A new tattoo is essentially a wound on the biggest organ in your body: your skin. Like all trauma, your immune system will respond to it in ways that could be concerning. One thing that people getting a new tattoo experience is swelling.
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Tattoo Swelling: What’s Normal?
Most swelling of an injury is acute and happens within the first 24 hours of a tattoo and then disappears. According to the Sports Medicine department of the NC Hospital, “Swelling is the result of the increased movement of fluid and white blood cells into the injured area. The release of chemicals and the compression of nerves in the area of injury cause pain.”
Swelling is a normal part of your autoimmune response to the trauma of a tattoo. Along with swelling, you may notice tenderness and redness. This usually doesn’t impact the healing of your tattoo and won’t compromise your ink. It is especially prevalent during the tattooing session and for the first few days or so afterwards.
Not everyone experiences swelling, and some people who have had numerous tattoos only notice it for some sessions rather than others. In most cases, it’s not something to be concerned about and it will dissipate in a few days time.
Tattoo swelling can look and feel different for every person but generally occurs on the tattooed region and slightly beyond it. Our body responds to a wound in this way as a warning and to encourage us to prevent putting further strain on the particular area.
What Causes Tattoo Swelling?
If you haven’t experienced swelling with a tattoo before, the first time it occurs can be a shocking concern. There are a few factors that could contribute to how much a tattoo may swell.
The number one contributor to how much your tattoo will swell comes down to your own autoimmune response and sensitivity. Some people simply swell up more than others, and this could be related to medications you are on, how your organs process the cleansing of wounds, or even vitamin deficiency.
If you’ve been prone to swelling or bruising in the past, you may notice the same with a new tattoo.
The placement of your tattoo is a contributing factor to how much you will swell. Some body parts are more prone to swelling than others, especially anything below the waist - which is why our feet swell so much more quickly than our hands do, for example. Our blood can pool in fleshier areas and this causes a swollen reaction.
Some artists have a very gentle hand while others are quite heavy-handed. Also, if you are getting a piece done that has a lot of detail, coloring, or shading, you’re more likely to have the skin overworked which could result in swelling.
The more experienced and gentle your artist is, the less likely your body will respond to the tattoo as severe trauma, and the less swelling you will experience.
If you are on blood thinners or have taken Aspirin prior to your tattoo session, you’re more likely to experience swelling. It’s also recommended that you don’t consume alcohol before or after a session, as this also could thin your blood and cause significant pooling and swelling.
Although topical anesthetics could dull your nerve endings in an attempt to make the tattooing experience less painful, it could have adverse effects after it wears off. Your body could feel an influx of pain and have an intense trauma response, causing excessive swelling to the area.
If the swelling starts after or continues beyond the first few days of your new tattoo, the swelling could be the result of an infection. Infections in new tattoos are quite uncommon and they are often paired with other symptoms such as:
- Extreme tenderness
- Red streams that extend beyond the tattoo
- Pus or blistering
- Skin feeling hot to the touch
- Fever or chills
If you believe your swelling to be the result of an infection, it’s important to speak to a medical professional immediately. It’s better to not take any risks if you think that is the cause.
How To Reduce Tattoo Swelling
When treating tattoo swelling, remember the acronym PRICE:
- P - Protect the region
- R - Rest
- I - Ice
- C - Compression
- E - Elevation
Protect the Region
Swelling is an autoimmune response that tells your body to treat the area carefully and protect it from further damage. As such, take it slow; don’t engage in strenuous activities, don’t exercise the region, and allow your tattoo the time it needs to heal.
Our bodies combat illness and injury the best when we are sleeping. Get a good eight hours of sleep each night to reduce your swelling.
A cold compress will provide immediate relief to a swollen area. You must remember not to apply ice directly onto your wound and to only leave it on the swollen region for 20 minute increments. For more information, check out our article, Should You Ice A New Tattoo? - Safety Tips For Swollen Ink.
If you are experiencing extreme swelling during your tattoo session, leave your tattoo wrap on for the full six hours. The compression will help reduce the swelling. Some people also rewrap their tattoos; if you decide to go this route, please be careful and read our article, What Are Tattoo Wraps And How Long Should I Keep My Tattoo Wrapped?
Elevation is a great way to reduce swelling to a body part. If your tattoo is on your calf or your foot, put your leg up on a rest to increase the blood flow away from the area, for example. At night, you can use pillows to prop up the tattooed body part. Elevation helps the blood to stop pooling in the trauma zone.
If your new tattoo does not stop swelling after a few days, you should speak to a healthcare professional.
Old Tattoo Swelling
An old tattoo that is experiencing swelling is usually unrelated to the tattoo itself, and is likely the result of other trauma done to the area. It can be dealt with using the PRICE system, but if it lasts more than a few days, you should see a medical professional.
Our Final Thoughts
Swelling is a normal and fairly common reaction that your body has to a new tattoo. It should dissipate on its own after the first few days. You can combat it more quickly using the PRICE method. If at any point your swelling becomes concerning, don’t take any risks and speak to your artist or a medical professional for assistance.