Ink, blood, and sweat. These are the usual culprits you see when a new tattoo leaks. If it’s your first time getting tattooed, it might be alarming to see your tattoo oozing or weeping. You’d probably think the ink didn’t take at all, or it’s infected, or a myriad of other reasons. In this article, we’ll set the record straight and show you what to do when your new tattoo starts leaking ink.
Why is my new tattoo leaking ink? Should I be worried?
Short answer? No, you shouldn’t be worried about leaking ink. At all.
Long answer, well, it’s part of the tattoo healing process. Ink leaks are absolutely normal and totally expected. In fact, if you don’t experience any degree of leaking, then that’s when you should be worried!
Here’s Gabby Abi’s video showing her tattoo still leaking on the third day:
So, here’s why healing tattoos tend to leak some ink:
Tattoo artists pack as much ink as possible into the dermis
This is done to ensure the tattoo looks vibrant and colour consistent. It also helps prevent the tattoo from looking patchy, with blank spots here and there.
To ensure the right ink levels are deposited in the dermis, the artist will need to go beyond full capacity. I mean, think about it. If they don’t do this, then it’s highly likely the tattoo will look lacklustre from the get-go! It’s difficult enough to guess exactly how thick the dermis is (it varies), so it’s best to try and deposit as much ink as possible.
In case you’re wondering, this is why tattooist’s wipe their client’s skin constantly during the tattooing process. They’re wiping off the excess ink as well as body fluids released from the skin while they’re working on you.
That said, the ink you see leaking during the healing process is part of the excess ink that was inserted by your tattooist. Also, it’s not just the ink you see oozing out. It’s a combination of ink, blood, plasma, sweat, and other bodily fluids. So, it’s all normal, it’s all to be expected, and it’s nothing to be worried about.
Your immune system will try to get rid of the ink
Another reason why it’s practical for tattooists to try and cram as much ink into the skin is because some will be destroyed by the immune system. Technically, ink molecules are far too large for macrophages (white blood cells) to ‘eat’ and destroy. However, as time goes by, these molecules will eventually get broken down into tiny particles. These will be absorbed into the blood stream and will be excreted as waste.
This is generally the reason why tattoo fading occurs. If the ink quantities were too low to begin with, then fading will occur much earlier. And you’d need to think about getting it redone or touched up sooner as well.
How long is my tattoo going to leak?
It really depends on how big the tattoo is and how well your immune system works. But on average, most people’s tattoos stop leaking around day 2 or 3. If yours leak for far longer, and you experience symptoms similar to these, then you may be allergic to the ink.
How to deal with leaking tattoo ink
Here are several tips to help you stay on top of your leaking tattoo:
- Clean the area properly
The gunk that’s accumulated on your skin needs to be removed. And not just for obvious, hygienic reasons, too. Rather, the main reason you need to remove the gunk is because if left for too long, it can harden and build up into a thick scab.
Now, scabs are normal for healing wounds, including tattoos. But you don’t want it to become too thick as it can easily crack and delay the healing process. Plus, it’s so easy to pick and pull at it, which is bad because it can also remove ink from the dermis!
With that being said, to remove the gunk completely, you need to use warm water as it’s easier to wash off the gunk than when using cold water. As for tattoo soap, it’s best to use non-fragranced, antibacterial soap. Avoid anything that contains artificial fragrances as it can irritate the tattoo.
- Take extra precautions when you shower
Of course, you don’t need to stop taking a shower just because you got a tattoo. Physical hygiene is important when you’ve got a new tattoo, otherwise, you yourself can infect your tattoo!
When taking showers, it’s important to keep it quick (max 5-10 minutes). And to avoid letting a stream of water hit the tattoo directly as the area will still be tender (you can cup some water to clean the tattoo). Make sure you continue to use gentle soap in the shower to avoid irritating the skin.
While showers are fine, what you need to refrain from doing is bathing and swimming. Doing so can soak the tattoo in water, which can kickstart an infection.
- Don’t put too much ointment
After you’ve washed your tattoo and removed all traces of leaking ink, you can now apply healing ointment. It will protect the tattoo and speed up the healing process as well. There are several types of ointments and balms you can use for this stage.
If you prefer petrolatum-based products, check out Aquaphor or A+D. These are semi-occlusive in that they’ll block harmful pathogens from getting into the skin, but will still let oxygen in. FYI, oxygen plays a key role in wound healing. If you’re a fan of all-natural, organic products, check out Hustle Butter and Saniderm’s non-petroleum tattoo balm instead.
Anyway, no matter which healing product you choose, it’s important to apply only a very thin layer. Otherwise, it can block the oxygen from getting in the skin. Plus, it may even cause the tattoo to leak even more ink!
- Use clean bedsheets
You don’t want to sleep on filthy bedsheets. I mean, you’ve taken the time to carefully wash and clean your tattoo, so why would you not choose to sleep on something clean, right?
Dirty sheets can have all sorts of germs and bacteria on it, not to mention pet hair if you let your pets in bed with you! Alternatively, if you’ve run out of clean sheets, you can put a clean towel or shirt underneath instead.
Whichever you decide to sleep on, know that you will be most likely be leaking the ink onto it. Here’s an example of someone with ink stain:
- Use second skin tattoo bandage or wrap
Wraps like Inksafe’s Tattoo Protection Film and Dermalize’s Protective Tattoo Film are gaining in popularity. These wraps/bandages/film are the perfect tattoo healing accessory for people who can’t take time off work. Or, those who can’t be bothered to wash their tattoo every few hours or so. This is because you can leave the wrap on for about 3-5 days without changing it (though it’s advisable you change the initial bandage your tattooist put on you).
Why? Because these products are waterproof (you can shower with them, but not bathe in it) and breathable (it will let oxygen in so you don’t need to take it off frequently).
Second skin tattoo wraps are also transparent, so you can see your tattoo leaking ink quite clearly. So, make sure you apply the wrap properly so it sticks to your skin. Otherwise, the plasma and the ink will be leaking right on to your clothes.
- Stop drinking alcoholic beverages
Oh yes, if you’re drinking alcohol with a fresh tattoo on, you need to stop right now. Actually, you should have stopped a couple of days before your tattooing session as alcohol can thin the blood and prevent it from clotting up properly. This means that your ink will be leaking for far longer than necessary, all because your blood’s clotting capabilities are affected.
A new tattoo leaking ink is nothing to be worried out. It’s just a normal part of the tattoo healing process. You can expect the area to stop weeping, oozing or leaking in about 1-3 days. If it takes longer and you suspect something is wrong, please consult with your GP.