An infected tattoo is nothing to joke about. It could not only severely distort your tattoo through permanent scarring, but it could also complicate your overall health. If you fear your tattoo might be infected and it's paired with symptoms such as fever, numbness, or chills, speak to a medical professional immediately. If your tattoo hasn’t yet reached that point, dive into this article to hopefully stop the infection in its tracks.
Tattoo infections are actually quite common, and can range in severity depending on symptoms as well as the factors which may have contributed to the infection. While it’s not usually something to panic over and can be combated through thorough aftercare, you need to address it as soon as the issue is recognized to prevent further health concerns.
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Why Do Tattoos Become Infected?
There are numerous ways that a tattoo can become infected, as it is an abrasion that is being done to the skin by numerous needle punctures. It remains an open wound for a significant period of time, which makes it vulnerable to bacteria.
There’s a reason that we have a saying, good tattoos aren't cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good. You should ensure that you are getting your tattoo at a reputable shop with professional artists who use new, sterilized needles. Equipment and the environment should be cleaned before and after every session with a client, and you’ll be able to smell a clean shop when you walk in.
Reputable shops should clearly display their licensing as well as their health code certification. If they don’t, ask them for more information about it. Tattoo artists with experience will sterilize the area where you are being tattooed and will have wrapped and sterilized guns and wiring. They will wear gloves when performing your tattoo, changing them with every instant where they are touching unsterile objects (such as a phone to take a photo of your tattoo).
If you get an infection from a shop or from shop equipment, you may be liable for compensation.
The primary contributor to tattoo infection is improper aftercare. Aftercare is essential and begins the moment you step out of the artist’s chair and leave the shop. If you have neglected the process, you put your tattoo and your health at risk.
Proper aftercare includes:
- Never touch your tattoo unless you have clean hands, and only touch it to wash it
- Washing and patting your tattoo dry twice a day for the first month
- Leaving scabs and peeling skin alone
- Keeping out of contaminated environments with an exposed tattoo
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing that does not disturb the healing process
- Avoiding direct sun exposure
- Using a moisturizer after the third day of healing
- Not rewrapping your tattoo in an unsterile environment after the initial wrap has been removed
- Using products that have chemical ingredients or fragrances, or products that have been contaminated by bacteria
Beginning a proper aftercare regimen from day one is essential to preventing infection.
Soaking Your Tattoo
If you have soaked your tattoo in a bath, hot tub, pool, or a body of water, prior to allowing it a full month of healing, you may have exposed your tattoo to bacteria causing an infection. It is extremely dangerous to soak your tattoo because it’s an open wound; one man died of sepsis due to swimming with a new tattoo.
Warning Signs That Your Tattoo Is Infected
During the first 72 hours, you may think your tattoo is infected but it is usually just weeping blood, ink, and plasma, and it is highly sensitive and raw. After 72 hours, conditions should become more complicated.
While an infection may look different for every body, here are a few factors which may indicate that your tattoo is infected.
- Significant swelling of the tattooed area
- Your skin feels hot to the touch
- There is pus or discharge on your tattoo
- There is redness around the outline of your tattoo
- Significant pain and irritation
- A growing rash
- Blistering of your tattoo
- Significant scabbing, scarring, or bleeding
If an infection is paired with fever, chills, or the swelling of your lymph nodes, or you lose feeling around the area of your tattoo, you need to contact a medical professional immediately.
How to Clean an Infected Tattoo
If you catch an infection early, it’s highly possible to solve this issue from home through some more thorough and meticulous aftercare. Only when it is paired with full-body issues, or numbness, do you need to quickly resort to medical attention.
If at any point after receiving your tattoo you become concerned about how healthy it is, you should contact your tattoo shop and discuss these issues with them. They will likely give you cleansing recommendations as well as products to help with healing.
A tattoo should be cleaned two to four times a day, essentially morning and night, and anytime your tattoo may be exposed to external contaminants. In addition, you should not rewrap or put dressings on your tattoo, even if it is infected, as this could pose additional issues to the healing of your tattoo.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap. This could be the same soap that you then use on your tattoo. It must be paraben free, fragrance free, and chemical free.We recommend having a look at our article of The 6 Best Antibacterial Soaps For Your New Tattoo.
- Once your hands are clean, cup your hands and bring water to your tattoo to clean it. Carefully wet your tattoo and then wash it with antibacterial soap, being sure to scrub gently but meticulously, to remove any excess product, dirt, and grime from the wound.
- Wash off all the soap from your tattoo. Using the same cupped hands method, bring water to your tattoo until water runs clear. Never put the stream of water directly onto your tattoo.
- Pat your tattoo dry. Do not rub your tattoo, and make sure to use a paper towel that leaves no product remnants or a completely fresh towel to ensure no bacteria is being introduced back into your tattoo.
- Put a thin layer of ointment onto your tattoo. Do not use product on your tattoo until it is at least 72 hours old and has finished weeping. Your thin layer should be absorbed completely by your skin; wipe off any excess product. Ointment is the best option for moisturization as it has multiple healing ingredients that will help with inflammation and combating bacteria growth.Have a look at our article for the Best Tattoo Ointments: Top 7 Reviewed.
- Monitor your tattoo over the next 48 hours. If you maintain this aftercare regimen at least twice a day, you should see a reduction in the signs of infection over the next 48 hours.
Seek Help If Required
Though infection with new tattoos can be rather common, they’re nothing to joke about. If at any point you feel concerned or you do not see a reduction in problematic symptoms, it’s important that you seek out additional help.
If you are not feeling full-body symptoms or numbness, you may want to speak to your artist or stop into your local tattoo shop. They can provide you with valuable next steps, and, should they also be concerned, they may recommend that you speak to a dermatologist or medical professional.
An infection may not actually be caused by bacteria but by an allergic reaction to the ink, the aftercare products, or the tattooing equipment used during the procedure. A medical professional will be able to inform you if this is the case.
If you catch a serious issue early, you may only require some antibiotics and a touch up after you’re done healing. If you fail to jump on addressing a concern, you put your entire health at risk; in some of the more serious cases, infected limbs may need to be removed. You don’t want to reach that point, and it never has to.
Our Final Thoughts
Tattoo infections are easy to prevent if you implement a thorough aftercare regimen as soon as you leave your tattoo shop. If you are displaying a few symptoms of an infection, try upping up your cleansing game and monitoring if these symptoms dissipate. If at any point you become concerned about the state of your tattoo, it’s important that you speak to your tattoo shop or a medical professional immediately.