Top 5 Warning Signs of an Infected Tattoo and How to Treat It

The art of tattooing can be traced back at least 12,000 years and is still incredibly popular today. Around 36% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least a single tattoo on their body. While tattoos are a wonderful way to express your creativity and individuality, they don’t come without risks.

Unfortunately, an infected tattoo is more common than you think. When you get a tattoo, a needle covered in ink gets inserted into your skin. That poses the risk of infections or foreign matter getting introduced into your body.

If you’ve been wondering, “do I have an infected tattoo,” we’ve got you covered. This guide will discuss the top five signs of an infected tattoo and what you can do to remedy the issue.

Top Five Infected Tattoo Signs

It’s normal to have some minor redness around the outside of your tattoo for a few days after you get it. If any of the below symptoms arise, you might have a tattoo infection.

Some signs that your tattoo is infected include:

  1. Swelling
  2. Pus drainage
  3. Pain
  4. Small blisters
  5. Small red or pink bumps

If your swelling or pain is severe or you have bad-smelling pus, you should contact a medical provider immediately. Those signs could signal that you have sepsis, a life-threatening infection.

How Can I Treat an Infected Tattoo?

The treatment you do for an infected tattoo depends upon what infection you have. Below are some of the common types of infection for tattoos.


MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant staph infection. To treat it effectively, you need a special type of antibiotic. The medication is different than what you would receive with a staph infection, but you should expect to be on medication for one to two weeks.

Staph Infection

Staph infections are the most common infection type that is related to tattoos. The bacteria Staphylococcus aureus causes it. This infection can be treated with one to two weeks of antibiotics.

Atypical Mycobacterial Infection

The treatment timeline for this type of infection is longer. You could be on antibiotics for a few months.

If you have a severe infection that goes into your skin, surgical treatments might be necessary. You can look into tattoo removal to remove the tattoo along with the underlying skin.

Other Treatment Types

If you’re experiencing discomfort and inflammation, there are a few things you can do to reduce your symptoms. You can use an over-the-counter medication, like Tylenol, to help with inflammation and pain.

If you’re experiencing an allergic reaction, you can take Benadryl. The medication works to reduce the side effects of minor allergic reactions. Some side effects include a faint rash or small bumps around your tattoo.

You can also explore using topical creams. A fragrance-free, hypoallergenic cream can moisturize your skin and keep it from drying.

Some additional aftercare tips are:

  • Covering your new tattoo with sterile bandages or gauze
  • Wearing gloves while you sleep so you don’t scratch your tattoo
  • Keeping the tattoo site clean by washing it with water and soap

Your tattoo artist will also provide you with a list of aftercare instructions to help keep your skin moisturized and clean.

Common Causes of Tattoo Infections

When you get a tattoo, you’re can introduce viruses, bacteria, and other substances into your body through its broken skin. Some factors that increase your risk of getting an infection include:

  • An at-home tattoo kit
  • Contaminated ink
  • Inappropriate care after a tattoo
  • Unhygienic practices
  • A weakened immune system

It’s important to choose a tattoo parlor that is licensed. Make an appointment with an experienced and trained tattoo artist. Both of those things can reduce your risk of infection but not eliminate it.

Sometimes a tattoo artist will use contaminated ink or ink that’s been diluted with unsterilized water. This can lead to an infection. The symptoms of contaminated ink include swelling, papules, and redness in the tattoo area.

When Should I See a Doctor?

Abnormal scabbing or oozing, coupled with a fever, pinpoint to an infection. If your swelling, fever, or rash lasts for longer than a week, you should seek medical attention.

If you wait too long to treat your infection, abscesses can form. Abscesses can also form if the bacteria have become resistant to medications.

You should also head into your doctor’s office if you start to feel uncomfortable itching by your tattoo. This might mean you’re suffering from an allergic reaction to the tattoo’s ink.

Ways to Prevent an Infected Tattoo

You should find out if you’re allergic to the ingredients that are in tattoo ink before you get a tattoo. Ask the tattoo artist to give you a list of the ingredients. If you know that you’re allergic to any of them, ask if there’s another ink available.

Keep in mind that it can be hard to know all the ingredients that are in tattoo inks since they’re not regulated. Next, ensure that all items that come in contact with your skin get sterilized. Don’t be afraid to ask your tattoo artist about their sterilization process.

Like we mentioned before, you should go to a tattoo parlor that’s licensed. If they have a license, that means they’ve gotten inspected by a local health agency. They also have met the necessary safety requirements to keep their doors open.

Read online reviews and ask your friends for tattoo parlor recommendations. You want to ensure that the parlor is reputable.

Don’t Hesitate to Seek Medical Attention

If you believe you have an infected tattoo, you should make an appointment with your doctor right away. An untreated infection can lead to a variety of major health issues. It’s better to be safe than sorry and have your tattoo looked at immediately.

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