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Tattoo Infections - How to identify and to treat Tattoo Infection

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Infection of tattoos can occur when harmful bacteria, viruses, or fungi enter the tattooed area, leading to inflammation and other symptoms. It's important to be aware of the signs of tattoo infection so you can take appropriate action promptly as an infected tattoo can have series health consequences.

Before we delve into what an infected tattoo looks like or you believe you have an infected tattoo, its important to understand what a normal healing tattoo looks like.

What are the Normal Healing Signs of a new tattoo?

  • Redness and Swelling: It's normal for a new tattoo to be red and slightly swollen for a few days after getting it. This is a natural part of the healing process as your body responds to the trauma of the tattooing.

  • Sensitivity and Itching: A healing tattoo can feel sensitive, itchy, and even slightly uncomfortable. This is due to the skin repairing itself and forming a protective scab.

  • Scabbing and Peeling: A thin layer of scabbing or peeling skin is normal as the tattoo heals. However, avoid picking at the scabs, as it can interfere with the healing process and potentially introduce bacteria.

  • Clear or Slightly Cloudy Discharge: A small amount of clear or slightly cloudy discharge, often referred to as plasma, can be expected during the initial stages of healing.

Ok, now that we know what normal looks like, here are some signs that your tattoo may be infected.

What are the Signs of a Tattoo Infection?

  • Redness: Excessive and worsening redness around the tattoo site.

  • Swelling: Swelling that increases instead of decreasing after the first few days.

  • Pain: Persistent and increasing pain, tenderness, or discomfort around the tattoo.

  • Heat: The tattooed area feels warmer than the surrounding skin.

  • Pus: Presence of yellow, green, or thick white discharge (pus) that has an unusual odor.

  • Fever: Elevated body temperature, often accompanied by chills.

  • Delayed Healing: If your tattoo doesn't seem to be healing as expected or becomes worse over time.

tattoo infections

Infected Tattoo - Image via

What should I do if I suspect a Tattoo Infection?

  • Keep It Clean: Maintain proper hygiene by gently cleaning the tattoo with mild soap and water. Avoid using harsh cleansers or scrubbing vigorously.

  • Don't Scratch: Refrain from scratching or picking at the tattoo, as it can introduce more bacteria and worsen the infection.

  • Avoid Moisture: Keep the tattoo dry and avoid excessive moisture, as damp environments can encourage bacterial growth.

  • No Swimming: Avoid swimming in pools, hot tubs, and natural bodies of water until the infection clears up.

  • See a Professional: If you notice signs of infection, consult your tattoo artist or a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance and assess the severity of the infection.

  • Prescribed Medications: If the infection is bacterial, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. Follow the prescribed regimen diligently.

  • Hydration and Rest: Staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest can help your body fight off the infection more effectively.

What can I do to preventing tattoo infections?

  • Follow Aftercare Instructions: Adhere to the aftercare instructions provided by your tattoo artist. They will guide you on how to properly care for your tattoo during the healing process.

  • Clean Hands: Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching your tattoo, especially when applying ointments or creams.

  • Avoid Dirty Environments: Keep your tattoo covered and protected when in environments that could expose it to dirt, dust, or potentially harmful contaminants.

  • Choose a Reputable Studio: Get your tattoo done at a professional and clean tattoo studio to minimize the risk of infection.

  • Stay Hygienic: Maintain overall hygiene and good health to support your body's immune system during the healing process.

What other things I should know about tattoo infections?

Delayed Onset: Sometimes, tattoo infection symptoms may not appear immediately after getting a tattoo. It's possible for a tattoo infection to develop a few days or even a couple of weeks after the tattooing process.

Allergic Reactions: In some cases, what may appear as a tattoo infection could actually be an allergic reaction to the tattoo ink or aftercare products. Allergic reactions can also cause redness, itching, and swelling. Consulting a healthcare professional can help differentiate between a tattoo infection and an allergy.

Severity Matters: Mild tattoo infections can often be treated with proper care and hygiene practices. However, severe tattoo infections, especially those accompanied by high fever, intense pain, or rapid spreading of symptoms, require immediate medical attention.

Risk Factors: Certain factors can increase the risk of developing a tattoo infection. These include compromised immune systems, pre-existing skin conditions, poor aftercare practices, and not following professional tattoo aftercare instructions.

Seek Medical Help: If you have a medical condition such as diabetes, HIV, or are pregnant, it's important to seek medical attention promptly if you suspect a tattoo infection. These conditions can complicate infections and delay healing.

Scarring: An untreated or severe tattoo infection can lead to scarring and affect the overall appearance of your tattoo. Proper treatment and care can help minimize the risk of scarring.

Long-Term Care: Even after the infection has cleared up, continue to monitor your tattoo for any changes in appearance, itching, or discomfort. If you notice any issues, consult a healthcare professional.

Hygiene Is Key: Practicing good hygiene before, during, and after the tattooing process can significantly reduce the risk of a tattoo infection. Make sure both you and your tattoo artist follow strict hygiene protocols.

Professional Guidance: If you're ever in doubt about the healing process or potential infection, don't hesitate to reach out to your tattoo artist. They can provide advice and guidance based on their expertise.

What are the common causes of tattoo infections?

Tattoo infections can occur due to various factors, often involving the introduction of harmful microorganisms into the freshly tattooed skin. Common causes of tattoo infections include:

  • Poor Hygiene Practices: If the tattoo artist or the studio doesn't follow strict hygiene protocols, it can introduce bacteria and contaminants into the tattooed area.

  • Dirty Equipment: The use of unsterilized or improperly sterilized tattoo equipment, including needles, tubes, and machines, can lead to infections.

  • Contaminated Ink: Low-quality or contaminated tattoo ink can contain harmful microorganisms that may cause infections.

  • Improper Aftercare: Inadequate or improper aftercare practices by the individual getting the tattoo can expose the area to bacteria and impede the healing process.

  • Scratching or Touching: Touching or scratching the fresh tattoo with dirty hands can introduce germs and bacteria into the open wound.

  • Excessive Moisture: Prolonged exposure to water, sweat, or excessive moisture can create an environment conducive to bacterial growth.

  • Compromised Immune System: Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with certain medical conditions or taking immunosuppressant medications, are more susceptible to infections.

  • Dirty Environments: Exposing the tattooed area to dirty environments, such as swimming pools, hot tubs, or unsanitary surroundings, can increase the risk of infection.

  • Allergic Reactions: While not infections, allergic reactions to tattoo ink can cause symptoms that might be mistaken for an infection, such as redness, swelling, and itching.

  • Pre-Existing Skin Conditions: Individuals with pre-existing skin conditions, like eczema or psoriasis, may be more prone to infections due to compromised skin barriers.

  • Unregulated Tattoo Studios: Getting a tattoo from an unlicensed or unregulated tattoo studio increases the risk of poor hygiene practices and contamination.

  • Foreign Substances: Introducing foreign substances into the tattooed area, such as applying unapproved ointments or lotions, can increase the risk of infections.

To minimize the risk of tattoo infections, it's crucial to choose a reputable and professional tattoo studio, follow proper aftercare instructions diligently, and practice good personal hygiene. If you notice any signs of infection, seek medical attention promptly to prevent the infection from worsening.

Can sunburn cause tattoo infections?

Sunburn itself does not directly cause tattoo infections, but it can increase the risk of complications and negatively impact the healing process of a fresh tattoo. Here's how sunburn and tattoos are related:

Delayed Healing: Sunburned skin is already stressed and damaged, and exposing a fresh tattoo to sunburn can further delay the healing process. The skin's ability to repair itself is compromised, which might make it more susceptible to potential infections.

Inflammation: Both a sunburn and a new tattoo cause inflammation in the skin. When combined, the double dose of inflammation can increase discomfort and prolong the overall healing time. This extended period of irritation can create an environment where bacteria and contaminants have a greater chance of entering the skin.

Compromised Immune Response: Sunburn weakens the immune response of the skin, making it less effective at fighting off potential infections. Since a tattoo is essentially an open wound during the healing process, it's important to keep the immune response strong to prevent infections.

Peeling and Flaking: Sunburned skin tends to peel and flake as it heals. If the skin over a new tattoo peels prematurely due to sunburn, it can disrupt the tattoo's healing process, leading to fading or uneven healing.

Infection Risk: While sunburn itself doesn't directly cause infections, if the tattooed area becomes sunburned and is not properly cared for, it could create an environment where bacteria can thrive and increase the risk of infection.

tattoo sunburn

Sunburn Tattoo - Image Via

Remember, proper care is essential for both sunburned skin and a new tattoo. Taking precautions to protect your tattoo from sunburn will not only aid in its healing but also help prevent potential complications and infections. If you suspect a tattoo infection, don't ignore the signs. Swift action can help prevent the infection from worsening and promote a smoother recovery. Always prioritize your health and consult a professional if you have any concerns.



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