Why Do Tattoos Itch?

21st International Tattoo Convention
Tattooist at work on arm of young woman (Image: Adam Berry/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

When you get a tattoo, you might be surprised to discover that your skin on and around the tattoo will itch for days while your body heals itself. When you compare the process of dermatological healing to the process of tattooing, it is easy to see why a new tattoo itches. However, in some cases, itching can be a sign of infection. See your doctor if you experience drainage, pain, increased redness or bleeding in addition to itching.

Tattoos

A tattoo is simply a series of puncture wounds that places tattoo ink underneath the top layers of your skin. Because the tattoo needle punctures your skin, a tattoo actually is a wound that needs to heal properly. You should treat it as a minor wound, comparable to that of a sunburn, since the phases of healing are similar.

Inflammatory Phase

While the wound from your tattoo heals, it will go through separate phases with unique symptoms. The first phase of healing is the inflammatory phase, during which the area will be swollen and discolored and might remain sore for the first few days. The longer it takes for the tattoo artist to apply the tattoo, the more trauma to the skin. The length of the soreness also is determined by how heavy-handed your tattoo artist is when giving you your new ink.

Regeneration

Your skin will start to repair itself after a tattoo and will become less inflamed, although it will still be sore. It also might begin to dry out and feel tight, which means your body is forming new skin and the top layer is starting to scab over. The tattoo will not appear to scab over since the skin trauma is superficial. The skin will start to itch anywhere between one to four days into the healing process due to the regeneration of the skin and the skin being pulled tight. The skin will then begin to peel, which will increase the amount of itchiness.

Repair

Once the skin around the tattoo has peeled, the new skin will remain sensitive and itchy. Over the course of a couple weeks, the skin will toughen to match that of the surrounding area. Once the tattoo has peeled, it is fully healed and the procedures given by the tattoo artist to care for the wound can be stopped.

Itch Relief

While your skin is in the inflammation phase, an anti-bacterial ointment will relieve the itch while also keeping infections at bay and hydrating the skin. Once the area starts to feel dry, replace the ointment with a mild, unscented lotion several times per day. When the tattoo reaches the peeling phase, the lotion will aid in lubricating the dead skin, allowing it to come off without additional trauma to the new skin.

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