right Protective and Moisturizing Lotion or Ointment
There are two things you want to avoid that seem at first glance to be counterintuitive. You don’t want your skin to dry out but you do want to remove excess fluids that may accumulate which could promote scabbing or infection. The best way to moisturize the skin while allowing a bandage to absorb excess moisture is to apply a moisturizing ointment to your skin before a bandage is placed on it. The bandage will do its job without adversely affecting the moisturizing function of the ointment.
An ointment that contains vitamin D and/or vitamin A is usually the best choice. Both vitamins promote healing. Be sure to select an ointment that does not have pore clogging capabilities. This usually involves avoiding petroleum-based ointments or lotions. Clogged pores not only can result in infection but could, in some cases, mess up your new artwork. Ointments or lotions that contain added fragrances should also be avoided as the chemical compounds that produce the fragrances can sometimes irritate the skin.
Actions You Should Take if Scabs Begin to Appear
As noted, scabbing will not always be present but a lack of scabbing is more often than not the exception rather than the rule. Usually you will begin to experience some peeling of the skin whether scabs form or not. This peeling usually begins anywhere from three to five days after the tattooing procedure was completed and is similar to the peeling you would experience after a sunburn. It is always best to let the skin flake off naturally rather than trying to pull the peels away. Any scabs that are going to appear will usually occur at about the same time. You’ll want to keep your skin moisturized since if the skin is allowed to become too dry it can become subject to bleeding or cracking, which can also lead to the formation of scabs.
The one thing you don’t want to do is to attempt to pull off any scabs prematurely. This may take some willpower since any scabs that form often last for several weeks, long after peeling has ceased. If you pull scabs off prematurely, any of four different things could happen.
- Nothing will happen, although a new scab may form.
- The area from which the scab was removed may become infected.
- A scar may appear as a result of injury to tissues where the scab was pulled away.
- Ink may leak out, possibly altering the design to a noticeable degree.
In case you’re wondering how long you may have to put up with your bout of scabbing, a rule of thumb would be about four weeks. After all, your skin has been injured, perhaps over a fairly wide area, and it usually takes the body about that amount of time to heal completely, if not more, when a part of it has been injured.
Precautions You Should Take in the Event of Scabbing
As noted earlier, any bandage that is applied is usually there for only a few short hours. The tattooed area will heal more quickly in the absence of a bandage, but the exposed skin can be subjected to further damage if certain precautions are not taken, particularly if scabs have formed.
- Try not to sleep on the tattoo. If you do while it is still new, the pressure you place on it may result in some of it being transferred to your bed sheets and they will forever have mirror images of “Mother” or your girlfriend’s name permanently imprinted in them. It’s not quite so bad if your design just says “MOM” since the mirror image will be the same. Your mother might even be proud of you.
- If you sleep on your tattoo and it is covered by your pajamas, your pajamas may stick to you because of fluids seeping from the area. When you pull your pajamas off in the morning, any scabs that have formed may come off with the pajamas, something you don’t want to happen.
- Another thing that can cause scabs to come off prematurely is allowing the tattooed area to become soaked. This means no swimming for at least two weeks, especially in water that may contain bacteria. The bathtub and Jacuzzi are off limits as well. Fortunately, you can still take a daily shower and are, in fact, encouraged to do so. Just be careful to pat rather than rub the area dry.
- If your tattoo is in a place that is normally exposed, you’ll need to keep it out of the sun for at least a couple of weeks. It was noted earlier that the peeling you may experience is not all that different from that caused by sunburn. Your skin doesn’t necessarily notice the difference between sunburn and the aftereffects of tattooing. The last thing it needs is sunburn on top of it. Getting sunburn on it can sometimes lead to serious complications.
- Don’t overwork the area. What this means is don’t work so hard that you perspire freely, which will inhibit the healing process. Exercise itself can sometimes do the same. For example, if you have a tattoo placed on one of your biceps and you continue doing strenuous arm workouts with weights or machines, the healing process could be slowed and the tattoo could suffer damage.
- Avoid wearing tight clothing that can rub against the tattoo. This is one of the primary causes of scabbing. As was the case with bedding, a fresh tattoo can also stain clothing. Wearing a crisp, white dress shirt after you’ve had a tattoo placed on your arm will likely lead to predictable results. Wear loose clothing – old clothes are best – and you should not have any problems with scabbing or ruining a favorite shirt.
In summary, scabbing cannot always be avoided and can, in fact, be considered a natural process. There are several things you need to avoid doing, however, to prevent scabs from forming when they otherwise might not have. When scabbing does occur, it’s important to allow the scabs to die a natural death. Let them fall off on their own instead of attempting to pull them off and you’ll avoid some potential and unnecessary problems. All of this may mean some slight changes in your lifestyle for a few weeks, but if you’re completely satisfied with the work the tattoo artist accomplished it will probably be worth it.