Infected Tattoos: Essential Guide

Whether it’s your first tattoo or your fortieththere’s always the chance of tattoo infection. That awesome piece you got on your last holidays in Bali, now's ended up a longer ordeal than I anticipated.

If you feel that your new tattoo starts hurting more than usual, it's red, itching... it's very possible that your new exotic tattoo is infected. 

So how do you treat an infected tattoo? The simple answer is to consult your dermatologist. They’ll be able to determine the severity of the infection and prescribe you with oral or topical antibiotics (or both). Most infections will heal, at least, within a few days.  

That being said, while most infections can be assuaged with immediate care, it’s important to know what causes the infections, how to recognize them, and what you can do to prevent them in the future.

Trustworthy tattoo shop

How Do You Know if Your Tattoo is Infected? 

It’s normal after receiving a tattoo from a licensed, reputable artist to experience some redness, pain, and swelling.

After a couple days, and the healing process begins, the skin around the tattoo might even itch. However, the trick is recognizing anything beyond those more ‘normal’ experiences.

Read also: How long does a tattoo itch?

Signs of tattoo infection

  • Pus coming out of the tattooed area 
  • Red lesions or welts start to appear  
  • Hardened skin where the tissue has raised 
  • Worsening tattoo swelling

As we can see, infected tattoos have a few clear tell-tale signs. 

    Additionally, there are some symptoms of infection often confused with conventional sickness, such as fever and constant fluctuations in body temperature bringing about sweats or shivers.

    What Causes Tattoo Infection? 

    The cause of tattoo infections revolves around bacteria and viruses. Whether from contaminated ink/equipment that makes contact with the wound, or bacterial contact with the tattoo during the aftercare process, infections can spread.

    Bacteria often associated with tattoo infections are staphylococcus and streptococcus.

    Make sure you get tattooed by a licensed artist

    We'd like to make the assumption here that everybody is following the ‘golden rule’ and only receiving tattoos from certified professionals.

    However, if you aren’t, that could be a very likely, if not definitely isthe cause of tattoo infection.

    Professional tattoo artists will, and should, always follow The Universal Precautions because of their inherent contact with blood and knowledge of bloodborne pathogens. 

    Consequently, they will use sterile, single-use needles to ensure the safety of their customers. 

    All of that cannot be said for unlicensed professionals or at-home kits.

    Licensed tattoo artist

    What Does a Tattoo Infection Look Like? 

    As mentioned above, tattoo infections can take on different forms, but the important part is that most often they are noticeable.

    It's very typical the excessive swelling around the ink and itchy red welts that appear almost like a border to the design.  

    Tattoo infections can appear in a number of ways: 

    • Pus emitting from the tattoo sight 
    • Rash on or around the tattoo 
    • Redness of the skin, or warmth near site almost like fever 
    • Noticeable swelling around the tattoo 
    • Firm bumps or welts appearing 
    • Small skin lesions, often itchy ones 

    One important thing to note is as the infection progresses, the tattoo itself can lose some of its initial luster.

     

    The colors fade as the pigment is not retained by the skin. The longer the infection takes to recognize, the more touch-ups might be necessary to get the tattoo back to its former glory.  

    Infection likely won’t completely ruin your tattoo, but it’s important to make sure to wait a couple months to fully heal before you repair the damage done.  

    How to Prevent Tattoo Infection 

    While most professional tattoo artists offer a lot of information for the aftercare of your ink, it’s important to imagine the possibilities and be wary of your actions during the healing process. 

    - Good aftercare routine: healthy tattoo

    Yes, aftercare routines can feel tedious at times and maybe you’ve gotten away with not being as strict about them here and there. But hear us out, they are important. And they exist for a reason.  

    Check out our guide on how to take care of your tattoo: Professional tattoo aftercare instructions.

    The instructions that tell you just how to keep your tattoo clean; how to apply ointments in a soft, circular motion; why to avoid the sun, chlorine, and salt water; and to never, ever pick at the skin.

    Sorry Mom Tattoo Balm

    For more Do’s and Don’ts on aftercare, check out a more in-depth list here 

    - Avoid getting your tattoo from that person doing them ‘super cheap’ in their basement 

    I know it sounds like we are beating a dead horse, but the most important key to your safety is always to first make sure the place where you receive your tattoo is trustworthy.  

    A professional tattoo artist has training, takes precautions, and has your best interests at heart. They don’t want you to get an infection, and they’ll do everything they can to ensure that doesn’t happen.  

    How Do You Treat Tattoo Infection? 

    Now let’s say you did everything you were supposed to but luck wasn’t on your side and you got a tattoo infection. Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world.

    To treat a tattoo infection, find a dermatologist. Upon their examination, they will be able to prescribe exactly what topical ointments, oral antibiotics, or anything else you might need.

    However, the most important thing is recognizing it as early as possible, and acting as quickly as possible.  

    If you think your tattoo might be infected, if you think it’s getting worse—don’t wait, go to a doctor. 

     

    Severity of infection can vary based on a number of factors—so it is important not to guess as to what it might be, but go to professional and find out exactly what it is.  

    Can an Infected Tattoo Heal on its Own? 

    While tattoos and the after-effects to your skin can often heal on their own—infections do notTattoo infections will grow in size, become more noticeable, detrimentally affecting your tattoo. 

    If we let our infected tattoo to heal on its own, it could open the door for bacteria to enter your bloodstream, causing some very dangerous, even life-threatening, conditions.  

    Therefore, even if luck is normally on your side, don't chance it.

    Look for the signs, and take action.

    Read also: Dry healing or "How to ruin your tattoo"

    Do Tattoos Get Infected Easily? 

    Fresh tattoos function in a lot of ways like an open-wound on your skin. Though not deeply layered, they have as much opportunity of getting infected as any cut, scrape, or gash.  

    That being said, the likelihood of infection depends on a number of factors: 

    • Sanitation of the tattoo shop and care of the artist 
    • Potential personal allergies (whether known or unknown) 
    • How diligent you are in the tattoo aftercare procedures 

    Your body is resilient, but believing it to be invincible can be dangerous, in more ways than one, to your health.

    Summary 

    Tattoo infections aren’t the end of the world.  

    If recognized and treated promptly, they can be taken care of with little to no lasting effects.

    The keys to ensure not only your safety, but the beautiful longevity of your newest artwork are:

    • Knowing the signs of tattoo infection
    • Knowing how best to care for your tattoo 
    • Not maintaining a lax mentality that it will ‘clear up on its own’

    We hope this will help you understand the importance of taking good care of your new tattoos!

    Our mission is to inspire and educate the tattoo community. We have combined our many years of experience in the industry and our love for tattoos to create useful and enlightening content. Join us in this exciting journey in the beautiful art of tattooing.
    Welcome to Sorry Mom.

    - Rasmus Cort Hansen, CEO & Founder