Why Does My Tattoo Smell Bad?

Written by: Pete
Last Updated:

A new tattoo may often smell like the antiseptic spray of a tattoo parlor, the cleansing products used to wash it, or the medicinal moisturizers used to hydrate it. No tattoo, under any circumstances, should smell bad. Foul or rotten smells are definitely a cause for concern.

What Does a Tattoo Normally Smell Like?

tattoo smell

A tattoo should have no scent. A new tattoo may have the light metallic scent of blood, or the ointment applied by your artist, but any tattoo older than a day should have no smell.

Though your skin will sometimes carry the scents of the products used on it, the products you are using on your tattoo should not have artificial fragrances or scents. So really, the tattoo should smell like nothing.

Consider that your new tattoo is an open wound, and any other wound emitting an odor would be quite concerning. A tattoo is no different; it should not have any smell.

Can Wet Healing Cause Odor?

Wet healing is a type of aftercare that includes keeping your tattoo wet and rewrapped for the first few days. It is not a recommended aftercare process because when your tattoo is first wrapped, it’s done so in completely sterile conditions. This cannot be replicated after you leave the tattoo shop. This exposes your tattoo to numerous bacteria which become trapped under the wrapping, and the excess moisture can disrupt the regular healing process.

If your tattoo begins to smell due to wet healing, you should stop this aftercare immediately. Foul odors are a sign of complication and bacteria. Have a look at our article, What Are Tattoo Wraps And How Long Should I Keep My Tattoo Wrapped? for more information.

What to Do if Your Tattoo Smells

If your tattoo is unwrapped and giving off a strange odor, you should first ask yourself what it smells like. If it smells medicinal, it could be the aftercare products that you are using on your tattoo. If these smells irritate you, change your aftercare products accordingly.

If your tattoo is giving off a foul odor that smells like rot or garbage, this is an immediate cause for concern. Under no circumstances should you wait it out and hesitate with seeing your doctor. This smell could indicate severe infection or even rotting of your wound. In critical cases, wound rotting requires amputation.

Other symptoms that may indicate an infection are:

  • Fever or chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Excessive redness, or red streaks extending beyond your tattoo
  • Pus or oozing liquid
  • Blisters
  • Extreme pain or swelling

Do not hesitate to bring a smelly tattoo to a medical professional; this cannot be battled on your own.

What Should You Expect While Your Tattoo Is Healing?

While foul odors coming from your tattoo are not normal, there are many other weird stages of healing that are definitely no cause for concern.

  • Leaking - Your tattoo goes through a process called weeping in which excess plasma, blood, and ink are pushed out of your wound. This oozing in the first three days is normal.
  • Scabbing and Peeling - Your tattoo will form scabs as it heals, and depending on the placement, the ink used, and the intensity of your artist’s hand, scabbing will range from thicker scabs to just peeling skin. Do not pick at these; they are normal and important to healing.
    For more information on normal scabbing, have a look at our article, Tattoo Scabbing - Your Complete How To Guide.
  • Itching - Most wounds itch as they heal, and a tattoo is no different. Be sure not to scratch your new tattoo when you get this urge, though!

Our Final Thoughts

Proper and thorough aftercare is your best solution for the healthy healing of a new tattoo, and to combat all risks of infection. If you are unsure of how to care for a new tattoo, we’ve got you covered in our article, Tattoo Aftercare Advice - How Do I Care For My Tattoo?

A bad or foul, rotten odor coming from a new tattoo is absolutely not normal. You should not take any risk in trying to deal with this issue yourself and should seek medical attention from a professional, immediately.

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