Some tattoo artists like to make conversation as they work. If you’re one of those extroverted types, you might even enjoy a little chin wag while you’re getting inked. But during the tattoo process, there’s one phrase no one wants to hear from their artist…
Yeah, not exactly tip-top on the official list of desirable utterances. But when it comes to shitty-looking tattoos, your artist may not always be the one to blame. Let’s not forget about the art of proper tattoo aftercare (check out our aftercare resources here)! That part is on you, the recipient, and if you don’t practice this art, then even a brilliant tattoo can be transformed into something more like the enormous mole on your Aunt Bertha’s left shoulder (she should really see a dermatologist about that).
Here’s a list of potential reasons your tattoo looks like shit.
Reason #1: It Didn’t Put the Lotion on Its Skin
Do you want to get the hose again? If not, then Aquaphor is your new best friend. A tattoo is an open wound (we’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again!) That means all the cool biological accompaniments to regular wounds will also make an appearance as your sweet new tat heals up—swelling, scabbing, flaking, etc.
If your new tattoo becomes too dry, the skin can crack and bleed, messing around with the ink that’s been embedded beneath your skin.
Moisturizer prevents this from happening, so even if you are a real masculine dude, you’ll want to break out the lotion. For the first few days, Aquaphor is best. Apply it 2-3 times per day or as needed. This shit is goopy and thick, and it will make your skin glisten like an Olympian. After the three-day mark, you can safely switch to Aveeno or a similar brand of lotion – something a little less intense, thinner, and easier to apply.
Reason #2: You’re Literally Allergic to Ink
This probably isn’t you.
Major tattoo allergies are fairly rare, so most people don’t need to worry much about it. But if you are one of the unlucky few whose bodies overreact to ink, here are some signs to look for:
Redness/swelling around the tattoo after the first day
A rash that spreads beyond the tattooed area on your skin
Blisters, pus sacks, and similarly oozy skin abnormalities
Buildup of fluid in or around the tattooed area
Fever and/or chills
Unfortunately, if you’re dealing with this kind of thing after getting a tattoo, you may be allergic.
A mild reaction involving swelling and redness is probably not a big deal, though you should still consult your physician right away. If the reaction is severe (like one with blisters, pus, and a spreading rash), it can disrupt the design of the tattoo permanently.
Reason #3: You’re a Creature of Sun & Water
Humans like the sun. But if you are a human, and you have a new tattoo, you don’t want to be traipsing around in the sunlight for long stretches without sunscreen. With sunburns comes flaking, peeling skin. And if your tattooed skin starts peeling off, it can damage the tattoo design—especially when the tattoo is new.
So avoid exposing your new tats to the sun as much as possible, and if it’s unavoidable, apply sunscreen throughout your sunshine session. But consider yourself warned! It’s also not a great idea to expose your open wound to whatever bacteria are floating around in the lake – try to wait 2-to-4 weeks after getting your tattoo before you hop off that dock.
And if you think the ocean or chlorinated pools are any better, think again, bucko!
What are you, the creature from the black lagoon? You can’t not swim for a few weeks after getting inked? Just stay out of the water, folks. Showers are okay, but avoid soaking the tattoo completely and keep the water temperature lukewarm – the heat can cause your ink to leak.
Reason #4: Your Artist Went Too Deep (or Not Deep Enough)
Your tattoo artist thought they were a dwarf from Lord of the Rings—they delved too greedily and too deep. Or maybe they just tiptoed that needle along the top layer of skin without going deep enough. Either way, they just charged you the big bucks for a big mistake.
There are three skin layers that bear mentioning...
If the ink is embedded into the lower skin layer, AKA the “hypodermis,” you get something called “blowout,” which is when the ink seeps and spreads beyond where it was meant to go, creating a blurry-looking effect.
Alternatively, ink layered in the top layer of skin, AKA the “epidermis,” will simply dissipate. It won’t hold, and you’ll have blank sections in your tattoo where ink was supposed to be. Instead, the needlework needs to happen in that magic middle layer, known as the “dermis.” This is the layer where ink holds and looks its best.
Reason #5: Ink Loss During Healing
Your body has, like, NO idea what is going on when you get tattooed. Try explaining the concept of body art to a red blood cell! (Don’t actually do that.)
Sometimes, there’s no real reason for a crap-looking tattoo aside from the ol’ healing process. Ink can leak out, fade, distort, etc. The good news is that healing alone tends to cause pretty minor tattoo issues that, nine times out of ten, you can easily fix with a simple touch-up.
But to help ensure your body’s big dumb immune system doesn’t mess up those sick new tats, make sure you get proper rest and drink plenty of water while the tattoo site heals up.
Reason #6: Your Artist Used Low-Quality Supplies
Sometimes, in art, discount supplies are an acceptable compliment to high artistic skill and strong knowledge of the craft. But do we really have to explain why this isn’t the case for tattoos? Good lord – unless you really want that “crusty old sailor” look (and hey, maybe you do), your artist’s tattoo supplies need to be top-notch.
If you waltz into Ultra XXX Tatz for a same-day session, and a sunken-eyed artist named Stryker blows cigarette smoke in your face, well... you get what you pay for. The research component is your responsibility. Find a reputable tattoo business with a clean storefront, a strong portfolio, and a sassy attitude. That last thing about the sass is technically optional, but we recommend it anyway.
Reason #7: You Picked at Your New Tattoo
Let’s just admit upfront that it feels good to pick at a scab, okay? But when your tattoo scabs over (a normal part of the healing process), you had better hone that impulse control because picking at a healing tattoo will absolutely cause permanent damage. Don’t peel the
flakes off either. It may be extremely tempting to peel off flaky black layers of peeling skin, but you do so at your own peril—the peril of a hideous tattoo!
How You Can Fix It
So, you’ve got a crappy looking tattoo. Now what? Options are somewhat limited (at least until time travel is invented.) Firstly, make sure you’re following basic tattoo maintenance guidelines … sunscreen, avoiding chlorine, etc. But that will only help to keep your tattoo from degrading further. Touch-ups or cover-ups are the preferred option for many. Make sure you find yourself an artist who is familiar with the process and will work with you on making sure you get the best possible outcome (*hint hint* - that’s kinda our specialty.)