How to Treat an Infected Tattoo

Three Methods:Treating an Infected TattooRecognizing the Symptoms of an Infected TattooPreventing Future Infections

Though tattoo infections are not common, they can be worrisome when they do occur. If you have an infected tattoo, it is helpful to know how to treat the infection, and prevent infections from occurring in the future. If you think you may have an infected tattoo but are not sure, see Method 2 for more information on what to look for.

Method 1
Treating an Infected Tattoo

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    See your doctor if you suspect infection to prevent complications and tattoo discoloration. Tattoo infections are fairly common, and can become a medical hazard if left un-addressed.
    • Your doctor is your best resource for diagnosing infection and prescribing the appropriate measures to treat it.
    • As with most skin infections, the most effective treatment is usually antibiotics.
    • Additionally, your doctor may order blood tests, if he or she deems it necessary.
    • Treating your infection early will prevent medical complications, and will protect your tattoo from damage and discoloration.
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    Use a topical ointment to disinfect the infected tattoo. Use a topical ointment, such as Bacitracin, A&D Ointment or Neosporin if your tattoo is confirmed infected.
    • Only use a topical antibiotic if your tattoo is confirmed infected, because otherwise you will clog your skin's pores and potentially increase the likelihood of infection.
    • The ointment will also make your bandage less likely to stick and pull your skin.
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    Apply a clean bandage to keep germs out. Ensure the cleanliness of your bandage by redressing your tattoo once a day.
    • Make sure to wash your hands before redressing your tattoo.
    • The bandage will help to protect your infected skin from abrasion and from germs.
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    Apply a cold pack. To minimize itching and swelling, apply a cold pack to your infected tattoo. Do not place ice or an ice pack directly on your skin. Instead, wrap the ice or ice pack in a thin towel so that the ice does not harm your skin or cause tissue damage.[1]
    • Hold the ice on your tattoo for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the ice and let your skin warm back up. Repeat as necessary.
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    Let the wound breathe. Expose your tattoo to open air as much as possible. Exposing your tattoo to fresh air, rather than keeping it bandaged up, will actually help it to heal more quickly. It will also help to keep the infection dry.
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    Protect your tattoo when you go out. While the infected tattoo needs fresh air to heal more quickly, you also need to ensure that the wound is guarded against dust or dirt particles. Use gauze to cover the wound whenever you go outside or do an activity that might get your tattoo dirty.
    • Change the gauze frequently to help your infection heal.
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    Avoid getting the infected tattoo wet. Try your best to keep your tattoo from getting wet while the infection heals. As mentioned above, you should try to dry the tattoo out as much as possible.
    • When taking a bath or shower, cover the tattoo in plastic wrap and hold the edges of the plastic wrap down with tape. This will help to keep the tattoo from getting wet.
    • Avoid swimming as the chlorine content in the pool water could harm your skin.
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    Don’t use any creams or lotions on the infected skin. Avoid all chemical products including soaps and creams as they can be harsh on your skin and aggravate your infection.
    • You should still consider applying sunscreen if you go outside, but try to find a lightweight sunscreen that contains natural products, if you do choose to use sunscreen.
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    Take medications to reduce pain and bring down swelling. Over-the-counter medications such as Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, Naproxen and Aspirin can be taken to relieve the pain and swelling associated with an infected tattoo.
    • Do not take these medications on an empty stomach as they can cause you to have an upset stomach and can lead to liver problems.

Method 2
Recognizing the Symptoms of an Infected Tattoo

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    Pay attention to any bad smells coming from the tattoo. Infections can cause your skin to emit a bad smell. This is because the bad bacteria causing the infection, which are called anaerobic bacteria, begin killing your cells, which causes a bad smell to occur.
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    Watch out for any serious, shooting pain at the location of the tattoo. It is normal to feel pain right after you get the tattoo, but it should start to fade gradually. Pain caused by an infection will persist and get worse as time goes on.
    • If you are experiencing a serious, sharp and shooting pain in the location of your tattoo, you should consider going to see a doctor.
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    Monitor your temperature for fever. When your body senses that you have an infection, it will increase your internal temperature in an effort to burn and kill off the bacteria or virus causing the infection. This makes you have a fever.
    • Keep track of your fever. If it continues to go up, consider going to see a doctor.
    • You may also experience muscle weakness when you develop a fever. This is because your body is putting a lot of effort into raising your temperature to combat the infection.
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    Look for red streaks spreading outwards from the tattoo. If the infection has persisted for quite a while, there is a chance that you might develop blood poisoning. If this occurs, red lines will start to form that shoot out from your tattoo and travel up your veins.
    • If this is left untreated, you could become very seriously ill. Go to the hospital right away if you notice these signs of blood poisoning.
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    Feel for any swelling and inflammation. When an area of your body becomes infected, swelling and inflammation are generally some of the first symptoms that you will notice. If you tattoo is infected, it may look puffy or distorted in appearance.
    • You may also experience itching and irritation in the area.
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    Look for a discharge of pus. If your tattoo is infection, it may being releasing pus from the wound sites. This pus could be greenish or yellowish in colour. If you see this pus, it means that you have a pretty bad infection and should seriously consider going to the doctor.
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    Feel for swollen lymph nodes. When you have an infection, your lymph nodes may swell up while your body tries to fight the infection. This is because your lymph nodes are part of your immune system, the system in your body responsible for fighting infections.

Method 3
Preventing Future Infections

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    Get any future tattoos at licensed tattoo shops. Before getting a tattoo, make sure that the tattoo parlor has the proper licenses and seems clean and safe. You can also consider running an internet search to read reviews of the shop and the tattoo artists.[2]
    • Never hesitate to check if the store follows appropriate sterilization processes. Ensure that the needles used by the tattoo artist are sterile and new. Make sure the artist wears new gloves.
    • Since certain tattoo inks could be harmful to your skin, you need to ask the tattoo artist to use inks manufactured particularly for tattoos.
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    Follow the correct aftercare procedures. Just as you ensure that the tattoo artist does everything right, you need to strictly follow the tips suggested by the artist to prevent infection.[3]
    • Try to change the bandage on your tattoo every five hours or so to let your skin breathe and heal.
    • Wash your hands with warm water and soap before touching your tattoo. Once your hands are clean, wash the tattooed area and wipe it dry gently with a cloth towel or paper towel.
    • Apply the antibacterial ointment recommended by your tattoo artist.
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    Avoid scratching your new tattoo. Your tattoo might become itchy in the days following your tattoo session. Try not to scratch the tattoo, no matter how itchy it is, because scratching may do damage to your tattoo and could cause infection.
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    Try not to expose your tattoo to water or sunlight. Exposing your tattoo to water (especially pool water) increases the chance of infection, while exposing the tattoo to sunlight risks damaging your skin and the appearance of the tattoo.


  • When your clothes are rubbing against your tattoo, it can cause irritation and infection.

Article Info

Categories: Tattoos and Piercing