Best Treatment for an Infected Tattoo

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How to Treat an Infected Tattoo

Three Methods:

If you just got a new tattoo or if you’ve had one for a long time, tattoo infections can be concerning and scary. If you think you have an infected tattoo, first confirm it’s not a normal reaction to the tattooing process. Then, treat tattoo inflammation by keeping the tattoo cleaned and reducing swelling. If you have signs of infection or if inflammation or other symptoms do not improve in 2 weeks, seek out a medical professional for more personalized treatment.


Treating Mild Inflammation at Home

  1. Apply a cold pack to reduce inflammation.Do not place ice directly onto your skin. Instead, wrap the ice in a thin towel before placing it on your skin.
    • Apply the ice for 10 minutes.
    • Remove the ice for 5 minutes to let your arm rest.
    • Repeat 2-3 times a day as needed.
  2. Take an antihistamine to relieve itching.An antihistamine like Benadryl can help reduce inflammation and itching.Always take an antihistamine with a meal, and never take more than the prescribed amount. Don’t take an antihistamine like Benadryl if you know you’re allergic to it.
  3. Use petroleum jelly and a nonstick bandage to protect your tattoo.Apply a thin layer of a petroleum jelly product like Vaseline. Cover your tattoo in a nonstick bandage to protect it from dirt, dust, and sun exposure. Replace both the jelly and the bandage daily.
    • If the bandage sticks when you try to remove it, soak the bandage with warm water before trying again.
  4. Sooth and treat a mild skin irritation with aloe vera.Aloe vera contains compounds that may ease pain and promote skin repair. Leave the tattoo and aloe vera uncovered until it dries. Reapply as needed.
  5. Let your tattoo breathe whenever possible.While it is important to cover your tattoo from dirt, dust, and sunlight, it’s equally important to let your tattoo breathe. Exposing your tattoo to clean, shady air gives your body the chance to heal it on its own. When you’re home, remove the bandage.
  6. Go to the doctor after two weeks or if symptoms get worse.If these methods are not working to treat your inflammation, or if your symptoms got worse after you started treating them, see a doctor or dermatologist. They can take a skin biopsy or blood test to determine the best measures for treating your tattoo infection.
    • Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other medicine that you can’t access without a prescription.
  7. Treat an allergic reaction with a topical steroid ointment.Unlike infections, allergic reactions are caused by ink, most commonly red ink. If you have a red rash that looks bumpy and feels itchy, you probably have an allergic reaction. Such a reaction won’t go away with traditional infection treatments. Treat an allergic reaction with a topical steroid ointment until it goes away.
    • For a mild topical steroid ointment, try Derma-Smoothe or Aclovate Cream. For slightly stronger options, try Dermatop Cream or Cultivate Cream.
    • If you’re not sure what strength of topical steroid ointment you should get, ask your dermatologist for advice.

Identifying the Symptoms of an Infected Tattoo

  1. Go to the doctor immediately if you see red streaks.Red streaks are a sign that there is an infection, and it may be spreading. Occasionally, streaking can be a sign of blood poisoning, also known as sepsis. They look like red lines shooting out from your tattoo in every direction. Sepsis can cause serious illness, so seek out a doctor or medical professional immediately.
    • Note that general redness is not a sign of blood poisoning.
  2. Expect small amounts of blood and fluid during a new tattoo’s healing process.After a new tattoo, you should expect small amounts of blood for up to 24 hours. Your tattoo should not be soaking a bandage, but a little amount of blood is normal. You should also be prepared for clear, yellow, or blood-tinged fluid to be released in small amounts for up to one week after the procedure.
    • You can also expect a new tattoo to be raised for a week after you get it. After about a week, your tattoo will start flaking into small flecks of colored or black ink.
    • If the area begins is discharge pus, you could have an infection. Contact your doctor or dermatologist to get it checked out.
  3. Check for any fever, swelling, inflammation, or itching.Your tattoo shouldn’t be painful, tender, or itchy after a week. If it is, it’s probably infected.

Preventing Future Infections

  1. Get any future tattoos at licensed tattoo shops.Before getting a tattoo, make sure your tattoo parlor has the proper licenses and uses clean and safe methods. All tattoo employees should wear gloves, and your needles and tubes should be in sterile, sealed packages before being used.
    • If you feel uncomfortable with your chosen tattoo shop’s procedures, find a new one!
  2. Keep the skin covered for 24 hours after getting a tattoo.This helps the tattoo heal during its tenderest stage and protects it from dirt, dust, and sunlight.
  3. Wear loose clothing that won’t stick to your tattoo during the healing process.Clothing that rubs against a tattoo can cause an infection. If you’re struggling to keep your clothing from sticking to your tattoo, cover your tattoo in petroleum jelly and a bandage for up to 6 weeks after getting it.
  4. Avoid picking at your tattoo until it’s fully healed.Scratching can damage your tattoo and cause infection.
  5. Stay out of the sun and water for 6-8 weeks after getting a tattoo.Exposing your tattoo to water and sunlight increases the chance of infection and scarring. When showering, cover the tattoo in plastic wrap to keep it from getting wet.
    • Pat, don’t rub, your tattoo after washing. Rubbing can cause irritation or even puncture the skin.

Community Q&A

  • Question
    My tattoo is yellowish in the middle, but everything else is healing properly and peeling. Is there anything I should do to resolve the yellow color?

    Registered Nurse
    Jennifer Boidy is a Registered Nurse in Maryland. She received her Associate of Science in Nursing from Carroll Community College in 2012.
    Registered Nurse
    Expert Answer
    If you are showing any signs of infection, such as discharging pus, you should contact your doctor immediately.
  • Question
    I have little bumps around my tattoo that look like pimples, but are not red and only a little sore. Should I be worried?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Nothing to worry about, it's probably caused by your lotion. I would switch to coconut or hemp seed oil to keep the tattoo moisturized. Don't pick at the bumps and they'll go away on their own, just wash your tattoo twice a day with antibacterial soap and apply the oil afterwards.
  • Question
    My tattoo is 9 months old, and is tender and swollen with scabs and black holes. How should I treat it?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Your tattoo should have healed within the first two months. At 9 months you need to see a doctor or dermatologist about it if still having any issues.
  • Question
    How do I keep an infected tattoo clean? (I've already been to the doctor.)
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Use a clear antibacterial soap. First wash your hands thoroughly, then the tattoo. Don't let the water run directly on it, use your hand to rinse water over it. Lightly pat dry with a clean paper towel. Let it air dry for 10 minutes. Then wash your hands again to apply the ointment. Use an ointment designed for tattoos that doesn't contain petroleum. Apply it in thin layers and wipe off excess.
  • Question
    Will my tattoo get infected if my dog pawed it?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    It shouldn't be a problem if you cleaned your tattoo directly after, but be careful around your dog until your tattoo is fully healed.
  • Question
    My tattoo has like a bubbly look effect to it and it hurts in my muscles. Does that mean infection?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    If you have pain and bubly/blisters with liquid or pus, you definitely have an infection and should see the doctor immediately.
  • Question
    My tattoo does not hurt and it is only a little red but it is leaking a small amount of yellowish pus. I have washed it three times a day with anti bacterial soap and wash my hands before touching it. It's been 5 days since I have got it. Is it infected?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    After 5 days, that is very possibly infected. If the pus is clear, it's probably okay, but yellow plus and redness, I would see a doctor.
  • Question
    I got a side calf tattoo two weeks ago and my ankle is still swollen. I keep it elevated and I have put an ice pack on it but I am on my feet 10 hours a day for work. It hasn't gone down and I have talked to my artist. What should I do now?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Talk to your doctor. It could be an infection, or you could have diabetes or some other condition that prevents tattoos from healing properly. The only way to know would be to have your doctor run some tests.
  • Question
    My doctor gave me antibiotics for my tattoo infection. What should I put on my tattoo, lotion or polysporin?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Keep away from lotion. You do not want to use any chemical products. Use Bacitracin, A&D Ointment, or Neosporin.
  • Question
    How can I care for a two-day-old tattoo?
    wikiHow Contributor
    Community Answer
    Wash it once a day (twice, if you've been somewhere that could make it dirty). Air dry it or dab it with a paper towel and put on ointment such as Bepanthen or Tattoo Goo on it whenever it begins to feel dry.
Unanswered Questions
  • Do I need to see a medical professional if I gave myself a tattoo at home and, after a week, it seems irritated and is tender and leaking?
  • My tattoo is a week old, red, and tender in one small area. No itchiness, no puss, no blood or spots. Is this normal or does it sound infected?
  • Should I be concerned about a sore pimple that developed on a tattoo that I applied vaseline to?
  • My tattoo is cabbing and some parts are lighter color than the other is that normal? Is it scabbing?
  • If my tattoo is a few months old and has small bumps, is it infected?
Ask a Question
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