We don’t have to tell you that tattoos cost time, money, and pain, so you don’t want it to fade or look anything less than perfect. The good news is that all it takes is the right care and protection from the elements for your ink to heal in a healthy manner and look fantastic for years to come. With that in mind, we chatted with top dermatologists and a tattoo artist to ask: Is it normal for a tattoo to peel?
Is it normal for a tattoo to peel?
Though tattoos peeling may seem like a cause for concern, rest assured that peeling and flaking in the aftermath of a new tattoo is normal. Before your tattoo begins to peel, it will look as if it has a sort of covering or film. Then, during the healing process, you will see white or translucent flakes of the dead skin start to peel off. Some of the flakes may even contain some ink.
A tattoo causes trauma and inflammation
In the process of getting a tattoo, ink is deposited into the deep layers of the skin. This process causes trauma and inflammation, leading to shedding of the outer skin layer as the skin heals itself, explains dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner. “It is common to see peeling skin in the days or even weeks following getting a new tattoo,” he adds.
Dr. Ellen Marmur, another dermatologist, agrees that initially, it is normal for skin to peel just after inking due to the micro-trauma and healing of the skin. “It can take one to two months for the initial healing process to occur,” she explains. “But delayed flaking years later is abnormal and might mean there is a reaction to the tattoo ink, like a delayed hypersensitivity.” So, it’s important to keep your dermatologist in the loop should flaking occur beyond a year post-ink.
Tattoo artist Yi Stropky of Chinatown Stropky also notes that peeling is par for the course. “Sometimes skin flakes coming off from the surface of the tattoo means the tattoo is healing,” he notes. Just like when your skin gets sunburned and peels, you can get that same white-cast, faded out look over your new tattoo. That skin will then peel back showing the true colors of your tattoo. When that happens, however, the skin has still not quite finished the healing process. The top may be healed but underneath is not. Because a tattoo is basically a scar with ink in it, the wound can take up to a year to heal fully.
What if the colors peel off?
Another thing to keep in mind is that you may even see a duplicate image of part of your tattoo peeling off – almost like a carbon copy. While that can be disconcerting, it’s also totally normal. Integral to the healing process is keeping the area moist, which we’ll get into more below.
How to stop a tattoo from peeling
The answer is simple: it’s all about moisturizing the affected area. Stropky moisturizes his own tattoos when they start to flake. “Knowing that it’s a process that will finish in a few days helps me cope with the itchiness,” he says. Zeichner advises sticking to ultra gentle, hydrating cleansers and moisturizers to keep the skin barrier in healthy shape and maintain hydration. We recommend Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Baby Castile Soap, an unscented, natural formula ($18; SHOP.DRBRONNER.COM) that can be used not only for the body, but also as toothpaste and for household cleaning.
To moisturize, we recommend Dove Derma Series Expert Balm ($15.29; TARGET.COM). It’s unscented and soothes and repairs everything from wounds, eczema, and psoriasis, to simple dry patches.
Marmur adds that to help stop the peeling, add a little lotion to the tattoo to keep it moist and encourage those flakes to come off. Do not scratch, pick or peel them. She recommends using MMRevive Serum ($85; MARMURMETAMORPHOSIS.COM), which is designed for sensitive skin, post procedure, laser treatments, and sun damage repair.
If you liked our post, “Is it Normal For A Tattoo to Peel?”, check out How Do You Know When a Tattoo Is Infected?.