You’ve just gotten your first tattoo and it looks great. You’ve been taking care of it, following the directions provided to you by your artist, and it’s all been good.
You wake up one morning and take a look at that brand new tattoo and something doesn’t look right. Do you panic? Do you rush back to the tattoo shop and question the artist? Do you head off to the doctor to make sure you’re not having a reaction?
Chances are that what you’re experiencing is perfectly normal. Your tattoo will go through several phases, and truth be told, they’re not all pretty. But, if you continue to follow the aftercare steps provided to you by your artist everything should come out just fine. Of course, there are cases in which the tattoo may have become infected, your body reacted badly to the ink, or you had a sloppy artist who dug you up—it does happen. However, these are usually rare, and it’s most likely that what you’re experiencing is a normal new-tattoo phase.
Here are some perfectly normal symptoms that you may experience shortly after getting your brand new ink.
Expect some discharge for the first few hours after getting your tattoo. This occurrence often referred to as ‘weeping,’ is perfectly normal. Your body is treating your new tattoo as it would an open wound. During this process, the body is attempting to seal this open wound through the use of plasma—the clear fluid part which contains blood cells and stops bleeding. As long as this discharge stops within the first few days (usually within the first few hours, but everyone is different) and does not smell, you’re fine.
Peeling and Scabbing
This is perhaps the ugliest phase of getting a new tattoo—and one in which many people begin to panic. For those showing off their new tattoo to people who aren’t familiar with the process, it can lead to many comments about the ink’s appearance (don’t believe grandma when she says it looks like it’s infected…unless, of course, grannie is a beast and has a bunch of tatts herself). Although this phase is unsightly, believe me, it’s perfectly normal. There are a few important things to keep in mind regarding this stage, though. First, while this stage is normal, you don’t want it to happen too quickly in the healing process so it is vital that you follow your artist’s aftercare guidelines and keep the tattoo adequately moisturized. Once the peeling begins, between three to seven days depending on the person, do not scratch or peel away the skin. Let your body handle this phase naturally so that you don’t damage the tattoo below.
Your tattoo will appear slightly dull for a few days, so don’t panic. This is part of the body attempting to heal from the tattoo application. Generally, this occurs before the tattoo peels and you should see a brighter design underneath as the skin flakes off. If your tattoo has already peeled and you notice it seems a bit dull, it’s quite possible that it just needs to be moisturized. Once the tattoo has peeled, you can switch from a tattoo aftercare product (such as Aquaphor or Tattoo Goo) to an unscented, uncolored lotion. This trick also works nicely when your tattoo appears dull long after the healing process. It will help perk it up a bit if your skin appears dry.
This is where many people tend to get confused. Redness in any wound usually implies infection, but in the case of a new tattoo, it can be perfectly normal. However, it is important to keep an eye on any inflamed skin during the healing process, just to be safe. Redness directly after your tattoo application is perfectly normal. The afflicted area of your skin just went through massive trauma—think about how many needles were just hammered into your body over and over again—so you should expect some redness around the tattoo for a short period of time. However, if several hours go by and you’re still bright red… there may be some cause for concern.
If your redness is apparent for a prolonged period of time and/or if it is accompanied by extreme tenderness or irritation, you may need to double check your aftercare routine. This could be a signal that you are not washing it enough or possibly over-washing it—it can be a mighty fine line, sometimes. It’s also possible that you may not be applying enough of the aftercare solution your artist suggested or you that may need to switch to a different one, as some people react differently to different products. If none of these correct the issue, it may be time to get it checked out. Better to be safe than sorry—nobody wants an infected tattoo.
Regardless of your symptoms, don’t hesitate to ask questions. There are a plethora of articles online written by reputable tattoo experts that can help alleviate some of your concerns. Your artist is also a valuable tool, so don’t hesitate to give him/her a call with any questions. They don’t want your tattoo to be damaged or infected any more than you do, as it’s their name behind the art, so seriously…if you’re concerned, don’t fret—ask questions.