When tattoo infections are caused by contaminated ink, the most common symptoms are painful, itchy pustules and red bumps. These symptoms need to be evaluated by a doctor because serious infections can be life-threatening or deadly.
What is the problem?
Skin protects your body from harmful bacteria in the environment. When you get a tattoo, there is always a chance that bacteria will enter your body and cause an infection. You can minimize this risk by getting a tattoo in a clean parlor that routinely sterilizes equipment. Unfortunately, infections can still occur when the ink itself is contaminated with bacteria.
Tattoo Infection Symptoms
- Excessive pain or itching
- Redness and swelling
- Raised pustules, bumps, or nodules (granulomas)
- Wounds weeping yellow-green pus
- Foul odor
- Red streaks radiating outward from the tattoo
How to Tell if a Tattoo is Infected
- Pain: It is normal for a new tattoo to be sore and itch while it heals. These symptoms should subside during the first week and your skin should be completely healed within 45 days. If you new tattoo is getting significantly more painful after a few days, it could be a sign of an infection.
- Warmth: Infected skin may feel tender, warm, or hot to the touch.
- Redness: New tattoos normally have some redness, which should subside. Infected tattoos may have darker red discoloration that gets worse over time. Red streaks may also radiate away from the tattoo in a severe infection.
- Pustules: Itchy, painful red bumps that resemble pimples may form in or around an infected tattoo. These need to be evaluated by a doctor. Swelling or blisters may also be a sign of an allergic reaction to ingredients in the dye.
Tattoo Ink Infection Outbreak Linked to Mycobacteria
Since 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed several outbreaks of mycobacterial infections linked to tattoo ink. Although some products were recalled in 2014, health experts warn that similar products are still being sold online.
People who are infected with mycobacteria typically develop itchy, painful pustules and red bumps. Symptoms appear within one month of getting the tattoo. Diagnosis requires removing a piece of infected skin to perform a bacterial culture. Hospitalization and treatment with antibiotics for several months may be necessary.