How to Properly Care for a Peeling Tattoo, According to Experts

woman with curly hair and tattoos


After getting a tattoo, you can expect the skin around your new ink to flake and peel off. It can be alarming to see chunks of pigment pull away from their permanent placement on your skin, but don't fret—the peeling of tattoos is normal and a sign that your new ink is properly healing. 

While tattoo peeling can't be prevented, it can be managed if you are diligent about your aftercare routine. We spoke to dermatologist Dr. Bradley Glodny and tattoo artist Shaughnessy Otsuji for everything you need to know on how to care for a peeling tattoo.

Meet the Expert

  • Bradley Glodny, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and owner at Park Avenue Dermatology, a boutique dermatology practice in New York City. He is also an attending at NYP Columbia Medical Center where he teaches Columbia dermatology residents cosmetic dermatology.
  • Shaughnessy Otsuji is a tattoo artist and the owner of Studio Sashiko.

Why Is My Tattoo Peeling?

According to Glodny, tattoos peel because the epidermis, or the outermost layer of the skin, is injured when the needle, coated in ink, is inserted. "Once injured, the skin becomes inflamed, red, and swollen. This layer of skin is basically irreparably damaged and eventually desquamates (or falls off). Since the skin is injured, it loses moisture and becomes dehydrated. This 'dead' skin has a dry texture, which we perceive as peeling skin."

"If there is some scabbing or flaking, we advise clients not to pick and to allow the scab or dry skin to come off on its own," says Otsuji. "Picking at your tattoo during the peeling stage can result in it appearing patchy, distorted, and dull once healed."

When Does a Tattoo Begin Peeling?

"You can expect your tattoo to begin peeling about one to two weeks from when you first got the tattoo. Depending on how you are caring for your tattoo, this timeline may vary," says Glodny.

However, everyone's body heals differently, so it's not a bad sign to see peeling happen later. If it happens earlier, you may want to talk to your artist, as bits of pigment could actually be pulled from the tattoo and ruin the overall look.

Once you uncover your new tattoo, you may notice that it looks a bit "dull." This means your ink is healing correctly. That dull layer is actually made up of the dead skin cells that accumulated on the top of your tattoo (or the same ones that are getting ready to peel away from the fresh layers of skin underneath).

What f My Tattoo Isn't Peeling?

As normal as it is for them to peel, it's just as natural for them to not peel. Everyone's skin heals in its own unique way, so you may see tattoo peeling at a later time or not at all. Dry and normal skin types tend to peel more, while oilier skin may peel less.

"Some tattoos will not peel significantly. Additionally, if you are diligent about moisturizing your tattoo, you will notice less peeling," says Glodny.

The actual process of getting the tattoo may also contribute to whether or not your skin peels. Going to an artist who uses a shallower depth of needle penetration, or one who creates more fine line work, may mean less or no peeling. The actual type of tattoo you get will play a part as well, i.e., whether you go for traditional tattooing or cosmetic tattooing like eyebrow microblading or permanent makeup.

"In general, cosmetic tattoos don't cause the same trauma to the skin that traditional body tattoos do," says Otsuji. Again, this is a completely natural healing response as your body creates a thin scab over the wound (aka the tattoo) that then naturally peels or flakes off to reveal a fresh layer of healed skin.

Other Tattoo Side Effects

Peeling isn't the only side effect you'll notice if your tattoo is properly healing. You should expect to see some redness around the placement site for a day or so after getting it done, as well as some slight itchiness and minor inflammation caused by the skin trauma of the tattooing needles. However, if either of these symptoms extends past the placement site of the tattoo, it might be a sign of improper healing.

"Scarring, keloiding (excessive scarring), infection, and allergic ink reactions (as evident by rash or patches of redness) are several other side effects that can occur as well," says Glodny. Extreme itchiness is another sign that something could be wrong, such as inflammation or an infection, so do your best not to scratch the area.

If you notice any of these uncommon side effects, contact a medical professional immediately to ensure you minimize damage to your tattoo and health.


One of the most important aftercare steps happens right after your tattoo is done: covering it to keep the freshly tattooed area clean. Check with your artist about how long they suggest keeping the bandage or wrap on, as well as how they generally suggest best caring for your new ink. 

When it comes to cleaning and moisturizing the area, it's fairly routine. First, wash the fresh tattoo roughly twice daily with unscented antibacterial soap and warm water to keep it clean from buildup or bacteria. To keep skin from cracking, moisturize your ink after each wash and a few times throughout the day. This will also help keep tattoo peeling at a minimum.

According to Glodny, newer recommendations for tattoos include the application of a "second skin" layer to your tattoo, which is kept on the tattoo for up to a week. "This protects the tattoo, keeping it out of harm's way. With this care method, nothing can or should be applied to the tattoo until the 'second skin' is removed or falls off." Once this happens, Glodny says Aquaphor can be applied for a couple of weeks until the tattoo no longer feels dry.

The Final Takeaway

It's completely normal for a new tattoo to peel. And while it may be tempting to pick at the dead skin, it's important to let your body go through the process naturally. Remember to keep your tattoo out of the sun until it's fully healed (and always wear sunscreen after), avoid any activity that would wet your ink, like swimming, bathing, or sweating, and wear loose-fitted clothing to prevent irritation. If you follow these aftercare tips and give your tattoo time to heal, it will turn out just fine.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Rahimi IA, Eberhard I, Kasten E. TATTOOS: What Do People Really Know About the Medical Risks of Body Ink? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018 Mar;11(3):30-35.

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