Tattoo itching is a problem that affects many people after getting new “ink”. It is a normal part of the healing process, but in some cases it may be a sign of infection. The itching range from mild to severe. Here we discuss some possible causes of an itchy tattoo as well as ways in which you can make the itching stop.
Why Do Tattoos Itch When Healing
To understand why the skin on and around your new tattoos itch, it is important to consider the stages through which a new tattoo undergoes when healing.
Here is a brief summary of the tattoo healing process:
Stage OneTo create a new tattoo, the tattoo artist punctures a series of open wounds through which they place the tattoo ink into the underlying layers of your skin.
The first stage of tattoo healing process begins immediately after getting a tattoo. According to an article published in the Journal of International Medical Research, wounds begin healing as soon as the injury is sustained. As a series of puncture wounds, a tattoo is no different.
During this inflammatory stage, it is normal and expected for the new tattoo to be swollen and sore, with red areas of skin around the edges. The tattoo will gradually scab over as it heals. The first stage lasts 6-7 days (about a week).
Stage Two - The Itchy PhaseAn itchy tattoo is a hallmark of stage two of the healing process. Although the swelling will have subsided at this point, high chances are that the tattooed area of skin will still be a bit sore. The skin will have scabbed over significantly and just beginning to flake off. Flaking off of skin lasts about a week and marks the onset of itching. The skin surrounding the tattoo may as well dry out a bit and feel tight.
Most people experience some peeling of the skin around the tattoo 4 days or so after the itching begins. This often worsens the itching. Like tattoo itching, peeling is just an indication of healing. Moisturizing the peeling skin is helpful. As the tattoo heals, the skin gets pulled tightly together which can manifest in peeling of the superficial layer of the skin.
Stage ThreeThe final phase of tattoo healing process is marked by significant healing of the tattoo and the skin around it. At this point, most if not all of the scabs are gone. The area may however still be slightly sensitive, itchy and dry. In a matter of a few weeks, the skin around the tattoo will completely regenerate and match the rest of the skin.
Factors That Cause or Contribute To Tattoo ItchingAs already mentioned, an itchy tattoo is a normal occurrence. Most people experience itching after getting a new tattoo. There are several factors that can cause or worsen the itching associated with tattooing when healing. These include:
- Allergic reaction to the ink. Some people’s body react adversely to the pigments in the tattoo ink used. According to the American Academy of dermatology, red and yellow pigments are the most common culprit. Allergic reactions are characterized by raised, itchy areas of the tattoo where the specific ink was used.
- An existing skin condition. A tattoo can trigger a flare up of skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. These are marked by significant itching. Some people will not know they have such a condition until a new tattoo causes an onset of the symptoms.
- Weather. Weather can also cause or make worse an itchy tattoo. During summers, an increase in temperature and humidity can cause the skin around the tattoo to swell. This makes the tattoo to get raised and often culminates in itching. Lower winter temperatures, on the other hand, can dry out the skin and cause an itchy rash on the skin, including the tattoo itself. Low temperature can also cause adverse reactions that triggers itchy bumps on the tattoo.
What about Healed and Old Tattoo Itching?An equally important question that is asked often is, “Why does my tattoo itch so bad years after healing?” Well, although tattoos tend to itch while healing, they can still get itchy weeks, months, or even years later. This happens as a result of one or more of the following causative factors:
- Allergic reaction to the pigments in the tattoo ink. An allergic reaction can occur immediately after tattooing or weeks, months, or years after the tattoo has healed. It can for example, happen years later due to a change in the body that changes the way it perceives certain substances. Constant raised, itchy bumps on the healed tattoo (in areas where the ink was used) are a hallmark of allergic reaction.
- Weather. An old, healed tattoo itching that occur occasionally at specific times may have something to do with the weather condition.
- Sarcoidosis. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a raised, itchy tattoo that shows these symptoms years after the tattooing procedure may be due to an autoimmune disorder known as sarcoidosis. The condition often involves other body organs, usually the lungs and eyes. Topical creams are usually effective in treating it, but immunosuppressant drugs may be needed for serious cases.
Whatever the underlying cause for an itchy tattoo after healing has taken place, it is best not to scratch the area. This is so regardless of the fact that a healed tattoo is less likely to be damaged by scratching. Instead, apply topical creams or any of the other home remedies outlined in the section below.
How Long Does a Tattoo ItchWhen will my tattoo stop itching, you ask? The itchy stage of a tattoo takes a week or so but it can take up to two weeks for the itching to completely subside but it may take longer where factors such as allergic reactions and weather are involved.
For tattoo itching that takes longer than two weeks – or intolerable itch – try using topical steroid ointment such as hydrocortisone. If the tattoo still itches, you may benefit from taking prescription drugs. Ask your dermatologist. In worst case scenario, tattoo removal may be necessary.
Why You Should Not Scratch an Itchy Tattoo
When a tattoo goes into a frenzy and itches so bad (or like crazy as one of my friends would describe it), it is very compelling to scratch the area. This however poses several health and aesthetic risks as outlined below:
- The bacteria in your nails can enter the healing wound and cause infection.
- As you scratch your new tattoo, you can pull a premature scab and cause your tattoo permanent scarring.
- Scratching that itchy tattoo can ruin it by creating patchy areas. During the tattooing procedure, some ink get trapped in the upper layers of the skin. The ink later sets to achieve the desired look. Scratching the skin can rub and scrap the ink off, consequently ruining your new “body ink”.
Tattoo Itch Relief Treatments and Home RemediesAn itchy tattoo can make you pretty uncomfortable. As mentioned, however, scratching it will do more harm than good. Instead you should take measures aimed at relieving the itch. Below is a guideline on how to stop a tattoo from itching:
1. Apply a Topical Anti-Itch CreamTopical anti-itch creams and ointments come in handy for itchy tattoo relief. According to Daniel More, MD, an assistant clinical professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (School of Medicine), topical steroid creams are the best choice for itching.
They don’t cause contact dermatitis, neither do they come with the risk of future allergic reaction (as the case with Benadryl lotions).
Topical steroids are widely available over-the-counter as hydrocortisone creams and ointments.
2. Take Oral AntihistaminesAccording to the WebMD, oral antihistamines such as Benadryl, Cetirizine, and Celestamine can help to get rid of itchy bumps and rashes in the skin on and around tattoos.
3. Chew a GumChewing a bubble gum is more of a distractor to the itching than an actual home remedy for an itchy tattoo. Chewing a gum helps you to get your mind off the itch. Some people also find typing, playing an instrument, playing video games, and walks helpful.
4. Pat the Tattoo LightlyScratching a new itchy tattoo is not recommended, but patting the tattoo gently is okay and may in fact provide you with the much needed relief.
Patting the tattoo and the skin around it gently – keep in mind the term GENTLY – with the palm of your hand will help to stop the itching, yet will not mess the ink. It is also advisable to do it over a clean piece of clothing – as opposed to using your bare hands.
5. Apply Ice to Cool and Stop the Tattoo from ItchingIce is a great home remedy for tattoo itching. According to the WebMD, an ice pack not only helps to relieve itching but also reduce swelling and bruising. Many people however make the mistake of placing the ice directly on the skin. This can cause ice burn. Instead, wrap the ice in a clean fabric e.g. a towel, and then pat it gently all over the tattooed area.
If you don’t have some ice, applying a cool compress can also offer relief. Simply soak a clean towel in cool water, wring out the excess water, and then use it to pat the area of skin around the tattoo.
A quick, warm shower can also help to get rid of the itching and is especially great for tattoo in areas of the body e.g. the back.
6. Apply a Suitable Aftercare Lotion or CreamKeeping the tattooed area of skin forms an integral part of tattoo aftercare. It helps to not only stop but also prevent the itching associated with tattoos.
Don’t go wild with the idea though. Too much of a cream or lotion is actually counterproductive. It will hamper the tattoo healing process by limiting airflow.
To stop a tattoo from itching, simple dab a thin film amount of your chosen cream or lotion gently. Wipe off any excess with a paper towel.
What Is The Best Tattoo Cream?Most tattoo artists will give you or recommend an aftercare lotion or cream to help with tattoo itching and peeling during as it heals. Although recommendations vary from one tattoo artist to the other, most list Hustle Butter as their favorite tattoo aftercare cream.
The most outstanding feature of this tattoo aftercare cream is that it is petroleum free – just in case you didn’t know you should avoid using petroleum based products on a new tattoo. It is also suitable for any stage of the healing process.
Is Laser Tattoo Removal Itchy?
According to Harold Kaplan, MD., a Los Angeles based plastic surgeon, the itching relates to allergic reaction resulting from “sudden release of the tattoo ink”.
Moisturizing the skin is usually helpful for post-tattoo removal itching.
Taking over the counter antihistamines such as Benadryl can also help to stop the itching. More severe cases may require treatment with prescription strength topical steroid creams e.g. hydrocortisone.
When to See a Doctor Over an Itchy TattooYou should seek medical attention right away if tattoo itching is accompanied by drainage, painful pustules, or red bumps. This is especially true if these symptoms occur within a month of getting the tattoo. According to American Academy of Dermatology, this could be a sign of a mycobacterial infection linked to contaminated tattoo ink. Sudden bleeding and increasing pain or redness could also be a sign of infection.
- American Academy of Dermatology: Dermatologist Warns Consumers About Complications Linked To Newer Tattoo Inks.
- Journal of International Medical Research: The Wound Healing Process: an Overview of the Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms
- LovetoKnow.com: Three Healing Stages of Tattoos
- RealSelf.com: Extremely itchy after tattoo removal, lotions and creams are not working. What can you suggest to give me some relief?
- VeryWell.com: Antihistamine Creams for Itching
- WebMD: Tattoo Problems - Home Treatment