Why Is my Tattoo Peeling and There’s No Ink Underneath?

Whether you just got your first tattoo or your tenth, peeling ink can be alarming. When your old skin comes off with your color in it, it’s only natural that you would want to panic. However, this is normally no cause for worry.

It’s a completely normal part of the healing process for your tattoo to peel. Additionally, it may even look like there is less color underneath after the old skin has come off. Your tattoo is essentially an area of trauma that is healing, and peeling indicates that the healing process is occurring naturally and properly. Lightening of the area will occur as a protective, translucent layer of skin grows over it, but your tattoo will still look great.

If you are concerned about the peeling process of your healing tattoo, then you need to read on. We are going to discuss what’s normal, including how much you should peel, how long you should peel, and what if you’re not peeling. We’re also going to discuss when your tattoo peels and becomes patchy as well as things you can do to help maintain the health of your tattoo during peeling.

Is It Normal for Tattoos to Peel?

When you get a new tattoo, your artist will create your new art by using tattoo needles, which penetrate through the epidermis down to the dermis. In other words, the top layer of skin as well as what lies underneath is repeatedly punctured with thousands of tiny wounds, damaging your skin cells.`

The length of time it takes for tattoos to fully heal can vary but is usually about two weeks. Peeling is a natural part of the healing process and will begin around day two. This is when your skin is starting to regenerate itself.

Regeneration is a process through which your skin will remove its dead and damaged cells. Through this process, a layer of these dead cells, as well as ink pigment, will peel off, allowing fresh, new skin cells to grow.

However, while peeling is a normal part of the healing process, if you see excess peeling, there may be a problem. Additionally, watch for signs of inflammation and infection if your peeling is excessive.

How Much Should My Tattoo Peel?

Tattoo peeling will vary based on size, location, and how you’ve cared for the area. Bigger tattoos will peel more than smaller ones. Full-color tattoos will also peel more than fine-line tattoos.

There will be tougher areas of skin that are prone to peeling at a slower rate. These areas are typically exposed to the elements more frequently and are moved and used more often, making the skin hardier.

How Long Will My Tattoo Peel?

Every tattoo will peel differently based on different factors. The standard, however, is that they will peel for one week. If you get a tattoo on a more overused area of skin like your elbow, it’s naturally going to take a little longer to peel. Areas that are softer and more supple, on the other hand, will finish peeling much more quickly.

You may, instead, experience peeling twice. This is also normal, and you should not worry. You will go through a period of heavy peeling the first time and a much lighter, barely noticeable session the second time.

My Tattoo Isn’t Peeling, Is Something Wrong?

Depending on the size of your tattoo, it may be peeling but so little that you just can’t see easily see it. Additionally, everyone heals differently, so your tattoo may not peel until later. You do not need to worry if your tattoo is not peeling.

However, do not in any way try to induce peeling. Scratching, picking, and exfoliating the tattoo can cause serious damage to your ink, can be painful, or may even cause infections or scarring.

Why Do Tattoos Peel?

If you stop and consider the process for how a tattoo is made, it makes complete sense why it would peel. Thousands of tiny holes are punctured into the top two layers of your skin, creating a multitude of wounds. It stands to reason that you would have scabbing and peeling during the healing process as the dead and damaged skin is sloughed off.

Why Does my Tattoo Look Like It’s Missing Ink after Peeling?

When your tattoo peels, it’s perfectly normal for some of the ink to come away while it’s healing. The reason behind this is that the artist’s tattoo needles ensure the ink goes deep into your skin, but some remains on the surface and also collects in scabs above the tattoo.

As your body tries to repair the wounds caused by the process, it’s normal for some of this excess ink to come off. You have nothing to worry about as long as you maintain your tattoo according to the aftercare directions you were provided following the completion of your appointment.

Something to remember is that you will need to blot your tattoo dry with a paper towel and not use a cotton towel. Additionally, wear loose clothing over it, avoiding anything tight.

Occasionally following this peeling, your tattoo can appear dull and scaly, looking like it’s lost some of its color.  At this point, you don’t need to worry. While the top layer of skin has flaked away, the tattoo has not finished healing. Your skin will continue to look cloudy for a few more weeks while lower layers of damaged skin continue to heal.

However, you should also know that your tattoo will never be as bright and fresh as it was the day you left your appointment. Once it finishes healing, a translucent layer of skin will have grown over it, causing it to appear slightly lighter.

Is This a Normal Part of the Peeling Process?

The “patchy phase” is a normal part of the peeling process. In some areas, bright, new, and fresh areas of the tattoo will shine through. Other areas, however, will hold onto old, dry skin that obscures the beauty of the ink beneath.

While you most likely want to panic at this point, what you need to remember is that your tattoo is in all likelihood perfectly fine. The good news is that the skin that’s faded is not actually your tattoo. The layer of scabs that’s starting to separate from the newly regenerated skin below is what’s causing this appearance.

Is My Tattoo Ruined?

If you are doing exactly what you are supposed to do, it is very unlikely that there is any damage to your tattoo. However, if you are skipping any steps of your tattoo aftercare or doing things that you were advised not to do, you can cause permanent damage. Things that can cause permanent patchiness and ruin your tattoo include:

  • Exposure to strong UV light and sunshine
  • Submerging in water
  • Exposing to chemicals like chlorine
  • Wearing tight clothing
  • Doing anything that causes excessive sweating

As long as you have avoided all activities that involve these things, your tattoo should be fine. Make sure you leave the area alone other than applying moisturizer regularly. The patchiness will correct itself in a matter of weeks.

Will the Tattoo Need to Be Touched Up?

As long as you have avoided the activities that can cause permanent damage to your tattoo, you should not have to have it touched up. You’ll find that your tattoo is going to get worse before it gets better. But it will get better.

However, there are rare cases where a touch-up is needed. The natural healing process can result in excessive fading of the tattoo in some situations. While this doesn’t happen regularly, when it does occur, you’ll want to go back to the same artist to see if they will touch it up for free. As long as you’ve followed all the directions, it shouldn’t be a problem for most places.

If you think your tattoo needs a touch-up, you will have to wait until it’s completely healed before you go in for work. You cannot have more work done on skin that is not healed. This will also allow you the time to see if the problem corrects itself.

What Can You Do to Help Your Tattoo During the Peeling Stage?

There are some guidelines you’ll want to follow when your tattoo is peeling. Make sure that you do not pick or pull at the scabs. This is one of the worst possible things that you can do.

While it may seem like the peeling skin is ready to come off, most times it is still attached to the healing skin underneath. If you pull the skin off before it’s ready to let go, you run the risk of pulling out unsettled ink with it, resulting in patchiness in your tattoo.

You also don’t want to scratch your itching tattoo. This can result in prematurely ripping off the skin and taking precious ink with it, again resulting in patchiness. Additionally, your tattoo is essentially an open wound making it prone to infections.  Your fingernails harbor thousands of germs and can easily spread an infection to your tattoo.

Moisturizing will help with the itchiness and tightness caused by scabbing and peeling. It will help keep the skin more supple during the healing process and add a healthy look back to the area despite all the peeling. Proper moisturization will keep the scabs from drying out too much and cracking, keeping your tattoo properly hydrated.

You must also keep your new tattoo clean. Make sure you use a gentle fragrance-free cleanser and do not scrub the area. You do not want to forcefully remove any scabs or peeling skin before it’s time. However, you do want to ensure you are washing away any germs to prevent infection.


Getting a new tattoo can be extremely exciting. However, when it starts to peel, it can quickly become another story. As long as you are doing everything correctly and following the aftercare steps that your artist gave you, peeling is nothing to worry about as it is a natural part of the healing process.

When your ink comes off with the dead skin, you still have nothing to worry about. Your artist tried to pack as much of a punch as possible with the ink they put into your skin. This left a lot at the surface that collected in the scabs. Additionally, when the dead skin sloughs off, you may experience patchy spots that appear lighter in color than the rest of your tattoo. These will go away with time.

In most cases, you will not need a touch-up. There are, however, rare instances where the natural healing processes cause damage to the ink, despite the aftercare instructions being followed. Artists often offer free touch-ups once your tattoo is fully healed.