One of the biggest worries most people have after getting a new tattoo is that it will get infected. An infected tattoo can cause significant pain and lead to serious health complications, while also damaging the artwork itself. For many people, especially those who are new to tattooing, the signs and symptoms of infection can be hard to identify. This often leads to people either worrying unnecessarily, or alternately leaving treatment too late and causing further problems. In this guide we will explore firstly how to recognize an infection, and then discuss treatment options.
How do I recognize an infected tattoo?
For the first 48 hours after getting a tattoo, the tattooed area will be painful and swollen. This is unavoidable, and can complicate diagnosis of an actual infection, so most tattoo artists recommend waiting this time period out before exploring other treatment options. In the first 48 hours, make sure to follow the care regimen outlined to you by your artist, focusing on allowing the tattoo plenty of time to “breathe”. Remember, if in doubt, consult your artist or a healthcare professional.
All new tattoos will be inflamed to some degree, especially more complex designs or ones that are rich in color/ink. As a general rule, inflammation should decrease with time, so if you notice inflammation increasing after the first 48 hours there is a chance your tattoo is infected. Feel above the tattoo with your other hand for heat, any radiating heat beyond body temperature is a sign that the area is infected, and will require treatment. Redness also accompanies inflammation, and must be monitored closely to determine if the tattoo is infected. Redness around the area should gradually lighten up with time, but if the red color darkens, it is a sign of infection.
After the first 48 hours of receiving your tattoo, any raised areas should slowly level out and decrease to the height of the surrounding (non-tattooed) skin. If swelling increases, or if the texture is uneven and swollen inconsistently, it may be a sign of an infection in that area. Any fluid-filled pustules or liquid secretions from the area indicate an infection that must be treated as soon as possible.
If you think your tattoo may be infected, check your temperature by measuring under the tongue with a reliable thermometer (which can be found at most drug-stores). If your temperature is high, or you feel ill and feverish, it is a sign that your body is fighting an infection.
Treating an Infected Tattoo
Most importantly, consult with a healthcare professional or your tattoo artist, as they can judge the severity of the infection and determine an appropriate course of treatment. More severe infections will often require a prescription strength antibiotic ointment, or a systemic antibiotic treatment that is ingested orally. Make sure to consult a professional sooner rather than later, as infections are a serious medical concern that can lead to further health issues.
Make sure to follow the recommended usage of the medication provided, to ensure your tattoo heals properly. If not followed, an unfortunate consequence of the infection may be that the tattoo is damaged, and may require professional “repair” by your tattoo artist. Sterile gauze may need to be worn, but make sure to remove any gauze/bandaging in a clean environment to allow the tattoo to breathe. Most importantly, make sure to clean your tattoo with a gentle soap to prevent additional contamination.