Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
Early Signs and Symptoms
These are the most common early signs and symptoms that could signify your tattoo area has become infected:
- Characteristic – intense, pulsating or throbbing pain
- If the pain does not subside after 48 hours, your tattoo might have become infected
- The pain is almost always accompanied by intense inflammation (not to be confused with the regular inflammation that appears after a tattoo)
- If the inflamed area is also warm to the touch, this could be suggestive of an infection (heat seems to radiate from the area)
- Apart from the generalized inflammation, you can observe if there are pustules or boils forming in the tattoo area (definite sign of infection)
- The yellow or green discharge from the pustules is a sign of infection (characteristic foul odor – given by anaerobic bacteria), as is the blood discharge coming from the tattoo area
- If the itchiness is quite strong in intensity or it lasts for more than a couple of days, it might be caused by an infection of the skin in the tattoo area
- Combined with the inflammation and warmth, it is a sign of infection (not to be confused with the regular redness that appears immediately after having a tattoo made)
- The intensely red color is suggestive of an infection, especially if it doesn’t improve in a couple of days
High running fever can signify an infection in the body; combined with the other signs, it can be used to make the diagnosis of an infected tattoo
Muscle aches and state of overall weakness
These can be appear as the infection from the tattoo spreads and the body’s immune system is trying to fight it off
- If you observe that there are red streaks that radiate from the original area of the tattoo, you might experience serious blood poisoning
- Emergency medical intervention is required, before the symptoms become life-threatening
Swollen lymph nodes
- The lymph nodes become swollen as the immune system tries to cure the infection
- It is always for the best to check out the lymph nodes that are located at a close distance from the tattoo site.
Causes of Tattoo infection
These are the most common causes that can lead to the appearance of an infected tattoo:
- Not following the instructions that were given by the tattoo artist in taking care of the recently-made tattoo
- Having a tattoo made in a shop where the hygiene quality is really low (increased risk of infection)
- Having your tattoo made by someone who does not have the necessary experience or is not a certified tattoo artist
- The usage of tattooing equipment that has not been sterilized (unclean needles)
- The person who has made the tattoo did not have clean hands or did not wear gloves (thus transmitting an infectious microorganism onto your skin)
- You have worn clothes over the tattoo – not enough fresh air increases the risk for infection
- Irritating fabrics that rub against the recently-made tattoo (keep in mind that the area of the tattoo has been recently traumatized and you need to avoid irritating fabrics)
- Contact with airborne bacteria – these little guys are just waiting for a segment of sensitive skin to enter the body and wreak havoc, causing an infection at the site of the tattoo.
How to treat an infected tattoo?
These are the measures that you can take in order to treat your infected tattoo:
- The doctor will most likely recommend antibiotics in order to fight off the bacterial infection
- The antibiotics can be administered topically (antibiotic cream) and orally (pills)
- You will have to take the antibiotics for as long as they are prescribed, otherwise the infection will not heal properly and the bacteria will develop resistance to the treatment
- In more severe cases, when the infection from the tattoo has spread to other parts of the body, the doctor might recommend intravenous antibiotics
Topical anti-inflammatory creams
- These are used to reduce the inflammation and bring the necessary pain relief
- Before the application of the topical cream, you will need to clean the tattoo area, using warm water
- After the application of the topical cream, you will have to apply a sterile gauze over the tattoo area
- Remove the sterile gauge from time to time, so that the skin can breathe and heal faster
Keep the tattoo site dry
- After you clean the infected tattoo, make sure that you dry it thoroughly, without applying pressure or wiping it excessively
- Avoid soaking the infected tattoo, as you will only aggravate the infection and prolong the healing
- You can also wash the area with antibacterial soap, as it will reduce the risk for secondary bacterial infections
Avoid direct exposure to sunlight
- Exposing your infected tattoo to sunlight will only cause the infectious microorganisms to become more aggressive, thus prolonging the healing period.
If you want the tattoo to heal properly and the infection to clear up, you need to maintain excellent hygiene. Wash your tattoo site with warm water and a mild antibacterial soap two times a day; don’t leave the skin in the area wet, as there is nothing else that bacteria love more than moisture. On the other hand, do not wipe the skin excessively or you will make the infection worse.
If it is possible, avoid wearing clothes over the infected tattoo, as the constant rubbing of the fabric will prolong the healing period. Wear clothes that are loose, protecting the infected tattoo from direct sunlight, without causing friction. In order for the infected tattoo to heal properly, you need to let the skin breathe. Do not pick at the pustules that form at the site of tattoo or you will aggravate the infection, causing it to spread.
The best healing is guaranteed by staying away from activities that involve excessive moisture. This means that it is not recommended to swim while your tattoo recovers from the infection and it is for the best that you avoid getting the tattoo site wet during bath time.
Pictures of Tattoo infection
Take a look at some of the pictures of infected tattoos…
After your infection at the tattoo site has cleared, there are a few things that you can do in order to prevent such things from happening again. For example, you can have yourself tested and see if you are allergic to the inks that are commonly used for the making of tattoos.
Keep the area of your tattoo clean and follow the instructions of the tattoo artist precisely. There are certain ointments that can be applied on the newly made tattoos, promoting a clean healing process and reducing the chance of infection.
For the tattoos that you already have, make sure that you apply sunscreen whenever you are going out, so as to reduce the chance of infection. Always let your tattoo to breathe and wear clothes that are made from non-irritable fabrics. Try to keep your tattoo as dry as possible, as a wet tattoo is always a good place for bacteria overgrowth. Do not pick the skin in the area of the tattoo, as you will increase the chances for infection. Apply lotion to the tattoo area, so as to protect the sensitive skin from damage.