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How long should a tattoo be red and sore?

Getting a new tattoo can be an exciting experience. However, the aftermath of tattooing often involves dealing with pain, swelling, and other side effects as your skin heals. A common question many people have is how long their new tattoo should remain red and sore before this is considered abnormal.

What is normal tattoo healing?

It’s completely normal for a new tattoo to be red and sore for the first few weeks. Here’s a general timeline of what to expect:

  • Days 1-2: Your tattoo will be very sore, swollen, and reddened. It may ooze plasma and ink.
  • Days 3-4: Scabs will begin to form over your tattoo. It will be itchy.
  • Days 5-6: The scabs will tighten and darken as your skin begins regenerating underneath.
  • Days 7-14: Scabs start peeling and flaking off. Your skin is pink or red underneath. Tattoo may still feel slightly sore.
  • Weeks 3-4: Any residual scabbing should be gone. Redness has lightened to a pink shade.
  • 1-2 months: Tattoo is fully healed. Redness is minimal to none.

It’s normal to expect redness, swelling, scabbing, peeling, and tenderness for up to 3-4 weeks after getting inked. Your artist will apply a protective bandage that should be kept on for 24 hours. Once the bandage is removed, your tattoo will go through the healing stages outlined above.

Signs of abnormal healing

While it’s common for a fresh tattoo to be red and sore initially, there are signs that indicate healing is not progressing normally:

  • Severe pain – Soreness is expected, but severe or throbbing pain is not and may indicate an infection.
  • Oozing – Plasma and ink oozing from the tattoo is normal for the first 1-2 days, but oozing after this suggests excessive weeping that can delay healing.
  • Prolonged bleeding – Bleeding should stop completely once the initial bandage is removed. Any bleeding after this is abnormal.
  • Heavy scabbing – Scabs should be minimal. Large, thick scabs that crack easily can rip off new skin and cause scarring.
  • Itchy rash – A severe itchy rash around the tattoo could indicate an allergic reaction.
  • Swollen lymph nodes – This may be a sign your body is fighting off an infection.

Though redness and soreness is expected, take note if your tattoo exhibits any of the symptoms above past the first few days of healing. Prolonged oozing, bleeding, severe scabbing, rashes, or swollen lymph glands warrant a trip to your doctor to rule out complications.

What causes abnormal healing?

There are a few key reasons why your tattoo might stay red and sore longer than expected:

  • Infection – Unsterilized tattoo equipment can introduce bacteria that leads to infected tattoos. Symptoms are redness, swelling, warmth, excessive pain and oozing.
  • Allergic reaction – Some people may be allergic to the tattoo dyes, especially red pigments. Reactions cause itchy rashes, raised lesions, and weeping.
  • Blow outs – Overworking the tattoo gun can cause ink to spread below the skin and lead to heavy scabbing and prolonged healing.
  • Sun exposure – Letting sun hit the tattoo before it has fully healed can cause complications and delay healing.
  • Improper aftercare – Not cleaning or moisturizing properly can lead to scabbing and dryness that prolongs the healing timeline.

Consult your artist first if you notice abnormal healing to rule out aftercare issues. However, severe reactions likely require medical treatment to prevent permanent damage to the tattoo.

Tips for proper healing

To help your new tattoo heal properly through the expected red and sore phase, follow these crucial aftercare steps:

  • Leave the initial bandage on for 24 hours, then gently wash tattoo with mild antibacterial soap and water. Air dry thoroughly.
  • Apply a very thin layer of fragrance-free moisturizer 2-3 times a day. Too much can clog pores.
  • Avoid submerging tattoo in baths, pools, etc until fully healed.
  • Don’t pick scabs – let them fall off naturally.
  • Wear loose clothing to avoid irritation.
  • Avoid direct sun exposure while healing.
  • If concerned about signs of infection, see your doctor right away.

Caring properly for your new tattoo will optimize healing and reduce complications that can lead to prolonged redness and soreness.

When to see your doctor

Consult your doctor immediately if your tattoo exhibits any of these symptoms past the first couple days:

  • Excessive oozing or bleeding
  • Expanding areas of redness, warmth and swelling
  • Rashes, hives or blisters around tattoo
  • Severe, throbbing pain
  • Pus or foul odor
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever, chills, nausea

These reactions may indicate an underlying complication like an infection or allergic reaction requiring medical treatment such as oral antibiotics or prescription ointment. Don’t hesitate to get it checked out.

When to see your artist

Consult your tattoo artist first if your tattoo exhibits:

  • Minimal scabbing/peeling after 2 weeks
  • Scabbing that cracks easily and bleeds when agitated
  • Mild redness and swelling after 4 weeks
  • Itchiness
  • Small bumps along the lines

Your tattoo artist will assess if the symptoms are within normal limits or if changes are needed in the recommended aftercare. They can suggest remedies for excessive dryness, itching or scabbing. If there are early signs of infection like swelling and redness, they may advise seeing a doctor.

How long it takes for redness to fade

For most properly healed tattoos, you can expect:

  • 75% fading of redness after 2 weeks
  • 90% fading after 3-4 weeks
  • 100% redness gone after 1-2 months

However, variables like tattoo size, location, your skin type and age, and aftercare impact final healing. Larger, colored tattoos take longer. Areas like feet, hands, and elbows may delay healing. Older skin has slower regeneration. Improper aftercare can prolong redness.

Here is a table summarizing the general timeline for tattoo redness to fully subside based on variables:

Variable Time for Redness to Fade
Small, simple black line tattoo 1 month
Medium, simple black tattoo 1-2 months
Large, complex color tattoo 2-3 months
Hand, foot, or high friction area 8-12 weeks
Older skin or previous scar tissue 8-12 weeks

If your tattoo remains significantly red and irritated beyond the normal timeframe, follow up with your artist and doctor to identify if any complications are delaying proper healing.

When can you resume normal activities?

While your tattoo finishes healing over the first 2 months, you’ll need to avoid certain activities that can aggravate it. Here are general timelines for resuming exercise, sun exposure, and submerging your tattoo:

  • Exercise: Avoid sweaty exercise for 2-3 weeks. After this, resume light activity. No friction sports like football or wrestling for 4-6 weeks.
  • Sun: No direct sun exposure for the first 3-4 weeks until fully scabbed. After this, apply SPF 30 or higher.
  • Water: No baths, swimming, or hot tubs until the tattoo is fully healed and any scabbing/peeling is complete – about 4 weeks.

Even once redness fades after 1-2 months, continue using high SPF sunscreen and moisturizer on the tattooed area when needed.

How to reduce redness and soreness

If your new tattoo seems excessively red or sore beyond normal healing stages, you can take measures to soothe discomfort and reduce irritation:

  • Take OTC pain medication like Tylenol to reduce soreness.
  • Apply a cool compress for 10 minutes a few times a day.
  • Gently clean with mild, fragrance-free soap and dab dry.
  • Use a fragrance-free moisturizer after washing to prevent scabbing.
  • Avoid picking scabs so the tattoo can heal cleanly underneath.
  • Wear clean, loose clothing to avoid friction.
  • Keep your tattoo out of the sun and avoid high-sweat exercise temporarily.

See your doctor if excessive redness, pain, swelling or other signs of infection arise so they can provide prescription-strength relief. Mild symptoms can be eased with proper at-home care.

Potential complications from prolonged redness

While some redness and soreness is expected with new tattoos, prolonged symptoms beyond 4 weeks can signify impaired healing. Potential complications include:

  • Permanent damage to the design from blown out lines and excessive scarring
  • Scarring from picked scabs delaying proper skin regeneration
  • Loss of pigment in areas of poor healing
  • Infections turning into abscesses requiring drainage
  • Allergic reactions causing permanent rashes and skin changes
  • Need for additional laser removal and touch ups once healed

Seeking prompt treatment is crucial to avoid lasting impairment to the appearance and integrity of your tattoo. Follow your aftercare instructions closely and don’t hesitate to consult experts.

Does redness signal removal is needed?

Not necessarily. It’s normal for all new tattoos to remain red as the skin regenerates and healing processes occur underneath over the first month. Redness fading from an angry red to a light pink shade is an encouraging sign.

However, if the redness intensifies, spreads, and is accompanied by other symptoms like rashes, swelling, oozing, and severe pain, this may indicate an underlying problem. Ongoing complications may jeopardize the integrity of the tattoo, leading to poor resolution of these reactions without treatment.

Have any abnormal symptoms evaluated by your artist and doctor to determine if the cause is infectious, allergic or due to poor technique that would compromise appearance, warranting removal. Mild redness alone does not constitute grounds for removal if it starts fading within the normal post-tattoo timeline.

Will a red tattoo fade properly?

Yes, with proper care the redness associated with new tattoos does not negatively impact final results. As your skin regenerates underneath and inflammation subsides, the vibrant colors and defined lines should remain intact.

Areas that were excessively red are likely to retain slightly more pigment initially and appear slightly bolder. But this often fades over time into an even, uniform color. Redness alone does not compromise the tattoo design or permanence of the pigment once healed.

However, redness accompanied by other symptoms of poor healing like scarring, heavy scabbing, rashes and skin damage can potentially impair the final appearance. Avoid picking, sun exposure and friction to optimize fading.

Does redness mean a reaction to pigments?

Sometimes. Many symptoms like redness, itching, swelling, weeping and tenderness are normal for the first few weeks as the skin responds to the ink under the surface. However, more severe reactions may indicate an underlying issue like:

  • Infection from unsterilized equipment
  • Allergic reaction to specific dye chemicals, especially red pigments
  • Blow out from poor application technique

Have prolonged or worsening redness evaluated, especially if other worrying symptoms arise. Allergies may only show up days to weeks later. Let your doctor assess if it appears to be a reaction to pigments warranting allergy testing and removal.


It’s completely normal for new tattoos to remain red, swollen, scabbed and slightly sore for 2 to 4 weeks as your skin heals. The redness should steadily fade over time. However, worsening redness, along with symptoms like itchy rashes, pus, excessive pain and warmth, may indicate complications requiring medical care.

To optimize healing, closely follow your aftercare instructions on washing, moisturizing and sun protection. Avoid activities causing friction over the tattoo initially. Watch for signs of infection or allergic reaction and see your doctor promptly if they arise for treatment to prevent permanent damage to the tattoo.

With proper care and prompt attention to any abnormalities, your new body art should heal beautifully, with the redness disappearing into a vibrant, lasting tattoo within 1-2 months.