How to Tell if a Tattoo Is Infected

Three Parts:Recognizing the Symptoms of InfectionTreating InfectionPreventing Infection

All tattoos will be slightly uncomfortable in the hours and days following the session, but learning to distinguish between regular discomfort and more serious signs of infection can be tricky. Learning what to look for can help keep your recovery process as stress free as possible. Learn to recognize the signs of infection, treat possible infections, and keep yourself infection free after a tattoo.

Part 1
Recognizing the Symptoms of Infection

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    Wait a few days before coming to any conclusions. The day you get a tattoo, the entire area will be red, slightly swollen, and sensitive. New tattoos will be somewhat painful, about as sore as a severe sunburn. In the first 48 hours of getting a tattoo, it can be very difficult to determine whether or not an infection has set in, so don’t jump the gun. Maintain a proper tattoo aftercare procedure and adopt a wait and see policy.[1]
    • Pay attention to your pain. If the tattoo is especially painful, and the pain lasts for more than three days following the tattoo session, go back to the parlor and ask the artist to examine the tattoo.
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    Look for severe inflammation. Large or complicated tattoos may take longer to heal than simpler line drawings and smaller tattoos, but if the tattoo remains seriously inflamed for more than three days, it might be a sign of infection. Again, all new tattoos will be inflamed somewhat, but it should go down in a few days.
    • Feel with your hand above the area for warmth. If you can feel heat radiating from the area, that's a sign that it might be seriously inflamed.
    • Itchiness, especially itchiness spreading outward from the area of the tattoo is also a sign of an allergic reaction or infection. Tattoos will itch some, but if it gets especially strong and lasts more than a week after you get the tattoo, you may want to get it checked out.
    • Redness can also be a sign of infection. All tattoos will get slightly red in the area around the lines, but if the redness gets darker as opposed to get lighter, and if it gets more painful instead of less, it's a sign of serious infection.[2]
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    Look for serious swelling. If the area in or immediately around the tattoo swells up unevenly, that can be a serious sign of infection. Any fluid-filled boils or pustules in the area are definitely signs of infection and should be treated immediately. If the tattoo raises up significantly instead of shrinking down, get it checked out.
    • Foul smelling discharge is also a very serious sign. Go immediately to the emergency room or see your physician.
    • Look for red lines radiating out from the tattoo itself. If you see thin red lines radiating out from the tattoo, go to the doctor immediately, because you may have blood poisoning.
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    Take your temperature. Any time you’re concerned about the possibility of infection, it’s a good idea to take your temperature with an accurate thermometer and make sure it’s not high. If you’re feeling feverish, it can be a sign of an infection that needs to be treated sooner rather than later.

Part 2
Treating Infection

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    Show the infection to the tattoo artist. If you’re concerned about your tattoo but aren’t sure whether or not it may be infected, the best person to talk to is the artist from whom you received the tattoo. Show them how it’s progressing and ask them to evaluate it.
    • If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, like foul-smelling discharge and significant pain, skip this step and go to the doctor or the emergency room immediately to receive treatment.
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    Go to the doctor. If you've spoken with your tattoo artist and have tried to care for the tattoo as best you can and still are experiencing symptoms of infection, it's important to get to the doctor as soon as possible and get on antibiotics. There's usually not much that can be done topically to the tattoo, but medication can help fight the infection.
    • Start taking antibiotics as directed as soon as possible to help your body fight off infection. Most topical infections should be able to be easy to kick quickly, but blood infections are serious business and need to be treated swiftly.
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    Use a topical ointment as directed. Your doctor may prescribe topical ointment as well as antibiotics to keep your tattoo healing properly. If so, apply the topical ointment regularly and keep the tattoo as clean as possible. Wash it gently with clean water twice a day, or follow your doctor's specific instructions.
    • After treating, you may need to keep the tattoo covered with sterile gauze, but also let it get enough air to avoid promoting further infection. The tattoo needs fresh air.
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    Keep the tattoo dry while the infection heals. Wash your tattoo regularly with a very small amount of non-scented soap and clean water, then blot dry it thoroughly before re-bandaging it or keeping it uncovered. Never cover or soak new tattoos that have become infected.

Part 3
Preventing Infection

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    Get tested for allergies before receiving a tattoo. While it's uncommon, some people are allergic to certain ingredients in tattoo ink, which can create an ugly and painful situation if you get a tattoo. It's best to get an allergy test performed if you're interested in getting a tattoo.
    • Usually, black ink doesn't contain anything that people are allergic to, but often colored inks will have other additives that can cause reactions in some people. If you just want to get a tattoo with India ink, you're probably fine, even if you have sensitivities.
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    Only get tattoos from licensed tattoo artists. If you're going to get a tattoo, spend some time researching good parlors and artists in your area, and make sure the artist you choose to tattoo your body has a license and that the parlor has a good track record of cleanliness and customer satisfaction.
    • Avoid stick 'n pokes and other home tattooing options. Even if your friend is "really really good" at giving tattoos, make an appointment with someone who gives tattoos professionally to get yours done.
    • If you make an appointment and show up to find any suspicious behavior or unclean environments, cancel your appointment and walk out. Find a better tattoo parlor.
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    Make sure your tattoo artist uses new needles. Good tattoo artists make cleanliness a priority and will take steps to show you clearly that they're opening new needles and putting on gloves. If you don't see this happening, ask. Good tattoo parlors should make this obvious and should respect your concern for your own safety.
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    Keep your tattoo clean. Always follow the instructions the tattoo artist gives you about caring for your new tattoo and make caring for your new tattoo a priority. Rinse gently and dry thoroughly with warm soapy water, starting 24 hours after receiving the tattoo.
    • Tattoo artists will usually provide you with a tube of something called Tattoo goo, or other topical ointments which should be applied to tattoos to keep them clean and healing properly, for at least 3-5 days after receiving the tattoo. Never use Vaseline or Neosporin on new tattoos.
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    Let the tattoo get enough air as it heals. In the first couple of days of receiving a new tattoo, it's important to keep it as comfortable as possible, letting it heal naturally. Avoid wearing clothing that might irritate the area and keep it out of the sun as much as possible to avoid bleeding the ink.


  • If you are unsure, go to the doctors. It's better to be safe than sorry.
  • If one or more of these signs are present following undertaking a tattoo, the person needs to seek medical attention as worsening of the infection can be detrimental as it can even affect the person’s life. See your tattoo artist instead of a doctor since they have more experience with these problems and will know how to assist you properly.

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Categories: Tattoos and Piercing