This Is How a Tattoo Heals*

[I realized I’ve never properly documented this before, so I started taking notes along the way. Just because.]

DAY ZERO Freshly inked, a little blood, this clear white fluid seeping out called lymph. It is raw but mostly not too sore as the nerves have been shorted out from the constant over-stimulation that is being tattooed. OTC painkillers are a good idea now, as is some food and sleep and not touching it with anything other than clothing made of the softest fabric because it only hurts when you touch it. Later that will change.

DAY ONE It feels kind of like a burn and if you went to sleep wearing a t-shirt you’ll have to peel it off. That will hurt. A lot. If you didn’t go to sleep wearing a t-shirt you may have to peel off blankets and that will also hurt (plus blankets are likely not as clean as a clean t-shirt, so… ick).

If you touch it (protip: DON’T TOUCH IT), it will feel very slightly raised but mostly just around the outline and anywhere else the ink got worked in there really hard.

DAY TWO You know when you were a kid and you’d get a sunburn and then it would peel? Yeah. This is going somewhere similar. Not yet but it’s starting to dry out some and no mater how much lotion you lube it up with, it still feels tight. (Protip: Use minimal amounts of lotion, do not over-saturate. (I have no idea why, this is just something tattooists always tell me and I assume they know what they’re talking about.))

DAY THREE The whole thing is one big, raw, hypersensitive scab. I am wearing the softest t-shirt I own and it feels like sandpaper. Also, it looks like shit. Try to avoid showing it to anyone until it’s done peeling.

DAY FOUR Now it only hurts if you touch it. (Progress!)

DAYS FIVE – EIGHT The peeling… oh god, the peeling. Any time you touch it, pieces will fall off. I have a sort of disgusted fascination with analyzing these… sheddings (I don’t even know what to call them). Most are smaller than a pinkynail and they look something like fish scales or discarded/smashed-up fairy wings, colorful and translucent.

This is the phase that’s supposed to itch (protip: DON’T SCRATCH) but I’ve never experienced that; there’s slight discomfort and I want to pick at it (so it’s lucky I can’t reach this one because I have no self-control) but the feeling is more psychological than physical and I don’t identify it as “itching.”

DAY NINE Most of it has peeled off. Also it doesn’t hurt anymore and I can sleep on my back again (small victories are still victories?). More and more, I feel compelled to take steel wool to my back and be done with it (protip: DON’T DO THAT).

DAY TWELVE The final pieces have fallen off. This is basically the end of it—unless minor touch-ups are necessary, then it all starts over again but significantly less-so.

*With the obvious caveat that everyone’s recovery speed will vary and this is how a tattoo heals for me (this time).