What Happens If You Scratch a Tattoo?

Whether it is your very first tattoo or your hundredth tattoo, something you’ll notice right away during your healing process is that your ink can become itchy. Big or small, your tattoo is likely to itch as the lubrication from the tattooing process dries out and it begins to heal.

scratch a tattoo
Image by eugene chystiakov from Pixabay

Please understand that this itchiness is common, and it is easy to combat itching and prevent scratching with some basic aftercare steps. If aftercare steps are taken appropriately, your new tattoo can heal faster, and itchiness will subside quickly. If these steps are skipped it could be difficult to keep from scratching your body art and your tattoo, as well as your comfort, may suffer the consequences.

Keep reading to find out all you need to know about tattoo itchiness including why itchiness happens, why you shouldn’t scratch your tattoo, and the best ways to promote healthy healing.

Is It Normal for a Tattoo to Be Itchy?

When the needle of the tattoo machine passes through the skin’s protective barrier, it creates a wound. This causes the skin to immediately go into protection and healing mode. Some symptoms of this may include swelling, redness, itching, and scabbing. As your skin is your largest organ and first line of defense, it is simply trying its best to fight off infection and heal itself to protect your body.

You will notice itching when your skin begins to form scabs over your tattoo, and this is perfectly normal! In most cases, itchiness as a sign that your tattoo is healing, and your skin is on the mend. You may consider other times that you have gotten a flesh wound and a scab has formed.

Did your scab become itchy over the first few days after it formed? Did you notice that when you scratched the itch, it became worse? This is the same thing that will happen if you scratch your tattoo. Scratching causes further irritation of your tattoo which will not be helpful in the long run.

If You Scratch a Tattoo, Will It Mess Up?

Scratching a tattoo has the potential to mess it up in a variety of ways. Not only will scratching your tattoo make the itch more intense and possibly lead to a nasty infection, but scratching also has the potential to create scars and destroy your body art.

When you remove scabs too early from scratching, the skin barrier is open to germs and impurities. When these impurities enter the skin, it is likely that an infection will take place which will only cause more discomfort. Some signs of an infection may include redness, increased and prolonged itching, and oozing at the wound site.

If you experience any of these symptoms, reach out to a doctor. Removing scabs too early by scratching them off can also cause scarring of the skin which may be permanent and unsightly.

For those that are concerned about the art: scratching your tattoo will always destroy the placement of the ink in the skin and cause your tattoo to appear distorted. If you scratched your tattoo during the healing process, you may notice areas of your tattoo that are completely empty after it has finally healed.

Like most tattoo seekers, you likely spent a lot of time choosing your design, artist, and placement. You probably paid a pretty penny for the work as well! Take care of your investment and keep your fingernails away until your tattoo is fully ready!

How Long Will the Itching Last?

Tattoo itchiness should only last for one or two weeks. This amount of time is dependent on the style of artwork, the application of the tattoo, and the aftercare steps taken during healing. Larger, fully shaded, and colored pieces may take longer to heal, and it is therefore likely that itchiness may persist for a longer time.

Smaller, single-needle or dainty pieces should not take too much time to heal. Additionally, heavier-handed tattoo artists may be responsible for pieces that are deeper in the skin’s layers which will increase healing time. Sometimes, it can be helpful to ask your tattoo artist if they consider themselves to be heavy-handed. Or what style of tattooing they typically perform.

Regardless, if you are still experiencing redness or itchiness, and it has increased over this healing period, it is probably best to see a doctor to make sure you are not fighting an infection. In most cases, itchiness fully subsides after the skin has healed over the tattoo and the scabs have completely fallen off. Try to be patient during the scabbing and healing period, your tattoo will thank you!

How Do You Know When It Is Okay to Scratch Your Tattoo?

Staying vigilant about not scratching your tattoo during the healing process can be very challenging. It is most important to avoid scratching your tattoo during the first couple of days and weeks when the procedure is complete. It is not safe to scratch it during this period because your tattoo can be in ruin. Moreover, if you remove the scabs too early, the infection can occur, and scarring is inevitable. You should be able to safely scratch your tattoo after it has fully healed and there are no longer scabs visible.

Photo by Rizky Sabriansyah on Unsplash

It is important to note that tattoo scratching is different for everyone and scratching a fully healed tattoo can sometimes trigger irritation for some people. If you experience tattoo swelling, oozing, or burning after itching your totally healed tattoo. You may have an allergy to the ink that was used, or you could be suffering from another issue.

Reach out to a doctor or a dermatologist if this happens to narrow it down and prevent irritation from future tattoos. Of course, your skin may still experience itchiness from other sources such as dry skin or bug bites on top of your healed tattoo, and you’re going to want to scratch it! Don’t worry, scratching your tattoo is only taboo if you have still have scabbing and your healing course is not complete. You should not have any issues gently scratching a bug bit or dry skin on top of your healed and healthy tattoo.

How Can You Reduce the Itchiness?

Proper tattoo aftercare is vital to reducing itchiness during the healing stage. It is absolutely essential that you fully understand tattoo aftercare and its importance after getting a new tattoo. The most important first step to success is to keep the tattoo and the skin around it clean while it heals.

Keeping the area clean will prevent infection which further prevents irritation and itchiness. To cleanse you may consider purchasing a tattoo aftercare-specific soap that is made for healing tattoos. You can also use a mild and fragrance-free soap to cleanse the tattoo. You should only be using your hands to gently cleanse, as cloths and sponges can harbor bacteria and germs that can infect your ink.

Make sure you use clean and warm water when washing the tattoo and pat dry to avoid the removal of scabs which may harm the tattoo and the artwork.

After cleansing, moisturization is the ultimate key to preventing itchiness. Moisturization not only eases itch, but it also helps the itching phase of healing to go by even faster. Depending on the size and location of the tattoo, you may need to moisturize your body art multiple times a day to prevent itching and promote healing.

Photo by Stories & Ink Tattoo Care on Unsplash

To moisturize your tattoo, gently apply an unscented moisturizing ointment or a tattoo-specific ointment or lotion over the tattoo as needed using clean hands. Make sure that you are applying fragrance free lotion only and lotion that is non-comedogenic. If your tattoo is scabbing, consider tapping the ointment or lotion in gently to prevent premature scab peeling. A good sign that your tattoo needs more frequent moisturization is an increase in itching! Listen to your skin, and it will thank you!

Max Peters

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