The peeling stage of a tattoo can be pretty daunting, as it’s not normal for your skin to resemble that of a snake.

Worry not - it’s all a part of the process.

Many people ask us if it's a good idea keep washing their tattoos when the skin is peeling. We are all about proper tattoo aftercare, so there's no doubt about it.

So, should you wash your tattoo when it’s peeling? Yes, definitelyThe peeling process usually starts 4-5 days after getting the tattoo, and you should keep cleaning it out and caring for it very gently.  

Let’s check out the process of tattoo peeling and how to properly take care of your skin during this period.

What Exactly is Tattoo Peeling? Process Explained

Tattoo peeling is the process where your epidermis (outermost layer of skin) regenerates. 

  1. When you get a tattoo, the top and middle layers of your skin are penetrated, causing a sort of shock factor within your skin cells.
  2. The initial step of the healing process begins almost immediately upon penetration when your body starts to form this mesh of platelets in order to avoid loss of bodily fluids.
  3. After that, you might see some swelling for the first couple of days when your skin cells begin to grow anew.
  4. Around the end of the first week, the new skin cells have finally pushed their way to the top outer layer of your skin, causing your old dead skin cells to shed or peel off.

How Long Does Tattoo Peeling Last?

For smaller tattoos with less ink, you can expect the peeling process to finish up within 1 week. For larger tattoos with more ink, it might take up to 2 weeks to fully finish peeling.

The timeframe for your tattoo to peel entirely off will depend on the size, shape, amount of ink, and color of your tattoo.

Don’t worry if your tattoo hasn’t started peeling within five days or is taking longer than two weeks to peel.

Each body is different, as is every tattoo. 

What TO DO When Your Tattoo is Peeling: 

1. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize  

Moisturizing a tattoo that’s peeling will not only speed up the healing process of your tattoo with those helpful vitamins and minerals, it will also nourish your skin and help that sort of itchy uncomfortable feeling you get when your skin peels.

Moisturizing will also help transform the look of your skin from flakey to healthy.

Moisturized tattoo

2. Keep your skin clean

Healthy skin is clean skin, especially when it comes to skin going through the healing process.

Wash your tattooed area out very gently with antibacterial soap, and then rinse, but don’t rub. 

Everything in this phase of the tattoo healing process should be done very gently, as you don’t want to force the scab off.

After cleaning your tattoo, pat it gently preferably with a paper towel, not a bath towel.

Tattoo Foam Soap

3. Allow the peel to fall off naturally

If you’re worried about all the flakes coming off of your skin, don’t.

They will all come off in due time. It’s all a part of the healing process - especially at the beginning, and you don’t need to hinder that process by prematurely peeling the skin before it is ready.

What NOT to Do When Your Tattoo is Peeling:  

1. Do not pick your peel  

I’m sure we’ve all done it before - received a sunburn, and just when the skin started peeling, we decided to nudge it along and help it out a little bit by peeling it off. 

This is exactly what you do not want to be doing to your skin when it’s peeling from a tattoo.

Pulling attached skin could cause unsettled ink to pop out, leading to scarring, patchiness, and sometimes distortion within your tattoo.

Even if the skin looks like it’s ready to come off, it could still be firmly attached to your layer of skin.

Scratching new tattoo

2. Do not shave or wax the tattooed area.  

This one is pretty self-explanatory.

You’ve got to allow your tattoo time to heal before bringing a razor into the picture. If you take a razor blade or hot wax to skin that is trying to recover by peeling - you could seriously damage your skin and alter the look of your tattoo.

3. Do not rub your tattoo with a towel

Rubbing your tattoo can lead to the skin to come off that was not ready to come off.

Rubbing pulls up the scab layer of your skin, sending signals to your brain that the healing process needs to start all over

Try to use a paper towel instead of a rough bath towel after cleaning out your tattoo. 

4. Do not soak your tattoo in water or sweat excessively.  

Water, including sweat, can seep into your tattoo and pull out ink from a tattoo still healing. Water caught in your tattoo for an extended period of time also might have bacteria, dirt, or germs that can lead to an infection.

If you do sweat, rinse off and change clothes immediately after, and keep the daily showers short - less than 10 minutes. 

Read also: 8 Things you should know when showering after a tattoo

5. Don’t rebandage the tattoo.  

By the time your tattoo starts peeling off, you shouldn't be wearing a tattoo bandage any longer. Your skin is dying to be in the fresh air - literally. Allow your skin to heal and peel outside of a bandage even if it feels sensitive.

Tattoo Peeling and Fading

Throughout the peeling process, and especially as it comes to an end, you might notice the tattoo color looks different from when you left the shop. 

Don’t worry - that’s completely usual, and it will return to normal.

The reason your tattoo might look dull and cloudy is due to a dead layer of skin that is still present.

It’ll take about 1 or 2 months for the coloration of your tattoo to return to normal, as the skin will finally be fully healed.

It takes a while for that new skin to reach the surface, though, so be patient with your skin. Allow it to do its thing naturally and effortlessly.

Read also: Tattoo fading (how to prevent it)

Sunburn and Tattoo Peeling

When it comes to allowing your tattoo to heal - the best strategy is just to avoid the sun like you’re a vampire. We know that’s not feasible for most people, so let’s talk sunburn and peeling.

The peeling process is an extremely delicate time for your tattoo. All that new skin is fighting and pushing to make its way to the surface of your body, and all that old dead skin is getting ready to leave forever.

Exposure to sunlight during this process could cause a shock to your skin cells and prolong or even restart the healing process. Your skin may start to blister and could potentially lead to an infection.

Tattoo in the sun

We strongly recommend to avoid the sun the first 2 weeks after getting tattooed.

Once your tattoo is healed, wear sunscreen and loose clothing to cover your tattoo if you are going out in the sun.

Even if you wear sunscreen, it’s important not to expose yourself to the sun’s rays for an extended amount of time as damage can still occur in the first 2-3 months.

Bottom Line

When it comes to tattoo peeling, it’s best to keep it clean and moisturized. The last thing your tattoo needs is you poking and prodding all over it.

Maintain the aftercare, but let the skin heal on its own time.

Before you know it, you’ll have a whole new array of skin cells with a beautiful and healthy tattoo.

Our mission is to inspire and educate the tattoo community. We have combined our many years of experience in the industry and our love for tattoos to create useful and enlightening content. Join us in this exciting journey in the beautiful art of tattooing.
Welcome to Sorry Mom.

- Rasmus Cort Hansen, CEO & Founder