Those of us who love tattoos generally want to keep them in good condition. While we can still be proud of our faded ink, we should try to do what we can to ensure they will look good for as long as possible. Although we might expect a tattoo to lose color over time, we should be rightly concerned if the ink is coming off. Skin peeling is part of the normal healing process of a tattoo. How much it will peel will depend on various factors, including the size of the tattoo and the skill of the artists.
oneHOWTO discusses what is happening when my tattoo is peeling and the ink is coming off. We explain what is part of the normal healing process, what isn't and what we can do to best ensure our tattoo will look good for a long time.
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- Is it normal for tattoo ink to come off?
- Why is my tattoo ink coming off?
- How to care for a tattoo so that it does not lose color
- How long does a tattoo take to heal?
Is it normal for tattoo ink to come off?
For a tattoo to heal properly, there are two main factors. The first lies with the artist. They need to clean the area, apply the ink properly and ensure they do all they can to get the tattoo you want. The second factor is our responsibility. The healing process of a tattoo is a vital phase in determining how it will eventually look. If we don't care for it properly, it could damage the end result.
When a tattoo heals, it is normal for a little ink to peel off. When an artist tattoos skin, they drive the ink deep into the dermis layer of skin with needles. By penetrating deep, a permanent mark is left which should be the color of the ink. However, the layer of new skin above the epidermis will not be permanent. This layer regenerates and some of the ink which has dyed this skin will also come off as it does so.
Since the act of tattooing penetrates the skin, it is possible some scabbing can occur. While this needs to be minimized, it can happen with even experienced tattoo artists. The bigger the tattoo and the more ink is used, the more likely this will happen. In these cases, as the skin peels of and the scab heals, some ink may come off. Hopefully, this will only be in the epidermal and outer layers.
When large parts of the ink come off, this usually means the tattoos hasn't been done correctly. It is something which happens most often with inexperienced tattooists. It is not normal and may need to be prepared. Below, we explain specifically why tattoo ink comes off.
Why is my tattoo ink coming off?
After our tattoo has been finished, wiped off and wrapped up, we can see it is bright and vibrant. It almost looks as if the ink is still wet. However, even the next day we will see it won't look quite as bright. This is completely normal and is a result of the ink settling in our skin. There will be a normal amount of skin peeling as it heals, although it is up to us to ensure it remains in good condition.
If the ink of a tattoo does start to come off, it could be due to:
- Initial ink loss: especially during the first hours after it is finished, the tattoo will lose some ink. To keep it in good condition, you will have to wash it with soap and water between 2 and 3 times a day, as well as change the dressings recommended by the professional tattoo artist.
- Poor work: if the tattoo artist is inexperienced, it is possible they will not have done good work. Perhaps they have not penetrated deep enough, used too little ink or not gone over the area sufficiently. In these cases, the tattoo may start to peel a lot and ink comes off. This is one of the many reasons you need to go to a trusted tattoo artist, even if it costs you more money initially.
- Itching and scratching: the tattoo and the skin that surrounds it can itch or sting, something which is completely normal. The bigger the job, the more it might itch, but there will be other factors. For example, people with sensitive skin might feel it more. However, it is very important we do not scratch this area. If we dig into the skin with our nails it can cause the tattoo to not heal properly and some ink to come off. We recommend rubbing some clean ice on the area gently, but not to hold it on the skin.
- Cleaning and wrapping: when the tattoo is finished, the tattoo artist will need to clean the area and wrap the work (usually in plastic wrap). They will let you know how long to leave it on for. This is to help protect the area from bacteria and start the healing process properly. If this step is skipped, not done correctly or the wrap is taken off too soon, it can hurt the healing process and ink comes off as a result. If we don't follow the cleaning guidelines they give us, the same could happen.
- Peeling skin: if you see that the tattoo area is peeling slightly, this is also part of the normal healing process. However, we should not peel the skin off manually. Let it fall off naturally when we clean it and it will heal properly.
- Infection: since a tattoo is, essentially, an open wound, we need to be careful when it is exposed. If bacteria gets into the tattoo as it heals, it can cause an infection. How much ink comes off depends on the severity of the infection.
Moderate expulsion of ink through the pores occurs to prevent scabbing or infection. If the tattoo is well hydrated and you protect it according to the advice of your tattooer, you should be fine. However, if you have any doubt, take a look at our article on how to tell if a tattoo is infected.
How to care for a tattoo so that it does not lose color
There are many different ways to help a tattoo heal, but they should all conform to the same principles of caring for a new tattoo. They need to let the skin breathe for the skin to heal, we need to avoid coming in contact with bacteria and we need to prevent any abrasions on the area.
For the healing process to be a success and prevent ink coming off, we need to follow the tattooer's instructions. They will likely suggest:
- Washing the area well: wash your tattoo with warm or cold (not hot) water twice a day, morning and evening. Yo will need to use a body wash which has a neutral pH level.
- Use appropriate creams: apply the cream your tattooer recommends. This will usually be something like bepanthen cream or something similar. Do not use Vaseline for tattoo healting.
- Watch out for excess moisture: excess moisture could cause the tattoo to fade, causing the ink to fall off. To prevent this from happening, avoid the sea, swimming pools, saunas, and prolonged showers or baths. Also, use special medications only when recommended by the tattoo artist, not every time you get itchy or stinging.
- Be careful with light: do not expose your tattoo to the sun or tanning lamps and always use sunscreen. Remember that the sun is the worst enemy of tattoos and that it accelerates the aging of the skin, as well as the fading of a tattoo design.
- Avoid strenuous sports: for the first few days, avoid strenuous sports and activities that may cause your skin to stretch excessively, as this could damage the tattoo.
- Vitamin K supplements: to avoid excessive bleeding, we recommend taking vitamin K supplements, as it is beneficial for clotting.
These tips to help care for a fresh tattoo are designed to promote fast and healthy regeneration of the tattooed skin. Any complication can result in the ink coming off as the skin peels. Also, if you see any signs of infection, speak to a health professional as it is possible (although rare) it can cause blood poisoning.
How long does a tattoo take to heal?
How long a tattoo takes to heal is one of the first questions tattoo artists get asked after the job is done. However, there are many factors which will affect the length of healing time. This will depend on:
- Size and intricacy of the design
- Quality of the work
- Where the tattoo is on the body
- The person's health/immune status
- How well it is looked after
In general, the healing process for most tattoos will range between 7 to 15 days. To best ensure the healing process goes quickly and smoothly, follow the tips above and don't hesitate to ask your tattooer if you think something is wrong.
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