Following the initial healing period, it is common for tattoos to begin peeling. This happens most often between 4 and 6 days after the tattoo is completed.
A new tattoo is much like a fresh wound, due to the thousands of tiny holes punched into the skin. These tiny holes allow the tattoo gun to deposit small amounts of ink just beneath the surface, but they also result in some dead skin. Peeling is a natural part of the healing process, just like with sunburns.
Also like a sunburn, a new tattoo should not be picked at or rubbed to dislodge peeling skin or scabs. Professional tattoo artists recommend unscented, non-medicated moisturizing lotion in order to keep the healing skin from drying out and flaking. The concept is similar to dry or chapped lips, which can peel if not moisturized.
When applying lotion, it is best to use clean hands and a dedicated bottle. When washing, tattoos should be kept out of any direct spray from a shower head and dried with gentle, patting motions, never scrubbed. If properly cared for, a new tattoo takes up to two weeks to heal. Longer healing times may be necessary for larger tattoos, those placed on joints or tattoos on difficult-to-clean parts of the body.