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  • Writer's pictureluce

When to Worry: Signs of Trouble After a Tattoo

All tattoos are large, shallow wounds. If they are not cared for, or are applied without sufficient cleanliness, they may become infected. Most of the time, infections are superficial, easily treated, and the greatest risk is that your artwork needs a touch up.


However, infections that become severe or spread beyond the tattooed area can be very serious, even life threatening. If you are immunocompromised, have a heart condition, or are taking antibiotics, you should consult a doctor before getting a tattoo. You should also notify your artist so they can help you assess the risks of a tattoo.


Normal Healing:


  • Redness

  • Tenderness

  • Itchiness

  • Dryness

  • Swelling for 2-3 days after application

  • secretion of blood, excess ink, and plasma within 24hrs of being tattooed


Click here for a play-by-play of what to expect (Day-to-Day of a Healing Tattoo)


Signs of infection are:


  • Bumps on skin that may contain puss

  • Redness

  • Swelling

  • Heat

  • Pain that worsens over time

  • Soreness

  • Fever

  • Hot / cold flashes

  • Shivering

  • Extreme thirst is a sign of a staph infection


Minor infections can be treated with antibacterial ointment, proper cleaning, and rest. A minor infection might look like a small point of redness and heat on the tattoo, without full body symptoms (fever, chills). If the infection does not clear in 2-3 days, or worsens even with ointment and proper cleaning,


Sometimes normal reactions look like infection. In these cases, swelling redness, soreness, and fatigue might be totally normal in the first few days of healing. You may experience Tattoo Flu, which is not an infection but a response to the physical trauma of after a tattoo You may also develop in-grown hairs or razor burn from being shaved before the tattoo.

If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, reach out to your artist, treat for a minor infection if necessary, and watch for any worsening signs of infection.


When to see a doctor


If symptoms worse do not clear within 2-3 days or get worse, see a doctor

If you have any of the following symptoms, seek medical help and notify your artist:


  • Abnormal oozing

    • clear plasma, ink, and blood in the first 24hrs after being tattooed are normal. Discoloured secretions, excessive bleeding or bleeding that lasts more than 24hrs, or smells fowl

  • Severe pain

  • Intense swelling or swelling that does not lessen after three days.

  • Your tattoo feels hot

  • Fever, chills, nausea or vomiting

  • Red streaks around the tattoo

  • Numbness or tingling in the area of the tattoo

  • Excessive bleeding that soaks through a bandage


Treating Minor Infections

If you suspect an infection, notify your artist for the best advice. If you have symptoms of a severe infection or if the symptoms don’t clear within 2-3 days or, seek medical help immediately.


For minor infections, wash the infected area twice daily with antibacterial soap and apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment, as you would for a minor infection in a cut.


  • DO NOT use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol

  • Take an anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling


What to Expect if my Infection Needs Medical Attention


In most cases, you doctor will prescribe antibiotics in the form of a pill or ointment. If your doctor tells you how to care for your infected tattoo, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:

  • Wash the tattoo with a mild, unscented soap and water 2 times a day

  • Gently pat the tattoo dry after you wash it.

  • Use a mild, unscented moisturizer to avoid scabbing and dryness. Apply moisturizer in thin layers that your skin can easily absorb. Do not leave the tattoo wet.

  • Take anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain and swelling. These include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the lab


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