How to Help Prevent a Tattoo Infection
Do Tattoos Get Infected at the Shop?
If a tattoo becomes infected, it will typically happen after you leave the tattoo studio. It is very rarely the artist's fault. Infections can be viral or bacterial, but most infections tend to be bacterial and are easily prevented.
However, you can get some viral infections from the tattoo studio. Artists have a responsibility to be as clean and sterile as possible, but you ultimately make the call about who is getting your money.
Warning Signs in the Studio
- If you notice blood or spilled ink on the floor, realize that this is a safety hazard in an environment that you will be getting tattooed in.
- Look for dustiness and even see if the artist has food or beverages near the work area.
- Ideally, the area should be disinfected after each tattoo, but on busy days this always isn't possible.
The general 'tidiness' of a tattoo studio often reflects the quality of work as well. If great pride is taken by the artists or owner, then it will be reflected in the environment.
How People End up With Infections
A bacterial infection is more than likely going to be your fault from the moment you walk out the door, but you can prevent them from happening to you. These are some of the most common causes of infections:
- Not washing the tattoo enough or at all.
- Being around a lot of sick people.
- Swimming with a fresh tattoo, especially in lakes or ponds.
- Sleeping on dirty sheets and using dirty towels.
- Letting other people touch their new tattoo before it's healed.
- Touching their own tattoos with dirty hands (first-timers tend to like to 'feel up' the tattoo).
- Not using proper tattoo aftercare products.
- Washing dishes, scrubbing toilets, etc., with tattoos on the hands or wrists.
- Using contaminated ointments or petroleum products, such as a jar of Vaseline that someone else has had their dirty hand in.
- Plain ol' bad luck.
Preventing a Bacterial Infection
Proper aftercare is the number one thing you can do to prevent a tattoo infection. Keeping a tattoo clean can be a bit of a chore, but the more anal you are about it, the less chance you'll get infected.
Use Antibacterial Soap
Antibacterial soap (not a bar of soap) is an important part of tattoo aftercare. Some people will tell you that they put petroleum jelly products on their tattoos. This does help to prevent junk from getting into your open wound, but it can affect healing time and the quality of the tattoo. Cleanliness is much, much more important than ointments.
What About Tattoo Lotions?
There are some lotions and balms made specifically for tattoos, and they all come with mixed reviews. Personally, I find them all similar and use them, well . . . sometimes. Another alternative is unscented lotions. Some artists will even recommend just letting the tattoo 'breathe' and air dry. This can get itchy and painful, though.
Guidelines for Avoiding Infections
To be virtually infection free, try to follow some of these guidelines:
- When you wash your tattoo, use an antibacterial soap.
- If your tattoo is rubbing on your clothes and you only wash them once every few days, then learn how to do some laundry!
- Don't fall into a lake or pond or swamp. Tattoos are open wounds.
- Don't expose your tattoo to anything that you wouldn't put your mouth on.
- Don't use plastic wrap as many people may advise you. If there is any bacteria in the area, the plastic wrap stops the tattoo from getting air, and the bacteria will spread.
- If you do accidentally get your tattoo dirty, then wash it right away.
- Don't dry off with dirty towels.
- Practice good tattoo aftercare.
If you have ever seen the television series Monk, I guarantee you that the character "Mr. Monk" in that show would never get a tattoo infection. Think of your tattoo in the Monk mindset.
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.