What Does a Healing Tattoo Look Like?

What Does a Healing Tattoo Look Like?

Mar 10, 2023 | Bridget Reed

Healed tattoos look amazing. Healing tattoos may not look as great at some stages of the healing process. That’s normal. 

If you’ve recently gotten your first tattoo (or you’re thinking about getting your first tattoo), here’s what to expect during the healing process and what you’ll see when you look at your fresh ink.

What Happens When You Get a Tattoo?

When you get a tattoo, needles vibrate rapidly and penetrate below the surface of your skin. While they’re doing that, they’re depositing ink. Tattooing is creating a wound that you essentially fill with art. 

The result is pretty, but the creation of a tattoo is almost the same thing as scraping off the top living layer of your skin. A tattoo will heal the same way all other wounds heal, and it may look a lot like a wound throughout the healing process.

How Long Does It Take a Tattoo To Heal?

Your tattoo artist will give you a specific time frame for aftercare instructions. Their instructions will heavily prioritize care for about a week or two. If all goes according to plan during your immediate aftercare plan, you can ease up a little bit. Even then, your tattoo isn’t completely healed. 

It takes about six weeks for the skin to fully heal from a wound, including tattoos. Most of the healing will take place within the first four weeks. The remainder of the process is the healing of the supportive structures beneath the skin, including the formation and utilization of collagen that strengthens and repairs the skin.

What Does a Tattoo Look Like When You First Get It?

What Does a Healing Tattoo Look Like?

Your tattoo will look vibrant and beautiful immediately after your artist finishes. The area around your tattoo may appear red, swollen, or raised. Your tattoo may also leak a little bit of blood. This is all normal. 

Tattooing is traumatic to your skin, and you can’t expect to walk away unscathed. Your tattoo will look great for a little while, but in about an hour, your body will kick its healing systems into gear.

What Does the First Stage of a Healing Tattoo Look Like?

The first stage of healing will begin within an hour or so after you’ve gotten your tattoo. It’s going to leak a lot. 

Your body sends fluids, including nutrient-rich blood plasma, to the surface of your skin. It wants to use these fluids to flush the wound and introduce special healing factors your body produces. 

Your tattoo artist will put a special clear wrap over your tattoo to trap this fluid. Your tattoo will be weepy and leaky for a few days. Fluid may build up underneath the clear wrap, and it’s okay to leave it until it’s time to wash your tattoo and change it. 

The fluid keeps the healing skin wet, and even though it looks kind of gross, there’s a lot of good stuff in that fluid that will promote the healing process.

What Does the Second Stage of a Healing Tattoo Look Like?

When your tattoo stops leaking, it will look very vibrant. Most of the redness and swelling will be gone, but the area will still be very tender to the touch. Your tattoo may also develop a thick, clear layer similar to a callus. This layer is a scab.

It shouldn’t have any visible brownish or blackish scabs, and it shouldn’t have a crusty texture. If it does, that’s a sign that your tattoo may not be healing property. Tattoos heal best with a small amount of moisture, which is why your tattoo artist instructed you to use skin protectants or special balm to keep your tattoo from drying out.

Ask your tattoo artist what to do if you notice any dark scabs or dark crust. If it’s mild, it’s probably normal. If it isn’t, scabs might indicate that you aren’t moisturizing your tattoo enough. 

What Does the Third Stage of a Healing Tattoo Look Like?

As your tattoo approaches the final stage of the healing process, it may look a little less vibrant than it did. The skin will heal over your tattoo, and it’s normal for the colors to look a little less bright than they did the day you got your tattoo. As the dead skin begins to shed, you’ll get some of the lost vibrancy back.

The third stage of a healing tattoo is the one people dread the most. Your tattoo will look great, but the layer of skin over your tattoo will not. The dead layer of skin on top of your tattoo will begin to shed off as the new layer of fresh, healthy skin emerges. This causes your tattoo to peel and itch.

If you scratch your healing tattoo, you can damage the vulnerable new skin. You can also damage the tattoo itself. That’s why we included a numbing spray in our aftercare set

The spray will keep you comfortable while the tattoo is healing. Towards the end of the healing process, it will dull the distracting itchy sensation and reduce the urge to scratch.

Does My Healing Tattoo Look Infected?

Redness in a healthy tattoo shouldn’t worsen with time. A healthy tattoo will never blister, bubble, or become bumpy. You shouldn’t see any whitish or yellowish discharge seeping from your tattoo. Clear or translucent straw-colored liquid is normal.

If there’s any chance that your healing tattoo could be infected, contact your tattoo artist immediately. If signs of infection are present, seeing a doctor is a good idea. The earlier you treat an infection, the better your outcome will be. Infections are commonly treated with topical or oral antibiotic products in conjunction with diligent hygiene practices.

What Will My Tattoo Look Like When It’s Done Healing?

What Does a Healing Tattoo Look Like?

All tattoos will look a little different at the end of the healing process. All swelling and irritation will dissipate, leaving the tattoo completely level with your skin. You shouldn’t see any remaining traces of redness. It won’t hurt to touch your tattoo. Your tattoo should look like it’s always been there, kind of like a freckle or a birthmark.

If you feel like you lost some detail during the healing process, you can return to your tattoo artist for a touch-up. It’s uncommon, but sometimes small details can fade as your tattoo heals. Following your tattoo artist’s aftercare instructions will minimize the risk of ink loss. It’s better to follow the instructions properly from the beginning than to return for a touch-up.

How Do I Keep My Tattoo Looking New?

The work doesn’t stop after your tattoo is healed. It looks nice, but like any investment, you have to maintain it to keep it that way. If you don’t care for your tattoo properly, it may fade or appear dull. Caring for your skin will keep your tattoo looking near-new for years to come.


The sun is your skin’s biggest enemy. Unprotected UV exposure can be very dangerous. Outside of the health risks, it also seriously degrades the quality of your skin. Ultraviolet rays can cause dark spots, premature aging signs, and tattoo fading. 

It’s smart to wear sunscreen on your whole body every time you leave the house during the daytime. Take special care to rub a little extra SPF into your tattoo.


Dry skin gets ashy and dull. A layer of dry skin over your tattoo can change how it looks. Colors will be a little more vibrant when your tattoo is properly moisturized. Use a deeply nourishing lotion or tattoo balm once a day to keep your tattoo quenched.

Bonus points if you increase your water intake. Skin hydration starts from the inside out. If your body is dehydrated, your skin will show signs. No lotion is good enough to outrun poor water consumption. Ensure you’re refilling your water bottle daily and drinking every last drop.

Occasional Gentle Exfoliation

Dead skin cells naturally accumulate on the surface of your skin. Your body sheds up to 1.5 pounds of dead skin cells every year. They don’t always fall off easily. They often stick to the surface of the skin, causing dry patches. 

A gentle exfoliator can help buff the dead cells off your tattoo's surface, making it easier for moisturizer to reach your skin. Try gentle exfoliating products like a sugar scrub to keep your skin soft.

HUSH Has Your Back 

HUSH is here to help you get through the tattoo process, from before your tattoo session all the way through your aftercare. We’ll keep you numb during your tattoo and help to take the edge off the itchy sensation while you’re healing. 

Follow your artist’s instructions, drink plenty of water, and always keep some sunscreen with you. You got this. 


Wound Healing Phases | StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf

Moist Wound Healing with Commonly Available Dressings | Advances in Wound Care | Mary Ann Liebert Publishing

Sunscreen | The Skin Cancer Foundation

Can You Tattoo Over Stretch Marks? image

Can You Tattoo Over Stretch Marks?

Tattoos are like beautiful camouflage for things like scars and birthmarks. If something makes you feel a little self-conscious, you can put some killer art...
Read more