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Getting a tattoo is one of the best ways to let the world around you know what you are about. Whether it is your first tattoo or just another one added to the long list of designs, caring for your tattoo is essential. Proper care results in a tattoo that looks terrific years into the future. Improper care can lead to premature fading, loss of clarity… even infections.
Today, our article talks about how to treat an infected tattoo, how to tell if it is infected, why you need medical guidance for treatment, and how best to get rid of an infection if you pick one up.
The Symptoms of an Infected Tattoo
Most often, minor infections present with tenderness, redness around the tattoo, and possibly pus (a yellow, tacky fluid that exudes from the wound area). While most minor infections can be treated at home with little intervention, you always need to talk to your doctor before attempting care.
Other symptoms of an infected tattoo include hotness radiating out from the wound site, itchiness, and swelling. More severe symptoms include difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, and even death! This is why it is always essential to get a doctor on board before you start to treat anything.
Bacteria are Not the Only Thing That Can Cause Infection
While bacteria often get a bad rap for causing infections, you can also become sick due to molds, viruses, and other microbes. Each type of infection can spread at different speeds while giving you discomfort.
Sure, using a triple-antibiotic-ointment may have been the way to care for a cut back in the 80s, but today, science gives us better weapons to fight infections. Besides, most ointments you get OTC can’t fight infections from non-bacterial sources.
Don’t ignore that subtle itch or slight burning sensation. What starts as something controllable can spread to other parts of your body. Because getting tattoos damage the dermis and implants a foreign substance into the skin, you’re more likely to pick up an infection during or after the tattoo is finished.
How Infections Can Spread
This is because the layer of skin the tattoo is implanted into contains all the vascularization and germ-fighting mechanisms that normally keep us safe. Infections can travel up the lymphatics and create a total body infection if it gets terrible.
Some people who let their tattoo infection spread too far have suffered sepsis. Others have suffered from necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease) and myocarditis (heart muscle infection). Because these infections can be life-threatening, you must always follow a doctor’s orders when caring for a tattoo.
We don’t want to scare you, though. Most minor infections can be cleared up with at-home remedies. A simple skincare routine that includes moisturizing the infected area while keeping it clean of dirt and debris can heal most wounds. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t contact your doctor, though. On the off-chance, major interventions may be needed when the infection spreads. Topical antibiotics, intravenous medications, and rarely amputations are required to save someone’s life from a nasty infection.
You don’t want to try that at home.
When To See a Doctor
See a doctor if you start to see redness growing outside the tattoo area or see pus coming out of the tattoo. They need to look at the tattoo to see if you are having a reaction/allergy or if the tattoo is getting infected. A biopsy or swab should be taken of the site to test for infection or an allergy so the doctor can advise you on treating your tattoo infection.
If you are infected with a bacteria, antibiotics are given. If it is a mold, antifungals can be given. Any other infections can be treated directly with the help of a physician.
This is why we don’t recommend slathering on a bunch of ointments while trying to treat your tattoo infection at home.
As for allergies…
Even if your tattoo is diagnosed with an allergy, you can still pick up an infection while healing. Most allergies result in delayed healing times. This, in turn, makes it more likely that you can pick up an infection because your skin is open for longer than it usually would be. Taking extra care can keep you healthy and ensure the tattoo looks great long into the future.
How to Prevent an Infected Tattoo
The first step is proper care. Luckily, we have a few articles about tattoo aftercare on the site. If you can keep the tattoo clean with everyday skincare products and not overdoing the moisturizer, the chances of picking up an infection are slim.
You also need to make sure you go to a regulated shop with licensed artists to ensure you have a way to fight back if the tattoo goes bad. Yes, that is all regulations are good for. Most states don’t properly inspect every shop every year!
Ensure that proper skin prep is done before, during, and after the tattoo, follow aftercare instructions to a “T,” and make sure your dog doesn’t lick your tattoo!
- S. Food and Drug Administration. Think Before You Ink: Are Tattoos Safe?
- American Academy of Dermatology. Tattoos: 7 unexpected skin reactions and what to do about them.
- Satchithananda DK, Walsh J, Schofield PM – Bacterial endocarditis following repeated tattooing. Heart 2001;85:11-12.
- Dieckmann R, Boone I, Brockmann SO, et al. The Risk of Bacterial Infection After Tattooing. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2016;113(40):665-671. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2016.0665