If you have a tattoo, you know and understand that feeling when you look at the finished work of art for the first time; when you see bright, solid lines and combinations of deep and soft shades of ink on the canvas of your skin. There may be a little bleeding; perhaps a bit of a sting, but the feeling is always worth a good work of art.
Then, there’s the scabbing. Especially for those who have just gotten their first tattoo, the first couple of weeks of scabbing are a scary part.
A new tattoo will sometimes scab. Just like the peeling and flaking of dead skin off the surface of the tattoo, this is part of the body’s natural healing process, and isn’t normally too serious. Think of the tattoo as a giant painted wound just beneath the topmost layer of skin. The body will attempt to protect the wound by building a layer of cells over it. Sometimes, the scabs can look unsightly, but tattoo artists will caution against peeling them off, or tearing at them. Scabs fall off when the area under them is completely healed, and just like those on an open wound, peeling of scab tissue only prolongs the healing process. In the case of tattoos, peeling scabs also runs the risk of creating a skin tear deep enough to cause the unsettled ink to literally flow out.
Sometimes however, scabbing can be so bad, it ruins the ink underneath. If you have just spend a couple of hundred dollars on a full-back tattoo, that becomes a problem; certain precautions have to be taken to avoid excessive scabbing.
First of all, keep the tattoo clean. Use antibacterial soap to minimize the risk of getting an infection while the tattoo is still healing. The tattoo artist will tell you to wash it between three to five times per day, probably depending on the design. Cleaning a tattoo requires that minimum pressure is applied or the chance of damaging the artwork increases. The tattoo should never be rubbed whether while washing or drying it.
You can tell where scabs are going to form by where skin tears appear. These tears are normal, as many tattoo artists will admit that their needles can cause damage to the epidermis. The important thing to remember is not to overreact and try to physically handle the tear in any way. The same rules of keeping it clean apply, just as they do to scabs.
It is also advisable to keep the tattoo moisturized to avoid any more scabbing. The tattoo artist will usually recommend an ointment or moisturizer to aid in healing. However, overuse of a moisturizer can be as bad as improper washing of the tattoo. Do not apply more than necessary to keep it moist.
Again, remember that a tattoo is basically an open wound. It needs proper care and treatment in order to heal just like any other wound, with the added difficulty of preserving ink quality for as long as possible, in the best shape as possible. If you’re going to have to deal with the scabs and skin tears, remember that that’s part of the package. The real beauty is literally skin deep – just under all of that – but you can’t rush it. Once it’s under your skin, you’re going to live with it for the rest of your life; so treat it the way you’d treat anything in the same shoes.