If you have a tattoo infection, seek medical attention immediately. Although mild cases can usually be treated with an oral antibiotic, severe cases can rapidly spread and cause complications like cellulitis, sepsis, and death.
Getting a tattoo involves piercing the skin with a needle, which breaks the barrier between your body and the world. This process can introduce bacteria into the skin and cause an infection.
In recent years, tattoo ink has been linked to outbreaks of infection. These outbreaks are not your fault or your artist’s fault — the manufacturer is responsible for not selling sterile inks. Fortunately, you may be able to file a lawsuit and recover compensation for your medical treatment and future care.
What is normal?
It is normal for new tattoos to become red, swollen, tender, and warm to the touch during the first couple days. In the first 24 hours, the tattoo may ooze blood. It will also secrete a clear or yellowish fluid filled with infection-fighting antibodies that will form a thin crust or scab over the tattoo unless it is cleaned off.
What is NOT normal?
- Thick scabbing
- Excessive itching or pain
- Pimple-like pustules, red bumps, nodules
- Severe swelling beyond the tattoo
- Skin of tattoo and surrounding area is very warm to touch
- Tattoo oozes thick yellow or green discharge
- Foul odor
- Red streaks that radiate away from the tattoo
- Feeling tired or weak
Tattoo Infection Treatments
The type of treatment depends on the type of complication and its severity. Problems with a new tattoo might include skin infection, skin reactions (cellulitis, contact dermatitis), allergic reactions, scarring, and blood diseases (hepatitis B or C, HIV, etc.). Some blood-borne diseases are incurable and scar tissue can permanently disfigure your tattoo.
What Should I Do?
If you aren’t sure whether your new tattoo is infected, ask your artist about signs and symptoms. If you think it might be infected, seek medical attention immediately — do not wait.
Skin infections can rapidly spread to the bloodstream and become life-threatening. At the very least, you will need to talk to a doctor to get a prescription for an antibiotic. If you wait until the infection is festering, the tattoo may be severely disfigured and your treatment will be more complex.
Tattoo infection treatments may include:
- Antibiotics: Depending on the seriousness of the infection, you may need a prescription for oral antibiotics. In severe cases, you may be hospitalized and receive intravenous antibiotics.
- Topical ointments: Your doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic ointment like Neosporin or Bacitracin. These ointments should not be used to prevent an infection because they can clog pores and cause infection.
- Cold compresses: Your doctor may recommend using an ice pack to cool the skin and help relieve pain and swelling. It is essential to keep the skin completely dry during this process. Never apply ice directly to the skin — always use a towel between your skin and the ice pack. It is easy to go numb, and ice can cause severe tissue damage. Only use it for 10 minutes before allowing the skin to re-warm.