New Tattoo Cracking? Here’s How To Prevent & Treat It

What would you do if you wake up one morning and see your new tattoo cracking? Would you freak out or would you remain calm and collected? Well, read this article to find out what the correct response should be. Today, you’ll learn all about cracked tattoos and how you can prevent and treat it!  

What causes new tattoos to crack?

Before we begin, let me get this out of the way first. Technically, it’s not the tattoo itself that cracks, rather it’s the scab that forms on the surface. As your tattoo heals, it will be oozing blood plasma and ink during the first couple of days.

As part of tattoo aftercare, your tattooist will tell you to regularly clean the area (use gentle, non-fragranced soap). This is an important step to prevent thick scabs from forming later. But in most cases, no matter how well you clean the tattoo, it may still form scabs. And it’s the scabs (not your tattoo) that will be prone to cracking.  

Here’s a good example of a new tattoo cracking on the surface:

So, why does this happen?

Well, here are a few reasons:

1) You’ve got big, thick scabs on your tattoo

Some people are fortunate enough to not scab. For the most part, however, I’d say a large majority will experience light scabbing, which is pretty normal.

If you belong to the heavy-scabbing group, well, that’s a different story altogether, but still nothing to be alarmed about. A thick scab won’t be the end of the world, but you’ll be more prone to experience tattoo cracking. Here’s why:

  1. Thick scabs tend to dry out faster than light scabs.
  2. The thicker the scab, the easier it is get bumped, ripped or pulled out accidentally. This can cause the scab to crack and split.
bumpy and raised tattoo of a starfish

Super thick scabs on this tattoo (Photo by Amanda from Flickr)

With thick scabs, your tattoo may also take a bit more time to heal properly. But if you observe proper tattoo aftercare, don’t worry, it will still heal!

Also, another thing that might make someone prone to heavy scabbing is when a relatively large expanse of skin is tattooed. For instance, a tattoo outline will most likely yield a smaller/lighter scab compared to a filler or shader job. So, keep this in mind if you’re thinking of getting supplemental (filling/shading) work done on your tattoo.

2) You’ve got terribly dry skin

Proper skin moisturisation is key to a well-healed, good-looking tattoo. If you’ve got naturally dry skin, you need to step up your moisturising game.

If not, then your scabs may thicken to the point where it can split, break, and crack easily. Fortunately, there are plenty of tattoo lotions, ointments and creams that will help you moisturise your skin.

3) Your tattoo is infected

Another reason why a new tattoo may crack is that it got infected. It’s possible that poor hygiene and sanitation allowed germs and bacteria to infiltrate the tattoo.

This is why proper hygiene is essential on a brand-new tattoo. It’s especially important during the ‘weeping’ stages because the tattoo is technically still an open wound at this point.

Fortunately, an infected tattoo is not always a reason for alarm, except in severe cases. A cracked tattoo may not necessarily be bad on its own.

But when coupled with other symptoms like raised temperature on the tattoo area, fever, itching, pus, and foul odour, then you may be looking at a severe infection. Check out this article to know more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options of an infected tattoo.

Do old tattoos crack too?

There’s a perfectly good explanation why tattoo cracking only happens on new tattoos. Old and fully healed tattoos won’t have this problem because it’s way past the scabbing and peeling stage. So, there’s literally nothing else left to crack apart from the skin itself (which happens all the time to very dry skin).

Also, the ink would definitely have fully settled in the dermis by now. You’d need to undergo laser removal to get rid of the ink embedded in your skin.

How to prevent tattoos from cracking?

You can take a few precautions to prevent tattoos from cracking:

1) Clean the tattoo regularly

Wash your hands before cleaning your tattoo

You may not be able to completely eliminate scabbing (it’s normal for wounds to scab), but you can certainly minimise it. The trick is to clean up the blood, plasma, and ink that will be oozing from the tattoo during the first day or so. Don’t let it collect on the surface. To ensure the ‘gunk’ is removed, wash your skin with warm water and gentle, non-fragranced soap.  

2) Apply a thin layer of healing ointment

After washing the tattoo, let it air dry or pat it dry with kitchen roll. Then apply a thin layer of healing ointment. You can use a petroleum jelly-based ointment like Aquaphor or A+D (but stay away from Vaseline since it’s 100% petrolatum).

Alternatively, you can use a more natural, petrolatum-free option like Saniderm’s Non-Petroleum Roll-On Tattoo Balm. The right ointment can protect the tattoo on the surface while allowing it to heal underneath, too.

3) Moisturise the right way

Moisturisation is key to a good-looking tattoo. Once your tattoo stops weeping, you can start putting on a thin layer of non-fragranced lotion to prevent skin from drying up.

Well-moisturised skin helps promote tattoo healing. However, the key here is to only apply a ‘thin layer’. If you slather lotion too thickly, it will suffocate the pores and make the tattoo mushy. And you’ll most likely start an infection!

Moreover, for thick scabs, you should wait for the scab to dry up completely before applying a very thin layer of lotion. If you lather up while the scab is still wet, you can cause a condition known as tattoo bubbling.

Additionally, you should also apply lotion to the areas surrounding the scab for more comprehensive moisturisation.

But what if your tattoo hurts when you put on some lotion?

Some people react to artificial fragrances and harsh chemicals in most generic lotions. You can try switching to a made-for-tattoo lotion like After Inked Vegan Tattoo Aftercare Lotion.

This is our absolute favourite here in the office! It’s made from grapeseed oil to help nourish your skin, and contains no petroleum or lanolin. Best of all, it’s vegan and PETA approved!

4) Avoid touching or picking at the scab!

You can show off your tattoo all you want, but avoid touching or picking at the scabs or peeling skin. Doing so can lead to tattoo cracking, and even ink loss. Don’t disturb the healing process that’s going on in your skin, let the excess skin fall off naturally.  

5) Hydrate and eat a healthy, balanced diet

A healthy diet can do wonders for your skin. Avoid eating junk food and anything that will harm your skin. Instead, start eating foods that are rich in antioxidants and vitamins. Broccoli, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, avocados, and sweet potatoes are examples. Oh, and don’t forget to drink lots of water everyday!

A word of caution if your tattoo cracks unexpectedly…

You need to retrace your steps. Where exactly did the tattoo crack? What were you doing at that particular time? What got into contact with the scab to cause it to crack? This is important because if your tattoo cracked in a dirty environment, then there’s a chance it can become infected!

There’s a chance the crack may bleed. If it does, clean up the area with warm water and gentle soap. Then wait for it to dry up thoroughly before applying a thin layer of antibacterial ointment to prevent infection.  


Follow the tips we’ve shared in this article to prevent your new tattoo from cracking. A cracked tattoo only looks bad on the surface (it’s mostly superficial damage). But don’t worry, it’s going to fall off eventually and be replaced with a new layer of skin. As long as you don’t do anything to disrupt the ongoing healing underneath the scab, your tattoo will turn out fine!  

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