Bubble Trouble: How to Prevent and Treat Tattoo Bubbling

By | August 31, 2022

Tattoo bubbling is when healing tattooed skin becomes saturated with moisture. This can increase your risk of infection and tattoo damage.

A lot can happen in the time it takes a tattoo to heal. One potential problem is tattoo bubbling, which is when the healing skin absorbs too much moisture and starts to appear raised.

Tattoo bubbling can lead to wet scabs that fall off easily and damage your tattoo. Plus, it also increases your risk of infection.

Here’s how you can prevent tattoo bubbling after you get inked and what to do if it’s already happened.

What causes tattoo bubbling?

During the tattoo healing process, it’s normal to get scabs. Healthy scabs are crusty and will slough off on their own after a couple of weeks. Tattoo bubbling is when these scabs don’t heal correctly due to excess moisture.

In most cases, tattoo bubbling occurs when your new tat isn’t thoroughly dried after getting wet. Lotion or ointments can also make matters worse by trapping water inside the scabs. 

two people examining each other's tattoos on their arms
Daxiao Productions/Stocksy United (person appearing is a model and used for illustrative purposes only)

How to fix tattoo bubbling 

Preventing tattoo bubbling is much easier than treating tattoo bubbling. But if you’re already experiencing symptoms, don’t worry! Here are some tips to get your tat back on track:

  • Cease and desist moisture. Stop applying lotion or ointment to your tattoo
  • No picking. Do not touch or pick at your scab. We know the temptation is real, but even the slightest friction can peel the whole thing off.
  • Give it some air time. Fresh air can help your scab dry out again. This process can take several days, so try to be patient.
  • Start slow. Once your scab has thoroughly dried, you can resume your standard aftercare ritual. Just be sure not to overdo it. Only apply a small amount of tattoo-friendly lotion, and be sure to completely dry your scab after it gets wet.
  •  Clean up. Accidents happen. If you apply too much lotion on your scab, gently dab it off with a clean paper towel. Don’t try to rub it off — this can irritate the wound.

Does tattoo bubbling go away?

How long it takes tattoo bubbling to heal depends on how large the affected area is. Small tattoo scabs can bounce back within a few hours. But large areas of skin can take a few days to dry out.

Tattoo bubbling will eventually go away after the area heals. The most important thing you can do is be patient and avoid picking. This can increase your healing time and bumps up the risk of infection.

Tattoo bubbling vs. infection

Typical tattoo bubbling has a goopy or gluey texture 🤢. These super-saturated scabs can fall off easily, leaving your skin vulnerable to infection.

According to a 2016 review of 67 studies on serious bacterial infections, up to 6 percent of surveyed tattooed adults had an infectious complication. While most infections are easily treated, they can get risky quickly. That said, you should see a healthcare professional if you experience symptoms like:

  • fever
  • shivering
  • painful rash
  • lesions or streaking
  • swelling around the tattoo
  • pus coming out of the tattoo

Tight, red, bumpy, or raised skin can be a normal part of the healing process. But it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor if these symptoms are severe or if they don’t go away after a day.

PSA: It’s uber important to go to a legit tattoo artist who works in sterile conditions. Research shows this can significantly reduce your risk of infection and other complications.

Does tattoo bubbling ruin tattoos?

Scab bubbling can def put a damper on your new tattoo. When wet scabs slough off your skin, they can take a lot of ink with them. Additionally, tattoo bubbling-related infections can distort or damage your tattoo.

The good news? If the scab dries out before it falls off, your sweet tat will prob be OK. As a reminder, don’t touch or rub a bubbling tattoo. Leave it alone until it’s totally dry to reduce the risk of complications.

How to prevent tattoo bubbling

Tattoo bubbling is easy to avoid in most cases. Here are some tips to keep your newly inked skin healthy:

  • Gently dab away excess lotion with a clean paper towel.
  • Try not to get your tattoo wet when you’re in the shower.
  • Opt for tattoo-friendly products that won’t damage your healing skin.
  • Don’t put too much lotion or ointment on the tattoo. A little goes a long way!
  • Carefully wash your tattoo several times a day for 3 days with a gentle tattoo-friendly soap.
  • Avoid swimming in pools, lakes, and oceans for at least 2 weeks (though some providers suggest waiting up to a month).
  • Thoroughly dry the tattoo after you cleanse or shower. To do this, pat the area with clean paper towels until there’s no moisture left.

Takeaway

Scabs are normal as your tattoo starts healing. However, tattoo bubbling is a common concern when a scab absorbs too much moisture. If you follow the correct aftercare steps, the raised skin will go away, but it’s essential to nip the bubble in the bud ASAP. If left unchecked, they can lead to tattoo damage and infection. It’s also important to avoid picking, rubbing, or scratching the wound. This can lead to irritation and might make the scab fall off before it’s supposed to.

P.S. Go to a health provider if you have infection symptoms like fever, chills, pus, or intense pain. Also, let them know if you have severely raised, bumpy, hard, or raised skin.

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