Hard Lump Under My Tattoo? Cysts Underneath a Tattoo: Causes and Treatment

Written by: Claudia
Updated:

Have you noticed a hard lump located under your tattoo? Are you worried about the cause and the potential treatment, and whether your art piece will be put at risk? Don’t panic; we’ve got you covered in this complete guide on cysts and tattoos.

What Is a Cyst?

According to Harvard Health Publishing, a skin cyst is a sac that is formed under your skin for one of two reasons:

  • Epidermoid Cyst - These are formed, “when surface skin cells move deeper into the skin and multiply. These cells form the wall of the cyst and secrete a soft, yellowish substance called keratin, which fills the cyst.”
  • Sebaceous Cyst - These form, “inside glands that secrete an oily substance called sebum. When normal gland secretions become trapped, they can develop into a pouch filled with a thick, cheese-like substance.”

There are many other types of cysts but these are the two common skin cysts that you may discover forming underneath your tattoo. They’re very common, and individuals who have had one in their life are more prone to the sensitivity of growing more in the future.

They look like pimples but feel significantly harder to the touch, and don’t “pop” when picked at. In fact, they usually require medical intervention to ensure they are removed properly. If they are not and substance remains in the skin, the cyst can regrow.

Why Do Tattoos Cause Cysts?

Tattoos themselves don’t cause the cysts, even though they can appear under tattoos.

Since a lot of aftercare and time is spent on cleaning, exfoliating, and moisturizing areas of our body that have been tattooed, this may cause dead skin cells to move into the skin and form epidermoid cysts.

Sebaceous cysts under tattoos are less predictable and are simply a result of the glands below your tattoo being trapped, by no cause of your tattoo itself.

Cysts can develop due to:

  • Pores being blocked by your moisturizer
  • Trapped sweat
  • Minor injuries that can cause fluid to collect in the region
  • Infection - when your body is combatting an infection, a cyst’s growth may be the body’s response to this infection

Treatment of Cysts Under a Tattoo

Cysts need to be treated by a medical professional because once you’ve experienced cyst growth, you’re likely to experience it again, maybe even somewhere else on your body. A medical professional can remove the cyst and also make sure the sac holding the fluid is completely removed so it doesn’t regrow. They may do this in a variety of ways:

  • A small needle to remove the fluid
  • Special cream that causes the cyst to dissipate on its own
  • If the cyst is large, making an incision and completely removing the cyst and re-stitching the area

Under no circumstances should you ever try to pop, pick at, or play with your cyst to be rid of it.

When to See a Doctor?

If you notice a small cyst, don’t panic. It could disappear in a few days on its own. But if you begin to notice growth you should speak to a medical professional. If the cyst becomes large enough and requires surgical removal, this could completely ruin and disturb the design of your tattoo as seen in this example, here.

If the small cyst is painful to the touch, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and to ask a doctor what they suggest. If it’s a cyst growth due to infection, they may recommend an antibiotic which is an easy solution.

How to Prevent Cysts

Cysts are unpredictable, and some people are more prone to cysts than others. If you want to keep your tattoo safe from cysts, here are a few standard practices we recommend.

  • Never wear clothing or tight fabrics that will trap sweat to your tattoo.
  • Exfoliate your tattoo when it is healed and clean the area of dead skin cells.
  • If you are using a moisturizer, use only a thin layer that absorbs quickly. Avoid using moisturizers that do not allow your skin to breathe, like petroleum jelly.

Don’t blame yourself if you notice a cyst; they can affect absolutely anyone.

Our Final Thoughts

Cysts are quite common and in most cases they dissipate on their own. If you notice that your cyst continues to grow or feels painful to the touch, you should speak to a medical professional for their advice and recommendation. The larger a cyst gets, the more difficult it is to remove, and the more damage it may cause to your beautiful tattoo.

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