As a tattoo commentator and writer, I rely on my personal experience and time working in a tattoo studio.
Your beautiful, amazing tattoo is now hurting, red, bruised, and swollen. It constantly aches and every time you move it, you wince.
Is This Normal?
The short answer is yes. As you got your tattoo, a needle rapidly pierced your skin, passing through several of its layers to deposit ink below the epidermis. The reality is that your body sees your new tattoo as a wound that needs to heal, and part of the healing process is swelling and bruising (medically known as contusion).
Why Does Your New Tattoo Swell?
Remember that to your immune system, your fresh tattoo is essentially an injury. When your body is injured, a blood clot forms around the broken blood vessels, creating a bruise at the impact site. At the same time, your immune system sends white blood cells and other natural body chemicals to the injured area to fight any bacteria or virus that may try to enter the opening in the skin. As extra fluids are sent to the injured area, the skin around your tattoo swells, which protects and cushions the area from any further injury and helps it heal.
The Most Common Causes of Tattoo Swelling and Bruising
- Vulnerable Tattoo Location. Swelling is more common in the fleshier parts of the body or where there is a lot of blood flow close to the skin. New tattoos are especially prone to swelling if they are under the arm, on the inner area of the leg, on the side of the neck, or on an extremity (e.g. your hands and feet.) That said, any area of the body can experience bruising and swelling.
- Excess Blood Thinners. Blood thinners (such as alcohol, coffee, aspirin, and blood-thinning medications) should not be used before, during, or after receiving a tattoo because they can cause excessive swelling as the tattoo is healing.
- The Tattooing Process Itself. Long sessions and heavy-handed, rough tattooing will naturally result in increased bruising and swelling in the area. To prevent this, you should choose an experienced tattoo artist who has learned techniques to minimise damage to the skin.
- Skin-Numbing Creams. Skin-numbing creams restrict blood flow where they are applied. Sometimes, this can result in the nervous system becoming overly sensitive and increasing swelling even further, restricting the body's repairing process.
- Skin Sensitivity. Those who are more susceptible to bruising and swelling for medical reasons or those who have blood conditions will also experience higher-than-normal swelling and bruising.
Though I've listed the most common causes of swelling, there are always anomalies. Now that you know why tattoos swell, you can do your best to avoid issues and keep yours looking gorgeous.
Stages of Healing for a New Tattoo
- Stage 1: Immediate Reactions. Tattoo bruises and swelling begin as reddish, pinkish dots that appear in blotches immediately after you leave the tattoo studio. As time passes, the area around the tattoo can start to swell and that body part may be slightly painful to move.
- Stage 2: The Bruised and Swollen Stage. As it passes through the various stages of healing, the bruise's colour will evolve into a bluish-purple blob and then fade to a yellowish-green hazy cloud. The multi-coloured wound should then return to its natural flesh tone. Your swelling should also reduce at a similar rate as the body heals and fluids drain away. Bruising and swelling should go away after one to four weeks, depending on how much the skin was traumatized and the location of your new tattoo.
- Stage 3: The Itchy and Scabby Stage. After three to seven days (or up to two weeks), your tattoo should begin to peel and feel very itchy. Scabs may form, but it is important to let them fall off on their own and to avoid scratching your tattoo.
Extreme pain, oozing of white, greenish, or foul-smelling substances, and fever are all signs of a tattoo infection (see below). If you think you might have an infection, see a doctor right away.
Tips to Minimise Bruising and Swelling
1. Apply a cold, clean compress to the swollen area.
This can be as simple as a pack of frozen peas or a cool washcloth. Don't apply frozen compresses or ice directly to the skin. Instead, wrap the cold element in a clean, fluff-free material like cheesecloth or muslin cloth. Leave the compress on the swollen area for about 30 minutes. This will reduce blood flow and limit bleeding under the skin, thus reducing bruising and swelling. It will also alleviate pain and inflammation and speed up the healing process.
2. Elevate that part of your body.
Keep the swollen tattoo above your heart, if possible; it may help to lie down. Body areas below the heart get additional blood flow, which increases bruising and swelling. You should attempt to keep the tattoo raised whenever possible for the first 24 hours.
Read More from Tatring
3. Avoid all blood thinners after getting a tattoo, including aspirin.
If you need to take a painkiller, try ibuprofen or panadol, taking them exactly as the packaging suggests. Consider stopping any blood-thinning medications, but always consult your doctor first.
4. After 48 hours, apply a warm washcloth to increase blood circulation in the area, which will now help your body mend.
You should do this for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times a day. Alternating between cold and hot compresses can increase your tattoo's healing rate. Ensure you use a hygienic, lint-free cloth and wash your tattoo after applying the compress to avoid infection.
Reasons for Swelling and Bruising
- Placement. Swelling is more common in the fleshier parts of the body or where blood flow is high and close to the skin. It is reasonably common for new tattoos to swell considerably under the arm, on the inner area of the leg, on the sides of the neck, and on hands and feet, although any area of the body can bruise and swell.
- Reactions to Substances. Try to avoid blood thinners before getting a tattoo, as they can cause excessive swelling when healing. Drinking alcohol or coffee and taking aspirin or other blood-thinning medications should be avoided before, during, and after receiving a tattoo.
- The Tattooing Process Itself. Long sessions and heavy-handed, rough tattooing will naturally increase bruising and swelling in the area. Over time, an experienced tattoo artist develops techniques to minimise damage to the skin, which in turn reduces swelling and bruising.
- Too Much Numbing Cream. Skin numbing creams restrict the flow of blood to the area. This can sometimes cause the opposite of the desired result during healing, with the nervous system becoming overly sensitive to the extra blood and fluid flowing into the area thereby swelling even further, restricting the body's healing process.
- Biology or Medical Reasons. Those who are more susceptible to bruising and swelling for medical reasons, and those who have blood conditions, may also experience reactions.
Although I have listed many causes of swelling, there are always anomalies in every situation. By knowing how to avoid the most common reasons for swelling, you will assist your tattoo heal.
Diet Tips to Aid the Recovery Process
- Eat more garlic and onion. Besides keeping away people who get too close, some naturalists believe these foods assist healing because of their anti-microbial elements.
- Eat more vitamin C. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits and sweet vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. This vitamin is a natural defensive aid in tissue repair and recovery.
- Steer totally clear of alcohol. Not only is it a blood thinner, but it will also cause you to be less protective of and careful with your new tattoo.
- Drink plenty of healthy fluids. Water, soups, juices, and herbal teas are particularly good for you while you're healing.
- Avoid consuming extra dairy products, white flour, sugar, and processed foods. These are known to slow down recovery times.
What Does "Normal" Swelling and Bruising Look Like?
Swelling and bruising of a new and normally healing tattoo should be minimal. It will spread a few centimetres from the edge of the tattoo and will involve light-coloured bruising which should last a short period of time.
On the other hand, an infected tattoo will show extreme examples of all the above symptoms. The swelling can be so intense that it restricts movement, causes a lot of pain, and spreads a fair distance away from the tattoo itself.
Signs of an Infected Tattoo
1. Your Skin Is Hot to the Touch
Being hot to the touch is one of the tell-tale signs of an infected tattoo. The tattoo and the area around it are generally very warm and may even get to a point when the heat is very uncomfortable and the area needs to be cooled down.
2. Your Tattoo Is Oozing or Has a Tear in It
A second distinct characteristic of infection is a break or tear in the skin within the new tattoo, where potentially yellow liquid or pus oozes out. Thick, dry, or wet scabs may be present. Sometimes a bad smell accompanies the oozing. This is definitely a sign of infection.
3. You're Experiencing Fever, Muscle Aches, or General Weakness
These are all signs of general infection and indicate that you should immediately go to a doctor and seek professional treatment.
What to Do About an Infection
At the first sign of any infection, go to the doctor!
Your tattoo is salvageable if it is treated immediately. In most cases, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics or steroids to help cure the infection. If you cannot afford a doctor, seek a medical opinion, as a tattoo artist is not a medical expert and will not be able to identify all the potential health issues.
It's important that you take care of an infection as soon as possible because it can make the ink leach from your skin, potentially causing your tattoo to appear faded or damaged, which is truly disheartening.
Premium Tattoo Aftercare Kit
Looking after you new tattoo is extremely important to avoid infection and excessive swelling. Aftershock Premium Tattoo Aftercare Kit provides all the lotions that you need to care for your tattoo as it heals.
The package includes:
- Deep cleansing liquid soap.
- Aftercare salve.
- Aftercare lotion.
- Aftercare cream
What's Happened to Your Tattoo?
For each question, choose the best answer for you.
- Have you ever experienced scabs on your tattoo?
Use the scoring guide below to add up your total points based on your answers.
- Have you ever experienced scabs on your tattoo?
- Yes: +0 points
- No: +0 points
Interpreting Your Score
A score of 0 means: ?
Further Reading on New Tattoos
- Is My New Tattoo Infected? What Should I Do about it?
Your new tattoo doesn't feel right and you're concerned you may have an infection. Learn the symptoms of an infected tattoo and find out how to deal with it.
- What to Do When Your Tattoo Is Scabbing
Get advice on your tattoo, including information on aftercare, healing, and scab forming. Find out what, why, and how to deal with scabs on your new tattoo.
- Tattoo Aftercare Tips, How Should I Look After My New Tattoo?
Practical and tested tattoo aftercare Instructions. Why do you need to do it, and how effective aftercare is done.
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.
Murdie on July 15, 2019:
Had a four hour Japanese fish done on my forearm, part of a sleeve , swollen really a lot , like really swollen , is this normal , kind regards .
Anne (author) from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS) on June 01, 2019:
Comments with Self Promotion Links will Be Deleted
Sudha on April 12, 2019:
I got a tattoo 4 days ago. Yesterday it started to get swollen but more than my skin over there the inked place is getting swollen i dont know what to do please help.
A on December 13, 2018:
I got a leg tatoo and it hurts and it’s bruised and hurts when I walk
Terr on October 18, 2018:
Garlic and onion thins your blood too :\ Just saiyan
Britt on October 08, 2018:
I just got my tattoo done Saturday afternoon and it's on my foot it is swollen and still hurts is that normal
Keefy on August 29, 2018:
I had a cover up done on my forearm about 48hrs ago. Japanese koi, so a lot of work/ink approximately 4hrs in the chair. My arm is now twice its normal size from my elbow to my knuckles. Should I be overly concerned? Any comments? Thanks.
Jo on May 13, 2017:
It's a good idea to take zinc supplements before, during and after you get a new tattoo. It really helps your skin to heal perfectly. And as the writer says - eat healthy! A healthy body heals quickly.
Adwait on April 23, 2017:
I have made a arm band tattoo . Its bit swollen hw much time will it take to reduce the swollenness of the are. Is it infected. I have made it yesterday. Its not red, its not oozing out yellow pus or foul smell. I am bit worried. Reply me asap
Cg on February 14, 2017:
I got a tattoo of a storm trooper one week ago on ny calf, it's still pretty painful, tonight I realized that my leg and foot are pretty swollen. The tattoo is the size of my calf. I havent talked to my artist yet cause i feel like I may be jumping the gun (freaking out cause of infection)
Nellie on February 13, 2017:
First 4 tats were beautiful from day 1 with minimal peeling after week or 2. 5th tat was on my hand and down the side of my arm and that would look like I had a broken hand it was bruised and swollen on 1st day. Seems its location location location!
Molly Lynch on August 06, 2016:
So this is my first tattoo and I got it yesterday is it normal for it to be red and hot and hurt a lot
HippieChick1963 on April 07, 2016:
Thank you for this article, I'm glad I found it. I have recently had cover-up work done on my ankle and the bruising and swelling have been pretty epic! My tattoo artist explained that there are many factors at play including but not limited to placement (sensitive ankle area) and age (52). Your article helped eased my concerns as I've been doing pretty much everything suggested.
Barine Sambaris from Nigeria on January 29, 2016:
Good tips for those with tattoos or hoping to get one. But I just don't understand why someone would want to go through such pain voluntarily
AspiringWordsmith on January 28, 2016:
Excellent article! I haven't taken the plunge yet on getting a tattoo, but when I do I'll be putting this hub to good use.
molon on January 16, 2016:
I peel after like 2 days. My tattoo artist tells me I have freakish healing abilities
James Power on June 27, 2015:
Nice article, I am thinking about getting a tattoo and this was very useful
mikeydcarroll67 on May 31, 2015:
One of the things my tattoo artist stated to me was to wash the area with antibacterial soap. This may help to keep off unwanted bacteria and reduce the chances of getting an infection.
Chance Harvey on May 29, 2015:
I was thinking about getting a tattoo but it looks so painful!
richard on May 28, 2015:
Had my tattoo since sunday on my lower leg and i can barley walk my ankle n leg is red and swolen my tattoo was oozing yellow and smelt then dried up i showered n now its completley red with blood ???
wiserworld on May 28, 2015:
This was very informative for people with new tattoos. Will forward this article to my friend who recently got one on her lower back. Thanks!
mobilporno from Singapore on May 26, 2015:
Really great art. Thanks for hub Anne.
Adam Palm on May 20, 2015:
Such a nice article! I am very pleased that you took the time to differentiate imitated skin vs. infected skin.
12345 on May 15, 2015:
looks like a naked sloth not a fox
Mell Watson on May 15, 2015:
Very informative :)
Summer LaSalle from USA on May 07, 2015:
What a great article- very informative. I have two tattoos and both of mine scabbed over, but looking at some of those pictures made me cringe. I actually put Bag Balm on my tattoos and they healed very quickly- sounds weird, but it's true. :)
Jen S2 on April 22, 2015:
Ouch! Those tattoos look really cool though! Very informative page! ;)
Anne (author) from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS) on March 25, 2015:
FreakFran, I hear you!
Some people are very lucky and heal well no matter what...
But the most of us, need to help nature along - correctly.
I loved the people I met in the studio but too was very frustrated at the lack of aftercare.
Thanks for your comment.
Francine Oliveira from Minas Gerais, Brasil on January 11, 2015:
good tips! I've worked in tattoo studios as a body piercer and body modifier for 6 years, since I was 17 years old. The reason why I decided to leave body modification business is, basically, that people NEVER LISTEN to us, because they think we are exaggerating when we talk about taking good care of your new tattoo, piercing or scarification. They just get it done, will live their lives normaly, drink, swim, party, wear tight clothes, eat a lot of junk food and, then, if something goes wrong, they'll look for you and blame you for THEIR mistakes.
People must have in mind that a tattoo is a new injury, just like any other, but with ink (a.k.a. an outside/strange substance) inserted in it. Things will happen during healing and that's why we need to take care of our new tattoos just like we take care of stitches after goind under a small surgery, for example.
Georgina Crawford from Dartmoor on December 21, 2014:
And it's possible that you can be allergic to the tattoo ink, especially the black. Great article and pictures by the way. Rating and following.
Anne (author) from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS) on December 01, 2014:
Ink does not enter your blood system, it is deposited below the epidermis (a layer in your skin). A tattoo can and often does take longer than 2 weeks to completely heal, medical fact.
But thanks for taking the time to answer the question, although it is a rhetorical question with the correct answer in the information below the heading. Good luck with your tattoos in the future.
Megan from Coventry on December 01, 2014:
Yes it's perfectly normal because you are permanently putting ink into your blood system. Your body does eventually get used to the ink being in your body. Takes about 1-2 weeks for it to heal all depending on how much you look after it in the process.
Anne (author) from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS) on September 21, 2014:
There is always exceptions to the rule and you have been quite lucky to get a tattoo you like, for little cost.
Hopefully, this is information that is helpful for others.
Keneisha from South Florida on September 20, 2014:
Thats not nesscarily true. If I could upload my tattoo I would show you that good tattoo can be cheap. I have a tattoo that takes up my whole thigh an its was only $100 dollars. I am an african-american of dark skin complexation with 15 colors in my tattoo. Its beautiful. I enjoyed reading your article. Sadly before my first tattoo I had little information. I have 2 big ones now.
Anne (author) from Hobart, Tasmania ~ Australia.(The little bit broken off the bottom of AUS) on September 23, 2013:
Definitely! Good tattoo's aren't cheap, and cheap tattoo's aren't good!
Unfortunately, when it all goes pear shape - there can be some tears shed!
Leena from new delhi on September 23, 2013:
very informative..that's why its essential to get a tattoo done from a qualified ,hygenic place.