Is My New Tattoo Infected? What Should I Do About It?
It's been a few days since you left the tattoo studio. Your new tattoo glistened when you left. Now, it's a totally different story. Your once beautiful tattoo is covered in scabs, oozing a strange liquid, and is daily becoming more and more distracting and uncomfortable.
Maybe this isn't your first tattoo either and you had no trouble with your other ones. Actually, you didn't even bother to look after your other two, and they turned out fine. So what's going on now?
The very fact that you're wondering if your tattoo is infected means there is a high probability it is infected, or is at least heading that way. Whatever stage your tattoo is at, you need to take action now or the consequences may not be pretty.
What Are The Symptoms of an Infected Tattoo?
Your new tattoo is essentially an open wound and is susceptible to infection because it is relatively easy for bacteria to enter the broken skin.
Here are the most common symptoms of an infected tattoo. If you're experiencing any of these, it's time to take action.
It's normal for a tattoo to swell, but if you find that the swelling increases over three to five days instead of decreasing, or begins to extend past the tattoo a fair distance, there's definitely a problem.
Your infected tattoo might feel hot to the touch. While it is normal for the tattoo to feel warm, especially for the first two days, it should not feel hot and the heat should not increase. If it's infected, your whole tattoo and the area around it will be very hot to touch, and there will be heat radiating from within the tattoo.
Infected tattoos often have a slimy discharge oozing from them in various places; it may appear as a clear fluid with a golden color, or a thick yellow-green goo that sits within the tattoo. You might also see pus (white, yellow, or green).
Often the discharge from an infected tattoo will have a nasty smell or odor. This a sure-fire sign that your tattoo is infected.
If you're experiencing extreme pain that increases over the 3-5 days after your tattoo, or have sharp, shooting pains from within the tattoo itself, it's likely an infection.
Blistering is a sign of infection, and it can occur on top of the tattoo, manifesting as red, raised sores filled with body fluids. If your tattoo is bubbly or bright red, then this is a sign of infection.
Increased scab size
Due to above-normal levels of discharge, the scabs on your tattoo may appear thick and bulbous and have a yellow and green crust. Some light scabbing, however, is normal.
Fever and lethargy
If you have a fever or feel lethargic and these symptoms are unrelated to other illnesses, then it's likely your body is working overtime to fight the infection coming from your tattoo. Fever is actually one of the surest signs of infection, even if your temperature is only slightly elevated.
Redness or streaking
If your tattoo or the skin around it is extremely red, you likely have an infection. If you see thin red lines radiating from your tattoo, you should go to the doctor immediately as streaking can be an early sign of blood poisoning.
Quick Reference: Symptoms of Infection
Swelling increases after two days and extends past the tattoo
The tattoo feels hot/angry inside and out
Oozing yellowish-green pus
The discharge often smells foul
Increasing or extreme discomfort in the limb and around tattoo
Raised red bumps filled with liquid
Increased scab size
Scabs are large due to excess discharge
Fever and lethargy
This is a sign the body is fighting an infection
What Do I Do if My Tattoo is Infected?
If you believe an infection is present, you should get to the doctor as quickly as possible. Your doctor will, in most cases, advise further wound care and prescribe an antibiotic or a steroid for you to use. This could either be in pill or cream form.
Along with your doctor's visit, you should do the following:
- Before doing anything, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water and dry on a clean towel or air dry.
- Wash all the excess fluid and pus off the tattoo with warm water. Avoid keeping your tattoo wet for too long, and use an antibacterial wash or soap. Use only your hands to wash the tattoo and not a cloth.
- Rinse your tattoo with a gentle salt water solution. Dissolve approximately 1 - 2 tablespoons of salt in about a liter of warm, sterile water (that you have boiled and cooled) and gently rinse your tattoo.
- Do not scrub at the scabs, but gently wash away foreign particles and extra fluids. Forcing scabs off will almost certainly damage your tattoo.
- Very sparingly, pat dry using a cloth without fluff particles or let it air dry.
- Make sure it dries completely.
- Apply any ointments prescribed by the doctor or pharmacist as directed.
- Wrap your tattoo in specially designed non-stick gauze when the tattoo is in a dirty environment. Also, wrap it when the tattoo wound is moist, when sleeping, and when you're wearing clothes that may rub and irritate your healing tattoo.
- Be sure your tattoo gets time to air-dry in a clean place.
- Try to keep your tattoo as dry as possible, except during the treatments your doctor has prescribed for you.
- Protect your tattoo from sunlight as much as possible.
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I Looked After My New Tattoo, So Why Did I Still Get An Infection?
There are many reasons that your tattoo may have become infected, in some cases, it's just a case of bad luck.
There are some other common causes for infection too:
- Touching the tattoo with dirty hands (usually by accident).
- Using too much aftercare cream and creating a moist environment where bacteria thrive.
- Knocking or hitting your new tattoo and causing wound trauma, or not resting the limb and excessively exercising right after getting the tattoo.
- The presence of other diseases or illnesses can slow healing.
- Fluff from clothing or bed linen, or other foreign bodies like dirt or grime getting into the open tattoo.
- Cross-contamination between other infected fluids can cause infection. Opened and pre-used aftercare creams and ointments can contain bacteria and germs from a prior user.
- A weakened immune system due to excessive drinking, lack of sleep or rest, drugs, or bad diet can lead to infection.
- Low blood flow to the wound can impede healing. This can be caused by excess swelling of the tattoo tissue.
- The artist used contaminated equipment or ink.
What Will Happen to My New Tattoo After the Infection Heals?
The end result for the tattoo depends on how severe the infection is and whether thick scabs, blisters, or sores have appeared.
Fading of color or design is the most common result, though in particularly nasty circumstances the tattoo will develop scar tissue. In rare cases, people have lost limbs due to infected tattoos.
Should I Talk to My Tattoo Artist?
Your infected tattoo is not the responsibility of the tattoo artist or studio. Technically, the studio was only responsible for what happened while you were being tattooed and they have no obligation to fix or re-do your tattoo.
The only situation in which the artist might have a legal obligation to fix an infected tattoo is when you have proof that you were tattooed in unsanitary conditions and proof that you correctly performed the aftercare recommended by the tattoo artist. But really, would you let them touch you again? A better option might be giving the health department a quick call so you can save another person the stress you're now experiencing.
Why Should I Contact the Studio?
The studio may be able to provide you with information relevant to your healing issue. If you're lucky, they may offer to fix any color distortion or fading for free or at a reduced price.
Contacting them also informs the tattoo artist that you're experiencing a problem. Since you're essentially a walking advertisement for their work, odds are that they want you to look as good as possible. If you never tell them that something's wrong, they won't be able to help fix it.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2013 Anne