What to Do When a Tattoo Peels?

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Proper aftercare is vital to keeping you tattoo beautiful and vibrant.
Proper aftercare is vital to keeping you tattoo beautiful and vibrant. (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

During the healing process for a tattoo (which can take up to two weeks) the layer of skin over the ink will begin to peel. Just like there is a correct and incorrect way to care for a fresh tattoo, there is also a correct and incorrect way of dealing with the peeling skin. Consult your tattoo artist regarding his recommendations for particular brands of ointment, lotion and soap to use and listen to his instructions before going home and beginning the process of aftercare.

First Two to Three Days

Wash the fresh tattoo with warm water and antibacterial soap. Do not rub the area when applying the soap, but rather dab the soap liberally over the area. Once you've washed it off, it is best to allow it to air dry -- if you don't have the time, simply use a clean towel to pat the area dry. Again, do not rub. Clean you tattoo this way at least three times a day and smear a thin layer of protective ointment over the area after each cleaning. The peeling won't begin for another few days.

First Two Weeks

After the first two to three days, continue washing the tattoo the same way and with the same regularity, but apply a layer of non-scented hand lotion instead of ointment after each cleaning. The ointment suffocates the skin and should only be used the first couple of days because the skin is so fresh and raw. Oxygen is essential for the healing process, though, so it is imperative you switch to a non-scented body lotion as soon as possible. Scented lotion contains alcohol and will only dry out the tattoo more, causing it to fade.

How to Deal with Peeling

It is important to remember a tattoo is actually just beneath the skin, not on top of it. Because of this fact, the skin above it will begin to peel after the first four or five days. When this happens, simply continue to care for it as though it weren't peeling at all. Clean it and apply the appropriate lotion multiple times a day and resist all temptations to assist the peeling or scratch the area. If the body doesn't rid itself of this layer of skin on its own, the appearance of the ink underneath can suffer greatly. It can even lead to loss of ink, uneven healing or fading.

Healed Tattoo Aftercare

Once the tattoo has peeled completely and a new layer of skin has grown, the tattoo is healed. This can take up to two weeks. At this point you can stop washing and applying lotion multiple times a day, but if you want to continue in a limited respect, it won't hurt. The biggest threat to a healed tattoo is the sun; anytime you expose your tattoo to the sun for a prolonged period of time, be sure to apply sunblock (not sunscreen) over the area. Sunscreen will tan the skin above your tattoo and make it appear faded.

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