Pimples On New And Old Tattoos: How To Treat Them Safely

Written by: Claudia

Just because we get a tattoo doesn’t mean all our other skin concerns vanish; in fact, sometimes they can be escalated by the trauma of a new tattoo. These skin problems, like pimples and whiteheads, could be detrimental to our new ink. There could be numerous triggers for this skin issue, and there are also ways to manage them safely.

Related: White Bumps On Tattoo

Will Pimples Damage My New Tattoo?

The ink of a tattoo is deposited in the lower level of the dermis, slightly above the hypodermis which is the layer of fat that protects the muscle. A pimple forms in the upper levels of the dermis and then punctures the epidermis, staying mostly situated in the epidermis for its lifetime.

Untouched pimples will generally not influence the ink as they do not come in contact with one another. Though it may further agitate the already irritated area, it won’t do any damage to new ink.

On the other hand, pimples that are picked at can certainly damage your new tattoo. When you pick a pimple, the pus leaves the epidermis and comes out of the surface, while some also gets forced down deeper into the dermis layer. This can cause a host of problems with a new tattoo.

Popping a pimple can cause epidermis scarring that will permanently distort your tattoo. It may also instigate an infection when the pus is sent towards your healing wound or infiltrates it from the surface. In addition, it might shift the ink that is freshly deposited in your dermis, causing white spots or patchiness.

Your hands should never go on a new tattoo except when engaged in the aftercare process which includes gently and thoroughly washing your tattoo, drying it, and applying moisturizer after day three or four. This should always be done with clean hands.

What Is Causing Pimples On Your New Tattoo & How To Treat Them

There are a few factors that could be contributing to pimples appearing on your tattoo.

Your Ointment or Lotion

This is the number one cause for pimples on tattoos and often happens to people who are trying to use ointment on their new tattoo. If you are unfamiliar with properly washing your tattoo and just how much moisturizer to put on top, you may be blocking oxygen from reaching your wound and the excess lotion may be becoming blocked in the epidermis.

It’s important that when you apply any moisturizer or ointment that you are sure to wash off the remnants of whatever you used prior. Putting ointment on top of ointment is a recipe for disaster. In addition, moisturizer should be applied in thin layers and any excess should be wiped off.

Unless you are really experiencing high levels of pain and irritation, ointment can be avoided during the first few days of healing. It is often the “blockage” of the wound that causes a reaction with pimples. Some bodies cannot handle ointment brought into the aftercare regimen on day one, so perhaps this is the reason for your breakout, as well.


Sometimes a new tattoo can trigger allergies we were unaware of. It can result in a general skin sensitivity, an allergic reaction to an aftercare product, or some people also have allergic reactions to the ink being used for their tattoo.

Prior to using any item on your tattoo, you should conduct a 48 hour patch test on the inside of your elbow. Products should be fragrance free, paraben free, and free from harsh chemicals. We recommend checking out our list of the Best Tattoo Aftercare Products - Our Favorites Reviewed.

Red and yellow ink has been shown to cause the most reactions in sensitive skin. If you have concerns and these colors can be avoided, do so.


General irritation to our epidermis can cause pimple-like reactions in our skin. This is further elevated when the wounded area comes in contact with dirt, grime, or triggers like tight clothing.

The solution for irritation-caused pimples is to keep your tattoo clean, wear loose fitting clothing, sleep on clean bed sheets, and to avoid using products with harsh chemicals or irritants.


If you are prone to acne, the situation may be exasperated due to a new tattoo. The only solution for this issue is to keep your hands off the area, except to clean it, and to use an oil-free lotion to not cause more blocking of your sensitive pores.

Acne preventative soaps and lotions can be quite harsh and drying, so prior to using them on your open wound, you should check with your artist or dermatologist.


Infection with a new tattoo is very rare and will likely only occur due to one of three factors: your tattoo artist did not use sterilized equipment or the environment wasn’t sterile, you are neglecting proper aftercare of your tattoo, or you popped a pimple and the pus infiltrated your open wound.

Infection can be avoided with careful aftercare, ensuring you are being tattooed by a reputable, experienced, and clean shop and artist, and keeping your hands off any pimples that may form.

If you cannot narrow down a cause for your pimples or are finding that your own treatment is not helping combat them, it may be wise to speak to your tattoo artist for advice. They may recommend that you speak to a dermatologist if they are unable to come to a resolution, as well.

Careful and thorough aftercare is the number one way to minimize the unexpected growth of acne and pimples on your new tattoo. If you regularly react to moisturizers by breaking out, discuss with your artist what product they recommend or do a patch test with one of our favorite aftercare products.

How Pimples Can Affect Order Tattoos

The skin of an older tattoo is no longer considered an open wound and is considerably less sensitive. That being said, the same rules of care and treatment should be followed, and you should not pick at or pop pimples on old tattoos. You could cause scarring, damage to your ink, or a general infection to your skin.

If you find they’re not going away, consider switching up your daily moisturizer or soap. If this still doesn’t help, it may be wise to speak to a dermatologist who can help you combat this problem.

Our Final Thoughts

The rule of thumb with a new tattoo is always the same: don’t touch it, pick at it, peel it, or put your hands on it unless you are washing it clean. The same rules apply if you notice the formation of pimples on your new tattoo. In most cases, these will disappear on their own accord with some more thorough aftercare, but if you are truly concerned or if the pimples begin to pus on their own, do not hesitate to speak to your artist or a dermatologist for advice.

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