Tattoo infections

How to Tell if a New Tattoo is Infected

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. Updated: July 3, 2019
How to Tell if a New Tattoo is Infected

You can tell if a new tattoo is infected by keeping an eye on it after you have been inked. If your new tattoo is your first, you might have been a little intimidated. With the loud buzz of the tattoo gun and the droplets of blood which can accompany ink lines etched into skin, the process is a little graphic. Getting an infection is a risk, so symptoms like pain, swelling, redness, itching and even bleeding need to be taken seriously. However, if your tattooist is reputable, they will know the risks and do everything they can to make infection unlikely. oneHOWTO shows you how to tell if a new tattoo is infected, but you should know that if proper care is taken, infection shouldn't occur.

You may also be interested in: How To Heal An Infected Tattoo

Steps to follow:


How should a tattoo look after it is done?

Getting a tattoo involves piercing the bottom layer of skin (dermis) and inserting the ink underneath it to make it permanent. The amount of pain you experience is relative to the size and placement of the tattoo. Some may find it uncomfortable or experience some pain, others enjoy the sensation. Regardless, it is an intrusive process which works by temporarily "damaging" the skin and activating cells to repair it, except now with an additional ink pigment.

This means that that the skin needs to heal from the damage. Like any skin lesion, this healing process depends on the extent of the initial trauma. Some smaller tattoos may not even seem to require healing at all, while some large and/or thick ink tattoos might seem quite red or swollen. Either way, you need aftercare for the tattoo to ensure infection doesn't occur.

Irritation in the area of the tattoo, redness and itching are all normal following a new tattoo. They are not necessarily signs of an infected tattoo. However, if these symptoms are the same or worsen past 48 hours it could be a sign that the tattoo is indeed infected.


How to care for your tattoo

Once your tattoo is finished, which may take more than one session, you will need to let it heal. It isn't just the cleanliness of the tattoo parlour which determines whether or not you will get an infection. It is how you care for it once you leave the studio. Here are the steps which should be taken after you get your new tattoo:

  • Although the tattoo will be wiped as it is applied, the tattoo needs to be cleaned once it is finished. This should be done with a scent free sterile soap (usually green soap) and water. it is then followed by an anti-bacterial ointment.
  • The tattoo needs to be bandaged with a suitable dressing. Regularly tattoo artists use clear plastic wrap for a tattoo. This should only be used to protect it from the studio to your home. This is because it keeps moisture in the wound which can encourage infection. Leave it on for 2 - 4 hours for smaller tattoos and up to 8 for larger ones. It shouldn't be on for days at a time.
  • Wash and sleep carefully. Don't use hot water and don't put the water directly onto the skin. Don't bandage again when asleep.
  • The skin needs to breath to heal, but it also needs to be protected. This is similar to what you would use if you had sunburn. There are special ointments out there to use specifically for tattoos such as Tattoo Goo and Hustle Butter. However, bepanthen or even simple cocoa butter will also work well on your new tattoo.

Read our article on how to care for a new tattoo if you want a more comprehensive list of aftercare options. It will affect how to know if your tattoo is infected as it unlikely if it is taken care of properly and you get it from a competent tattoo artist.


What if your tattoo doesn't heal normally?

While you may have the symptoms of redness and swelling on the tattoo area the first few days after you get your new tattoo, they should not persist. If they do, they might be signs infected skin has occurred.

If the tattoo heals incorrectly, it might start to deform in shape. With a severe infection, it could damage the quality of the tattoo as well as make you at risk of blood poisoning. If you see the shape of your tattoo change, you should consult a doctor.


Pain with a new tattoo

Other symptoms that can alert you that a tattoo is infected is pain in the tattooed area. Understandably, getting the tattoo can be painful thanks to the gun needles. This pain might continue a little with a fresh tattoo, maybe even for a couple of days. If the pain persists after the scarring period, then this may be a concern. If the tattooed skin is particularly sensitive to touch then this might also mean the tattoo is infected.

How to Tell if a New Tattoo is Infected - Step 4

Fever after getting a new tattoo

Similar to any other infection of the skin, if one develops after you get a new tattoo, signs might appear. The skin may not even be painful, but this doesn't mean things aren't going wrong on a cellular level. A fever might happen if the infection gets into your blood. If you sweat, but feel cold, then you may have a fever caused by an infection of the tattoo area. Even if you have been treating it well, it is possible for bacteria to get into the tattooed skin.

If you have a high temperature and other fever signs, then you should go see a doctor immediately to receive the most appropriate treatment.


Severe tattoo infection

If one of the signs of a tattoo infection is a fever, it means the infection is getting quite bad. However, you might be able to tell better by the quality of the skin as the tattoo heals. When a tattoo is severely infected, you will see not only the edges of the tattoo move. You will also see blisters and pus secretions may appear.

Blisters from light burns are common and can often be treated at home. However, if you see blisters on your tattoo, then you will know that an infection is likely. If you see viscous pus which is yellowish or greenish, then you should be worried. See a doctor immediately. You will likely need antibiotics to heal the infection.

How to Tell if a New Tattoo is Infected - Step 6

Bad odor from new tattoo

One of the signs your tattoo might be infected is if the wound starts to smell. A wound that generates a bad odor is likely to be infected, especially if you can smell it from across the room. Like any other skin infection, harmful bacteria might be too much for your body to combat. This means you will need medical attention to help any infections which may have occurred. Your doctor will be able to advise on the correct course of treatment.


Prevention of an infected tattoo

Even if you have used the correct aftercare treatment options after getting your new tattoo, prevention of an infection starts with where you go. With more tattoo studios opening up, competition can be intense. To keep good business, the studio should build a solid reputation. Having unsterile equipment and allowing customers to get infected should not be tolerated.

If your tattoo artist doesn't assure you of their cleanliness practices, then you should see it as a sign they might not be the best. However, you should inquire yourself and check reviews to make sure they are a sanitary operation. Unless you are exactly sure what you want, you will most likely have a consultation before getting a tattoo. During this consultation with the tattoo artist, you can ask about their methods and be reassured.

If the tattoo artist doesn't show you opening up new needles, then this also could be one of the signs they aren't very clean. A tattoo is for life and needs to be well considered. If the tattoo studio looks dirty, it could be a sign they don't take infection risk serious enough. if the tattoo artist is inexperienced and you can't see signs of their previous work, then you might want to go somewhere else. Also, if you can't find reviews online or from people locally in the know, you shouldn't risk it.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Tell if a New Tattoo is Infected, we recommend you visit our Beauty & Personal Care category.

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How to Tell if a New Tattoo is Infected